The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord, also called Ascension Thursday, follows 40 days after Easter Sunday and is a Holy Day of Obligation (in some locations this feast is transferred to the following 7th Sunday of Easter).
The Ascension is when Jesus left earth—with his physical, resurrected body—to sit at the Father’s right hand in heaven. His mission to save mankind from sin was complete, and he went to reign as King of Heaven and Earth, and as head of his mystical Body, the Church, from his heavenly throne.
NB: The Ascension of Jesus should not be confused with the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This feast day falls just before the 7th and final Sunday of Easter. From the Resurrection to the Ascension (a span of 40 days), Jesus continued to appear to his disciples to strengthen, teach, and encourage them. After this period of his physical presence was complete, Jesus was raised into heaven.
Here is the account of the Ascension from the Bible, found in the Book of Acts:
“And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Historically, the Solemnity of the Ascension is an ancient and major feast for the Church (thus, its status as a holy day of obligation). In order to think of it and treat it with the same reverence as Christians of days past, it helps to understand it more deeply.
Here are three aspects of Ascension Thursday that we can reflect on today:
First, this was the first time the Second Person of the Holy Trinity appeared in heaven after he “made himself a little lower than the angels” in his Incarnation. A completely new thing took place in heaven; at the Ascension the angels worship human nature in the Person of Jesus Christ for the first time, ever.
Human nature was created lower than angelic nature, and, because of the Fall, there were no human beings in heaven before Jesus ascended there. That is, not only were we created lower, but through sin we fell from the place that we did have in God’s creation. Now, because of his Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity has a physical, human body in heaven. Human nature has been exalted in Jesus! This feat of the redemption of mankind was even greater than God’s original act of creation.
Second, even more remarkable is that Christians have a share in the Ascension of Jesus. Christ ascending into heaven in his glorified human body applies to all of the redeemed, in that we through Christ are brought back to the throne of God, back to what we were created for. Through his saving work, the redeemed we will be in heaven for all eternity, soul and body. When we reflect on the Ascension, we should remember that this is the future glory that we are meant for; in God’s mercy he has restored us to Himself through His Son.
This destiny that God has planned for us, which is a stunning and remarkable display of his mercy and love, is an eternal reality that should inform our daily actions for the better.
Third, Ascension Thursday is closely connected with Pentecost. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were instructed to go to Jerusalem and wait. They, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, waited and prayed for a period of 9 days until the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost. Although Jesus’ physical presence was taken from them with his Ascension into heaven, he did not leave them as orphans; he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in their souls and to guide them into all truth.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14).
In fact, Jesus told his disciples that unless he ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit would not come to them. This period of 9 days that the Apostles prayed and waited, from the Ascension to Pentecost, was the Church’s first novena, and the biblical precedent for all the various novenas that believers pray today.
This period of nine days of prayer to the Holy Spirit is something that we can enter into again. Scroll below for a novena to prepare your hearts for Pentecost, just like the Apostles and the Blessed Mother did 2,000 years ago.
Listed below is a novena to the Holy Spirit that can be prayed daily between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost. The novena traditionally begins the Friday after Ascension Thursday and concludes 9 days later, on the vigil of Pentecost.
NOVENA PRAYER FOR THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul, the work of Your grace and Your love.
the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal,
the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth,
the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven,
the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation,
the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints,
the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and
the Spirit of Fear of the Lord that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him.
Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and animate me in all things with Your Spirit. Amen.
ACT OF CONSECRATION TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
On my knees before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses, I offer myself soul and body to Thee, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of Thy purity, the unerring keenness of Thy justice, and the might of Thy love. Thou art the Strength and Light of my soul. In Thee I live and move and am.
I desire never to grieve Thee by unfaithfulness to grace, and I pray with all my heart to be kept from the smallest sin against Thee. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Thy light and listen to Thy voice and follow Thy gracious inspirations. I cling to Thee and give myself to Thee and ask Thee by Thy compassion to watch over me in my weakness.
Holding the pierced Feet of Jesus and looking at His Five Wounds and trusting in His Precious Blood and adoring His opened Side and stricken Heart, I implore Thee Adorable Spirit, helper of my infirmity, so to keep me in Thy grace that I may never sin against Thee. Give me grace O Holy Ghost, Spirit of the Father and the Son, to say to Thee always and everywhere, “Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” Amen.
(To be recited daily during the Novena)
May this feast day inspire us all to live like saints, through the power of the Holy Spirit!
This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2015. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.