I’ve never known what to make of the Ascension. I spent a lifetime wondering why it was a glorious mystery. Jesus Left! And He left his mother behind! Why is this a good thing?
I’ve been listening to podcasts on the Catechism of the Catholic Church that promise to take you through the entire book in a year, although, generally, I’m a few weeks behind. Part One of the catechism works through the Apostles’ Creed with commentary, which includes the Nicene Creed when desired. So the text recently reached,
He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
A few years ago I heard a seminarian, just ordained as transitional deacon, give his first homily. Because it was the (transferred) Feast of the Ascension, he gave his sermon on the topic of the Ascension. His take on it was, that when a king goes forth into battle and wins, he then has to return home to savor his victory. Okay. I could kind of get behind that as an interpretation. At least, it had the flavor of a celebration attached to it.
However, the Catechism has something else to say. The Ascension is indeed necessary as a part of the salvation brought by Jesus the Son of God. It brings Jesus’ “humanity into divine glory” showing that there was a difference “between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father’s right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension.”
In other words, while the death and Resurrection of Jesus paid for our sins and brought us salvation instead of condemnation, we can only go to Heaven because Jesus did. He returned to the Father from whence he came, with his human body, thus making it possible for us, as humans with bodies, to go with Him.
Three times, in the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about being lifted up from the earth, and drawing all men to Himself. First in John 3:13 when he is talking to Nicodemus.
No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
In John 8:28 he says, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he,…
And last in a passage after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:27-36), Jesus glorifies God’s name, the Father speaks from Heaven, and then Jesus repeats that “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” The Catechism explicitly connects this verse to the Ascension. “The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it.” (Para 642)
This is indeed a Glorious mystery.
I should stop there but I have another comment. This discussion of the Ascension is the second time that the Catechism has pointed out that the life of Jesus includes events that foreshadow the future. I’m used to the idea of the Old Testament containing foreshadowing (or types if you prefer that language) of the New but this is not quite the same.
There is a long discussion of Jesus and the Temple in the Catechism. I’ve included excerpts below with the paragraph numbers at the end of the quotes.
Like the prophets before him Jesus expressed the deepest respect for the Temple in Jerusalem. … At the age of twelve he decided to remain in the Temple to remind his parents that he must be about his Father’s business. He went there each year … for Passover. (583)
The Temple [was] the privileged place of encounter with God. (584)
Jesus announced the coming destruction of this splendid building … (585)
… And …
[Jesus] identified himself with the Temple by presenting himself as God’s definitive dwelling-place among men. Therefore his being put to bodily death presaged the destruction of the Temple, which would manifest the dawning of a new age in the history of salvation. (586)
This is the money quote. Jesus being put to death is a foretelling of the destruction of the Temple. Really amazing.