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The Ascension of the Lord, Year C

Jesus Ascends into Heaven 

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...Alright, now, with all that said, I want to bring our discussion to a close by just returning to one key theme: namely, not just the royal dimension of the Ascension, but his priestly identity. Now, in this case there’s a 2nd reading for today. I don’t always focus on the 2nd readings because they’re kind of on their own individual track, but for today I’d at least like to highlight the fact that the second option for the 2nd reading is from the book of Hebrews 9 & 10. The letter to the Hebrews here is the most extended reflection on the mystery of Jesus’ Ascension in the New Testament. And in the reading for today it talks about the fact that Christ has entered into a sanctuary not made with hands, and he is “the great priest over the house of God”. The 2nd reading details that entry into the heavenly sanctuary. Now the reason that matters for today (the Feast of the Ascension) is because in the Ascension into Heaven, Jesus doesn’t just return to the Father and he doesn’t just ascend to his royal throne. According to Hebrews, on the day of the Ascension, Jesus also enters into the heavenly Temple (the heavenly sanctuary not made with hands) in order to offer the sacrifice of himself to the Father for all eternity, once and for all time.

Why does that matter? Well, it matters because apart from that you can’t understand how the Ascension is the climax of the Paschal mystery. Many of us, when we think of Jesus offering sacrifice, we think just of Calvary, where he pours out his blood and his life on the cross. And to be sure, that is the supreme sacrifice. And we might also think of the Last Supper, in which he pours out his body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine. And that too is an essential part of the Paschal mystery. But what we tend to forget is that that earthly sacrifice that Jesus starts in the upper room and brings to a climax on Calvary, doesn’t stop with Calvary. But that in his resurrection from the dead and then his ascension into Heaven, Jesus takes his body, which is now crucified and risen (but still has the wounds), and he brings that human nature, that human body, that glorified body, into the heavenly sanctuary where he offers himself as a sacrifice to the Father, not in time, but in eternity; not on earth, but in Heaven. And in this sense it’s fascinating. On earth he fulfills the feast of Passover and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, but in the Ascension Jesus fulfills the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would enter once a year into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people of Israel, for the sins of that year. He would do it every year. Here, Jesus enters into the heavenly sanctuary not year after year after year after year, but once and for all time. So the Ascension is an essential (no pun intended) part of the Paschal mystery, because it takes the historical event of the Passion and brings it into eternity. And you don’t have to take my word for that, you can actually listen to the Catechism. So in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 662, there’s a beautiful meditation on the Ascension. I’ll close with these words. This is what it says:

The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, "entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands. . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf."

That’s a quote from Hebrews, for today

There [meaning in heaven] Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he "always lives to make intercession" for "those who draw near to God through him". As "high priest of the good things to come" he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven.

What does that mean? Let me put it this way: For years I always used to wonder, how does the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary (that happened 2,000 years ago), how is that made present to me today through the sacrifice of the Eucharist (through the mass)? How does the body and blood of Jesus that was poured out in the upper room and then poured out on Calvary, how does it transfer (so-to-speak), how does it come through time to me, now, in the 21st Century? And the answer’s real simple. It’s the Ascension, because in the Ascension, Christ takes that historical sacrifice that happened 2,000 years ago and he brings it into eternity, where it’s no longer bound by space, and it’s no longer bound by time. And that sacrifice, that one sacrifice, can now be made present on every altar throughout the world every time the Eucharist is offered. This is why it’s crucial to understand the Ascension if you want to grasp how it is that when a priest offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, he’s not re-sacrificing Jesus. Jesus isn’t being sacrificed again. It’s an earthly participation in the one sacrifice that now is in eternity through the mystery of the Ascension. And that’s why every priest on earth who offers the sacrifice of the Eucharist is really participating in the one eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, our high priest, in Heaven...

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