The Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is the culmination of the paschal mysteries. Understanding the solemnity of the Ascension will help us understand what Jesus has gained for us. It will also clarify some of our doubts, especially about how can I benefit from a sacrifice that Jesus made 2000 years ago and Do we kill Jesus every Mass etc
In order to understand this, let us listen to the important part of today’s gospel. “Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into Heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God”.
The key to understand this mystery is the gesture of lifting his hands because it is a priestly action. If we go back to the book of Leviticus 9:22 we find the famous high priestly blessing of Aaron, the brother of Moses, the first high priest of the Mosaic covenant.
“Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings”. (Lev 9:22)
Aaron has offered Sacrifice, then he comes down from the altar, lifts up his hands and blesses the people. Here there’s both similarity and dissimilarity between Jesus and Aaron. Jesus, like Aaron, has just offered the Sacrifice of himself on the cross, and he raises his hands to bless the Apostles. But instead of coming down from an altar He goes up into Heaven, goes up into the heavenly sanctuary, up into the heavenly Temple.
Why did he enter into Heaven? Why does he leave if he’s really risen from the dead? He could have remained on earth and done the evangelization instead of asking disciples to do it. After all, No one, except Him, is more competent.
To understand this, let us go to the second reading for today, from the letter to the Hebrews. It says: “Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hb 9:14)
To understand this, we need to understand the Temple in the Old Testament. The first thing is that the earthly Temple was a copy of the heavenly Temple. It consists of three parts. The innermost part is known as the holy of holies, where only a highly priest is permitted to enter only once a year on the day of atonement. He brings into the sanctuary the blood of the goat sacrificed for the purification of the sins of the people. So what the second letter tells us that on the day of the Ascension, Jesus enters into the heavenly Temple (the heavenly sanctuary not made with hands) to offer the Sacrifice of himself to the Father for all eternity, once and for all time.
Many times, when we think of Christ’s Sacrifice, we think only of Calvary, where he sheds his blood and his life on the cross. Without any doubt, that is the supreme Sacrifice. And we might also think of the Last Supper, in which he pours out his body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine. And that, too, is an essential part of the Paschal mystery. But we forget that the earthly Sacrifice that Jesus starts in the upper room and brings to a climax on Calvary doesn’t stop with Calvary. But in his resurrection from the dead and then his Ascension into Heaven, Jesus takes his body, which is crucified and risen but still has the wounds, and he brings that human nature, that human body, that glorified body, into the heavenly sanctuary where he offers himself as a sacrifice to the Father, not in time, but in eternity, not on earth, but in Heaven.
Thus on earth, he fulfils the feast of Passover and the Sacrifice of the Passover lamb, but in the Ascension, Jesus fulfils the Day of Atonement, when the high priest enters once a year into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people of Israel, for the sins of that year. He would do it every year. Here, Jesus enters into the heavenly sanctuary not year after year but once and for all time. So the Ascension is an essential part of the Paschal mystery because it takes the historical event of the Passion and brings it into eternity.
When we understand this, we learn how the one and only Eternal Sacrifice of Christ that took place on Calvary more than two thousand years ago will benefit us who are living in the 21st century and how it will become the Sacrifice for you and me. Because in the Ascension, Christ takes that historical Sacrifice that happened 2,000 years ago, and He brings it into eternity, where it’s no longer bound by space and time. And that Sacrifice, that one Sacrifice, can now be made present on every altar throughout the world every time the Eucharist is offered. So when a priest offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, he’s not re-sacrificing Jesus. No, Jesus isn’t being sacrificed again. It’s the earthly participation in the one Sacrifice that now is in eternity through the mystery of the Ascension. And that’s why every priest on earth who offers the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is really participating in the one eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, our high priest, in Heaven.
That is why we say Mass is a Heaven on earth. That is why the second reading again reminds us that we have the confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus. So dear ones, Christianity is not a myth. It is not a utopian idea to come. Rather, it is a reality that can be experienced today and will be completed tomorrow.
That is why the disciples were overjoyed when Jesus left them because Christ’s entry into Heaven in human nature is also our elevation. We know that Church is the mystical body of Christ. If Christ, the head of the Church, entered Heaven, then as the body, we can also enter where the head is. So, We who are baptized are incorporated into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit and can now ascend to where He is. Yes, he is the ladder that Jacob the Patriac dreamed of thousands of years back in the book of Genesis.
But often, we live in various kinds of fear and hatred, not knowing the blessings we have received through Christ. Ascension of Jesus to Heaven is not for such a life. So let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another.