The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension

Anthony Zimmerman
June 6, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

The second glorious mystery invites us to contemplate with Mary the dramatic scene of Christ's ascension into heaven, and to pray that we and our dear ones will some day join Him there. We ponder what life will be like after we rise from the dead by reviewing how Christ lived during the forty days He spent in a glorified body while still on earth.

No one on this earth had ever before died and then risen in glory as Christ did on Easter Sunday. No one had ever moved about at will as He did after the resurrection, ignoring gravity, passing through closed doors, moving with the swiftness of thought. The disciples were not about to believe that such a thing can happen if Christ would not prove it to them. And so for forty days Jesus went about demonstrating His resurrection to the disciples that He was still the same Jesus as before, now risen from the dead. He appeared in a variety of scenarioÕs, at the site of the tomb, on the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, also in Galilee. To converse with Jesus risen from the dead was something so entirely new for the disciples that it took time for them to grasp the reality. He was generous but not lavish in making these appearances. They must see for themselves that He is alive, but no longer dependent on the environment of mortal beings. We note that Jesus did not appear to His enemies at all, not even once. Perhaps it was because they were not disposed to believe in Him and He does not force people to believe in Him against their will.

On Easter morning Jesus greeted the holy women first, those who, filled with love, had gone to the tomb to anoint His Body. When Peter and John heard about the apparitions from the women, they raced for the tomb, John outrunning Peter: "Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself" (John 21:6-7). Baffled they were, but unable to put two and two together.

What will our bodies be like after we, too, rise from the dead? Will we be able to walk? Jesus walked with two disciples to Emmaus, apparently to show that we two will be able to walk. Will we recognize each other and be able to speak about olden times? Jesus spoke with any number of people, indicating that we will be able to do the same. Will we still be our true selves after we rise from the dead, the same people with the same body, as now? Jesus went out of His way to prove just that. And so He invited them to look at Him closely, and even to feel His flesh and realize that it was real. They were so dumbfounded and amazed, that they needed time to shake off their recognition of the new condition of Jesus:

As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them (Luke 24:36-43).

Besides conversing with the disciples, Jesus did something else: He opened their minds to understand the scriptures:

Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24: 43-47).

And so after we rise from the dead, we too, will be able to communicate directly with each other by thought process, without need of words. During forty days Jesus made sure that the disciples would realize and know that He had risen from the dead. By doing so He gave them a picture of what the wonders of the new life which will be ours when we, too, rise from the dead. After He had given sufficient proof of His resurrection, the time came, after forty days, when He could ascend bodily into heaven. From there He would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would unite the disciples to Jesus spiritually.

Pope St. Leo the Great preached that the disciples not only learned to believe in Jesus during those forty days, but that they shared His joy in their hearts, when they saw Him ascending happily into heaven (Sermon 73, On the Ascension 1):

And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the LORD entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.

The scene of the Ascension was memorable, and the disciples never forgot it. Pilgrims to Jerusalem today there visit the site of a footprint in a place on Mount Olivet that commemorates the spot where His feet last touched the earth before He began His ascent into heaven. Luke describes the memorable event:

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." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away" (Acts 1:9-12).

The story is told that after the lift-off from the earth and the solemn course through the clouds, then on and on into the ethereal spaces, the appearance of the earth below darkened and night fell. The Archangel Gabriel met Him at the heavenly portals, and from there they gazed back upon the darkened globe beneath. "How" asked Gabriel, "How will the light of your message penetrate in all this darkness?" Jesus pointed to twelve tiny pin points of light: "Through the twelve apostles," He said. Gabriel pondered. "And if they fail, what is the alternative plan?" Jesus responded: "There is no alternative plan." It would be up to the apostles to make or break the outcome of His mission. Happy to say, His original plan is still in operation 2000 years later.

We turn again to Leo who describes that Jesus, the Son of God, now took His human nature into heaven to be seated there at the right hand of the Father:

And truly great and unspeakable was their cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angelsÕ ranks and to rise beyond the archangelsÕ heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son.

For the first time now Christ, God and Man, triumphant in glory, took His place at the right hand of the Father, and with the Holy Spirit, bathed Himself in His new glory. We can imagine that the angels clapped their hands and that the celebration was something to see and hear. As the Responsorial Psalm of the Feast of the Ascension exults:

God mounts his throne to shouts of joy;
a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

To us it appears that Jesus departed from our company, but in reality He took us with Him and seated us with Himself at the Father's right hand. For He is the Head of the Mystical Body of which we are members. He prays there that we join Him when our time comes: "Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).

Pope St. Leo finishes his sermon by saying that since Christ seated us with Himself we have practically made it into heaven already. With this assurance, shall we not begin our celebrations even now. In a short time we will be there in heaven, to behold the glory that the Father has given to Jesus. Every day we come one day closer to heaven. I close with the words of Leo:

Since then Christ's Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks. For to-day not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through ChristÕs unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devilÕs malice. For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of GOD has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, GOD for ever and ever. Amen.