Holy Scripture tells us that the Lord Jesus returned to the glory of his Father forty days after his Resurrection, and for that reason, the Church traditionally celebrates the Ascension on the Thursday after the 6th Sunday of Easter — forty days after Easter Sunday. In recent years, however, the liturgical commemoration of the Ascension has been transferred in many places from the proper Thursday to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and that is why we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ today.
This mystery of faith does not mean that the Lord was merely taken from our sight to continue in space and time as we know them while simply being in another place; rather, Christ the Lord in His Ascension transcended the created universe altogether, including the created realities of time and space. But in transcending the created universe, the Lord Jesus did not abandon His Church or leave us comfortless. Even as Christ gave us the Great Commission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth and celebrate the sacraments for the salvation of souls, He also promised to send the Holy Spirit of truth to be our teacher, guide, and consoler, and the coming of the Spirit was accomplished and manifested 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection, a mystery which we will celebrate next week on the great Solemnity of Pentecost. Christ’s Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are the very conditions for the possibility of this time of the Church in which we are called to share in the sublime work of bringing the whole human race to know, love and serve the living God, and in Word and Sacrament, the Savior remains with us to sustain us in that mission.
In describing the final moments of the Lord Jesus with the Apostles, St. Matthew candidly admits that even forty days after the Resurrection, confusion remains: “And when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.” These doubts, however, were resolved by the solemn revelation of the divine nature and glory of the Son of Man: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” And twenty centuries later we are still laboring to fulfill the Great Commission, which begins with comprehending the majesty of this sacred mystery of faith. In the Roman Missal, the first Preface of the Ascension speaks to us of the sacred mystery of Christ’s Ascension in these words:
“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For the Lord Jesus, the King of Glory, Conqueror of sin and death, ascended to the highest heavens, as the Angels gazed in wonder. Mediator between God and man, Judge of the world and Lord of hosts, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state, but that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”