The Readings for Ascension Day, Year (A), are:
1) First Reading: (Acts 1: 1-11)
2) Resp. Psalm: (Ps 46: 2-3. 6-9)
3) Second Reading (Ephesians 1: 17-23)
4) Gospel: (Matthew 28: 16-20)
Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit……
Today, we come to one of the great defining moments or events in the Christian Story; the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven, finally leaving his disciples, after being with them for 40 days after his Resurrection. Jesus leaves them but promises to send them the Advocate, The Paraclete, The Spirit of Truth, The Holy Spirit, to be with them and guide them until the end of time.
As with the Resurrection, the place and the manner of the Ascension, none of the Gospels or other Readings agree to the location or to the details of the event. Matthew’s Gospel for today, has the last meeting of the apostles with Jesus, taking place in Galilee, but does not mention the Ascension! John does not mention it. Mark does not mention the place but he mentions the event. Luke mentions Bethany, close to the Mount of Olives in his Gospel and his (Luke’s) account in the Acts of the Apostles seems to indicate in Jerusalem!!!
So we have a real ‘Mystery’ to put it mildly! However, we must remember the Gospels were written 30 and more years after the Resurrection. What guided the Early Church during that period was what is called the Tradition of the Church. That is, the Church was celebrating the Ascension long before the Gospels were written and this is where the order of events we have today originated. The Catholic Encyclopaedia tells us that his Feast was celebrated in the Church from earliest times. This Solemnity in the Church was not celebrated until fourth century because, traditionally it was part of the Paschal Mystery, associated with the Resurrection. The time from now until Pentecost is known ‘Ascension Tide’. The cloud in Luke’s account points to the Divinity of Jesus. The command of Christ in Matthew to go and baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit shows that there has been some later additions to his Gospel, as the Trinity, is not known at this early time, but would emerge later at the big Ecumenical Councils of the Church. This profound and Holy Mystery of the Trinity was not established until 4th and 5th Centuries AD after great argument and Prayer. The doctrine of the Trinity emerged at the Council off Nicea, 325 AD, and other Councils. It was fiercely debated in many other councils, too. In the Nicene Creed that we say at Mass on Sundays, we have the final decision of the Church on this matter. But as we say it most of us have no idea of the stormy history of this great Dogma of the Three in One God! The Solemnities of the Ascension, and Pentecost help the Church, and us, to a deeper understanding of this Dogma of the Trinity without fully comprehending it. This is where Faith comes in.
Despite the anomalies we sense that this was a very important moment for the Church as Jesus having completed His work of Redemption, now marks the end of His physical appearances on earth. From now on The Spirit takes over the task of guiding the Church and the world and us. We rejoice that we have such a great Saviour.