For believers, Easter is a season of rejoicing, renewal, and reflection upon how greatly we are loved! For forty days after the Resurrection, the Lord appeared to the Apostles, traveled, taught, and prepared them for His return to the Father. He confirmed the Resurrection for His followers, then He ascended into heaven. The Solemnity of the Ascension celebrates the moment Jesus was taken up into eternity.
Celebrating the Ascension
In ancient times, jubilant parades and communal celebrations honored this incredible event in our Faith. Carrying banners, candles, crosses, and torches, believers marched through their fields and streets in exultation. Priests in the procession blessed each lot and property. Some European countries still continue this tradition.
In modern times, Catholics honor the Ascension by attending Mass for the Solemnity. Solemnities are our highest holy days. Traditionally, the Ascension was known as Ascension Thursday, always forty days after Easter. The Vatican granted permission to the U.S. Bishops to transfer the feast from Thursday to the following Sunday in some dioceses.
Whether your parish celebrates the Ascension on Thursday or Sunday, the Church encourages us to spend time on those days in prayer and contemplation of the tremendous gifts of Easter. Perhaps because we have lost the ancient, celebratory tone of the Ascension, its significance is no longer fully appreciated by many disciples of Christ.
Here are 6 Gifts Jesus gave us when He ascended to the Father:
His Constant Presence
The Lord told His Apostles they would receive the Holy Spirit, and He would be with us always, until the end of time. Though He left us in His human nature, He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament. He is not "here," in the form that He once was, yet in a very real way, He is now everywhere that we are.
He is present to us more deeply and profoundly despite returning to the Father. He is God the Father over us, Jesus the Son accompanying us, and the Holy Spirit burning within us, surrounding us in His love.
Our Claim to Heaven
Jesus ascended to heaven without leaving His Body behind. Son of God, He is also Son of Man, so He brought humanity into eternity - for the first time. He opened heaven to us, restoring our original dignity as God's children. He sits now, at the right hand of the Father, to intercede for us. Victorious over death, He claimed heaven for us.
The Indispensable Church
Once their Master was gone, the Apostles stayed together in prayer. They experienced confusion and fear, but they remained together teaching, healing, and preaching in the name of Jesus, and praying to receive the Holy Spirit. The early Church was born from their trust, and God's gift.
Two thousand years later, we Catholics are over a billion strong. We are not meant for solitary relationships with God; our Faith is communal. The Church is essential for us individually and collectively, and we are a spiritual family.
Perseverance in Prayer
Patience in prayer is a requisite for a life of trust in God. After the Ascension, the Apostles prayed together for nine days (the origin of the word "novena"). Many things were unclear to them, but they understood that they should unite and persevere in fervent prayer.
Preaching, teaching, baptizing, forgiving sins, healing, and sharing the Eucharist in His Name, they began the early Church. This would have been impossible without their patient prayer as they begged for and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Praying with Mary
The Book of Acts tells us that the Apostles asked Mary, their spiritual Mother, to pray with them. From its very first days, the early Church sought the intercession of the Mother of God. It looked to her for union of purpose, strength and help.
Our Mother, who gave her "Yes" at the Annunciation, her instruction at the Wedding Feast of Cana, and her outpouring of sorrow and love at the Crucifixion, also gave her heart in prayer to her spiritual children after the Ascension. There can be no greater intercessor before the throne of God than she from whom the Apostles sought powerful help as they awaited Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is Everything
Together in prayer, Our Lady and the Apostles petitioned God for the One Jesus told them would come after Him. In our times, many know and feel a special closeness to God the Father and Christ the Son, but the Holy Spirit remains a distant mystery to some faithful Catholics.
He is personal. He is God. He is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. He fills the void! He came, conquering doubts and fears, bestowing upon the Apostles everything they needed. Since He is the love between the Father and the Son, He is nothing short of everything.
We should pursue a relationship with the Holy Spirit just as we do with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity. We can pray to know Him better. We can ask for His help to grow in holiness, and we can petition Him for the gifts and fruits He has to give.
While We Wait Faithfully
Many gifts were poured out upon the Apostles after the Ascension, while they prayed and awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Through patient prayer, they secured these gifts for each of us, and the Church has passed them down through the ages.
These nine days between the Solemnities of the Ascension and Pentecost are the perfect time to reflect upon those precious gifts and the gifts of Easter. When we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost as Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Encourager, and Giver of Consolation, let us be ready to receive Him in joy and mystery.
The same Spirit present to the Apostles, the Spirit Who brought forth our Church, comes at Pentecost to fill the void, and change everything for us.
Not just a portion of that Spirit. Not another Holy Spirit. The very same Spirit Who ministered to Moses and other Patriarchs, Who came upon Mary at the conception of Jesus, Who descended for Christ's baptism in the River Jordan, comes to give us His divine life of grace.
On the feast of the Ascension this year, take time to reflect upon how greatly you are loved. Fan the flames of His love in your heart. Rejoice in your heavenly inheritance. Share with others the hope and fulfillment of God's promises that we remember during the Easter Season, especially in the gifts of the Ascension.
A Prayer for the Ascension
Lord Jesus, before You returned to the Father,
You instructed the Apostles to be Your witnesses to the ends of the earth.
You gave them the Holy Spirit to equip, teach, and accompany them.
Grant me that same Spirit, that I might share You with others
in my thoughts, words, and actions.
With Your guidance and Your grace,
help me share the Gospel message
according to Your will for me.
As I remember Your glorious Ascension,
help me to set my sights on heaven,
where You now reign at the Father's right hand.