Sunday May 27, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier The Ascension of the Lord
Reading I (Acts 1:1-11) Reading II (Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23)
Gospel (St. Luke 24:46-53)
Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lord's Ascension into heaven. By Ascension we mean that He, by His own power, was taken body and soul into heaven. This is different from Our Lady's Assumption. To ascend means to go up by one's own power, to be assumed means to be taken up by someone else's power. Our Lady was lifted up by God; but Jesus, being God, took Himself by His own power up to heaven. And He took our humanity with Him so that united to the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity our human nature is already present in heaven in Jesus Christ.
Now beyond this St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we heard today from his letter to the Hebrews, that Jesus then has passed into the sanctuary. He is our high priest and He has offered a sacrifice, as he points out, not like the high priest of old who used to enter the Holy of Holies that was made by hands. The Holy of Holies in Jerusalem was a copy of the temple that Moses had seen in the vision of heaven. What God, up on top of Mt. Sinai, showed to Moses was that vision of the worship of heaven. He then told Moses now you make a sanctuary that is going to be modeled on what you saw. And so the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies once a year with the blood of the bull and the goat so he could sprinkle that blood upon the altar for the forgiveness of sin. But St. Paul tells us that Jesus has passed through the veil (the veil of his flesh), and entered into the Holy of Holies that is not a copy of the real one, but has entered into the true Holy of Holies, the one in heaven itself.
Now about the veil that St. Paul is mentioning, remember that passage in St. John's Gospel that tells us that at the moment of the death of our Lord, the veil or the curtain in the temple was torn in two. There was a huge veil, a huge curtain that hung in the doorway between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the temple. It is as if there was a huge veil right across here at the front of the sanctuary that separated the sanctuary area from the rest of the church. That is the way that it was so that the people could not see into the Holy of Holies. That curtain, or veil, separated the people from the place of the Lord. Now St. Paul tells us, unlike the high priest that had to go around that veil and into the Holy of Holies, Jesus has entered the Holy of Holies through the veil which is His own flesh, the veil of death, the veil which keeps us from God, that is the life in the body.
Now our Lord, even with His body, has entered into the glory of heaven; and He has gone not with the blood of bulls and goats but with His own blood. He has entered therefore once for all time. This is what is so important to be able to understand; that in His Ascension our Lord has taken His sacrifice up to heaven. It is just as we pray at the Mass, "Lord may your angel take this sacrifice to Your altar in heaven," so that the sacrifice of Jesus is before the throne of our heavenly Father. In having taken our humanity and His sacrifice into heaven there is no more sacrifice for sin. That is why at Mass we do not sacrifice Jesus again, but it is one continual sacrifice. Once for all, St. Paul says, once for all time. Many Christian people misunderstand that and they say Jesus offered Himself once on the Cross, therefore it is done. Everything is finished, there is no more sacrifice for sin, no more sacrifice period, it is all finished. Jesus died for my sins therefore I am going to heaven. That is not what it meant. St. Paul means it is once for all time. That sacrifice continues to be offered, as it will right here on the altar in just a few moments, and for all time there is one sacrifice as God promised through the prophet Malachi.
Why are we talking about this on the Feast of the Ascension? In this we see several things in the readings. First of all St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles. He is writing to a person he calls Theophilus, which is you and me (Theophilus is from two Greek words which mean the lover of God.) For anyone who loves God, St. Luke is writing, this is the truth of what happened. He reminds us that Jesus for forty days after He suffered, showed Himself to His Apostles and proved to them in many ways that He was alive. He sets the context. He talks about the life, the suffering, the death, the resurrection, the forty days and then was taken up to heaven in their sight. So we see the whole context the life, the death, the resurrection of our Lord, and now also the Ascension. The Ascension is so important because without it the work of redemption would not be fulfilled. Think about what it would mean if Jesus did not ascend into heaven. It would mean that we could all rise from the dead and then we would be stuck here on earth for the rest of eternity. God did not make us for that purpose. He made us so that we can be with Him. And the only way we were going to be able to be with Him is if the way to heaven was open, if whatever separated us from God was removed. So just as at the death of Jesus the curtain was torn in two, now we see that through the flesh Jesus has entered into that Holy of Holies. There is nothing any longer which separates us from God except for our natural life in this world. Now at the moment of death when we enter through that veil, we too have the opportunity to be able to go heaven to be united with our Lord, and to be able to enter face to face into that glory of God.
