GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
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.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
…and that Christ already sits at the right hand of the Father.
It's not something that's going to happen at the end of time. It's not something that we're waiting to be accomplished. It already is the case because it happened when he raised him from the dead, made him sit at His right hand. And for that reason, here's the key, this is really fascinating, Christ already is
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.
All right, pause there. What does that mean? He's above every "rule and authority and power and dominion.” Well, in a first century context, those terms that Paul's using are all words for describing the angelic powers. They are different terms that were used in Jewish writings to describe angels. There are different categories, different kinds of angels. You'll see this in the later medieval tradition develop into the different choirs of angels. It's not that refined yet. There isn't a kind of distillation exactly of it, but thrones, powers, dominions, rules, those are all names for invisible angelic powers.
And what Paul is trying to say here in Ephesians 1 is that when Christ ascended into heaven, he wasn't simply vindicated as the messiah, He was also exalted in his humanity, this is really crucial, above all of the angels. He was given a place above all of the invisible angelic powers. Now, the reason that's important is that if you look at Sacred Scripture as a whole, in the order of creation, the angels are superior to human beings. Human beings are creatures of earth. They have bodies, after the fall in particular, they're going to be mortal. So they pass away. They die. Angels are invisible, immaterial, spiritual beings that are immortal. They’re higher in nature. They're superior to human beings. But what happens in Christ is that the eternal son, who is superior to all the angels, in a sense, condescends to empty himself, take on a human nature that's beneath him, that's lower than the angels and then in his passion and death puts that human nature to death, raises it up and doesn't just vindicate it, but actually exalts it into a heavenly place above the angelic powers.
So that now, in a sense, the ordered creation is turned upside down. And whereas the angels in the order of creation are superior to humans, now, in Christ, humanity has been elevated above the angels. This is why Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 6 to the Corinthians:
Do you not know that we are to judge the angels?
Well, you can't judge your superior, right? You can only judge those who are below you or subordinate to you. The mystery of those who are in Christ is that by being in Christ, we've actually been elevated above the angelic powers. That's the first aspect of the Ascension that's really crucial for us to understand. In the Ascension, one of the aspects of the mystery that's being revealed is that human nature is now above the angels, above the angelic powers. Christ isn't just the king of Israel. He's not even just the king of the world, or the king of humanity. He's the Lord of the angels. He's above the angelic powers. That's the first point.For full access subscribe here >