Today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord has been what might be termed a “travelling feast” in the Church. Many Catholics remember that it was celebrated on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter to coincide with the story in the Acts of the Apostles that the Risen Lord remained with his followers forty days after his Resurrection (Acts 1:3). The Second Vatican Council permitted the move of the Ascension to the Seventh Sunday of Easter “for the advantage of the faithful” so that the Sacred Mystery could be observed by as many people as possible.
The longer history of the feast is that it doesn’t appear as a separate observance until the latter part of the 4th century. In many parts of the Christian world, if any reference was given to Christ’s Ascension, it was done so in connection with the celebrations of Pentecost – 50 days after Easter. The first indication that Jesus’ Ascension was observed as a separate feast comes from the Bishop of Nicomedia (a city that used to exist on the northern coast of modern day Turkey) around 340 A.D. By the time we reach the early 5th century, the feast is celebrated in all of Christianity.
The great Bishop of Constantinople, Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407), has best summed up what we celebrate in this feast: “Through the mystery of the Ascension we, who seemed unworthy of God’s earth, are taken up into Heaven…. Our very nature, against which Cherubim guarded the gates of Paradise, is enthroned today high above all Cherubim.” In other words, our sinful, human nature, saved by the Mystery of Christ’s Life, Death and Resurrection, is brought to heaven in Him who is our Lord and Savior. By being incorporated into Christ at our Baptism, we already share in the promised joys of heaven!
So, by living a faithful way of life now may we be truly worthy of attaining this glory!