The reason I was talking about that sacrifice of Jesus is that it is not just a matter of sitting around gazing lovingly at God. That would be enough; that would be more than enough. It would be more than we would be able to handle for the rest of all eternity, because God is infinite. To be able to look at Him for the rest of eternity implies that we will never ever, ever reach the end of God. There will always be more and as we look at God (there are not instances in eternity but if there were) at every single instance of eternity we would see more. We would see a new vision of God, and we would be filled with the glory of God. But God is not content merely with that. He has invited us into the very worship of Himself. That is why we have to understand the importance of what Jesus has done by taking His sacrifice up to heaven, by bringing Himself and His flesh in our human nature before the throne of God to offer Himself once for all time to our heavenly Father. Right now He is standing before the throne of almighty God, and He is showing to God the Father the wounds that He incurred for us. As we offer this sacrifice on the altar in just a few moments, and that sacrifice is taken up to heaven, Jesus is right there showing the heavenly Father the sacrifice that He offered physically as we offer that sacrifice mystically and united with Him. So the importance of this is that we now already share in the heavenly worship.
What we are doing right here is similar to what happened in the Old Testament. Moses had the vision of the heavenly worship and made a temple that looked like the temple in heaven, and was able to enter into the worship of God and offer the blood of bulls and goats. We offer the blood of the innocent Lamb in the true tabernacle. So even though here we already share in that heavenly worship it is still in a temple, which is a mere copy made by human hands, but we offer a sacrifice that is not merely human but it is divine. We offer the very sacrifice of heaven and we receive the very bread of angels, the bread come down from heaven. We receive Jesus, and that is the dignity that will be ours for all eternity. Jesus has already taken Himself and His sacrifice and His humanity; His body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity, He has taken up to heaven and He has offered that to our heavenly Father. The heavenly Father has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. But even still it is not complete.
Notice again the context in the readings twice, in St. Paul's letter to the Hebrews as well as in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that, "This Jesus whom you saw go up to heaven will return just as you saw Him go." It is not enough that when we die that our souls would be able to go to heaven. God made us both body and soul, and so right now the saints who are in heaven already gazing on God, do not yet enjoy the fullness of what they will have because our bodies, like the body of Jesus will be reunited with our souls. Assuming that we go to heaven, our bodies will be with our souls for all eternity, so that just as the body of Jesus Christ was taken to heaven, and that sacrifice which He offered in His own flesh is now offered to God before the throne, so too our bodies, our flesh, our humanity (for which that sacrifice was offered) will also be taken up to share in the glory of God. That is what this day is all about. That is the importance of the Ascension. Not only has Jesus already taken our humanity to heaven, not only is He there offering that sacrifice once for all time so that we would have the opportunity to share in the glory of God; but He will come back in His glorified humanity to take those who will rise from the dead on the day of judgment, on the day of resurrection, on the last day of this world, He will take us with Him so that we will enter into the glory, into the fullness of glory of God in body and soul. Not only will we look upon the face of God; we will actually enter into the very worship of God, and be able to understand in the fullness of our being what it is that we already participate in here. We will enter into the heavenly banquet, the marriage banquet of the Lamb, where we will feast upon Jesus Christ for all eternity.
Where we enter into God, God enters into us (as we talked about last week) and we will understand even as we have been understood; we will see even as we are seen. And we will be able to participate fully in the worship that we already share in here, where the sacrifice of Jesus Christ will be ours for all eternity. We will be able to unite ourselves with Him and offer glory to God and worship Him for all eternity. So today and every day as we come for Mass and we worship God, we need to gaze lovingly upon our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. At the same time we need to look forward to the fullness of that, but recognize the dignity that is ours. Even now we share in the worship of God, but now only in a temple and in the Holy of Holies that is a copy of the true one. As we look forward to the fullness of the promise that we already share in this Mass and in the Holy Sacrament of the Mass, we look forward to the glory of God and the fullness of worship. That is when we too will enter through the veil into the very sanctuary of God, and with the angels, and the saints, and with Jesus Himself, we will worship our heavenly Father through all eternity.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.