This feast, forty days after Easter, makes us present at the Ascension of Christ, when He blesses His disciples and then goes up until He is hidden from their sight. 

Some people have the mistaken idea that this means that Jesus is “gone.” Some have suggested that He is physically absent because His body is at the right hand of God the Father. But we must confess, as the Church has always confessed, that Christ is not gone. Our Lord Himself says this very clearly before He ascends: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20)! 

We also must understand that the “right hand of the Father” is not a limited physical space in any case. The Father has no physical body, and God is omnipresent- present in all places, holding all created things in existence. The Hebrew expression about the right hand is a way of saying the relationship of greatest honor (Compare Exodus 15:6; Psalm 80:17; Matt. 20:21-23).  And we must not forget the communication of attributes between the two natures in Christ: that the characteristics of His divine nature are shared with His human nature. God is omnipresent. Jesus is true God. Therefore, His divine Person is everywhere, and He can make His glorified Flesh and Blood specially Present anywhere He pleases- even (thanks be to God!) at every instant on all the Christian altars of the world.     

What the ascension means is that we will not see Him as the disciples had been used to seeing Him. We cannot hear his voice or be touched by Him in the same way that they once did. But this most assuredly does not mean that He does not speak to us or touch us. As St. Paul testifies, Christ “ascended up far above all heavens, that He mightfill all things” (Eph. 4:10). Christ ascends so that He can be nearer to all of us, manifested to us by the power of the Holy Ghost, Present in Word and Sacrament. St. Paul even makes this remarkable connection: that since we, the Church, are Christ’s Mystical Body, and Christ has ascended, we also already, somehow, sit with Him, as participants in His glory: God “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). 

What special observances accompany this Feast? On this day, the Paschal candle is extinguished. It is moved next to the baptismal Font, which is so closely associated with the application of the death and resurrection of Our Lord in Baptism. In some places and rites the Paschal candle is lit for Baptisms and for funerals, as a sign of the great Easter character and hope connected to those events. 

So we bend our knees before this mystery- that in Christ we stand in the heavens as we enter into the one Liturgy of the Church, and are honored by being His Own, partakers of His Body and Blood, so that He dwells in us and we in Him.

Canon Patrick Fodor