Ascension Thursday

Tonight (May 5) I attended the Pontifical Mass that Bishop Morlino offered at St. Mary of Pine Bluff. In his homily, Bishop Morlino said that Mass is not just a commemoration of the Passion, but also the Ascension of Our Lord — Christ’s “Great Entrance” into Heaven. I’d add: there’s a link from Maundy Thursday (the institution of the Eucharist) to Ascension Thursday (Our Lord’s bodily entrance into the Heavenly sanctuary).

The Epistle at Mass on Ascension Thursday is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. One of the passages (Acts 1:10-11) reads:

“And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments. Who also said: ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Where have we seen these two men (i.e. angels) before? At the Resurrection:

“And she [St. Mary Magdalen] saw two angels in white, sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had laid. They say to her: Woman, why weepest thou? . . .” (Gospel according to St. John 20:12-13)

So at both the Resurrection and the Ascension, these two angels appear at a liminal event — a threshold moment. I think we can trace these angels back to Genesis and the fall (Gen. 3:24):

“And He [God] cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life.”

These cherubim — specifically two cherubim — reappear in the covering of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-22) and the statues of two cherubim that stood astride the Ark in Solomon’s Temple (III Kings 6:23-28; your Bible might count this book as I Kings).

In the Old Testament, the two angels guard a place from which mankind has been expelled (Eden with its Tree of Life) or a place where the high priest goes to propitiate God (the Ark, the inner sanctum of the Temple). In the New Testament, the angels testify to the restoration of man to paradise (the Resurrection) and the ascent of the True High Priest into the inner sanctum of Heaven (the Ascension).

Lastly, there is a tradition in churches to have two statues of angels in the sanctuary, flanking the altar or the tabernacle. In the Anglican Patrimony, these angels often surmount what are called riddle posts. At St. Mary of Pine Bluff, where Bishop Morlino offered Mass tonight, the angels take the form of two reliefs on either side of the tabernacle. These angels remind us that Mass opens the gate of Eden which was closed; that the tabernacle and altar are greater than the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament; that the tabernacle is like the Tomb where Christ rose; and that the Christ Whom we receive in the Eucharist is the same Christ Who ascended into Heaven, whence He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. Let us partake of the Holy Eucharist worthily!

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