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Feast of the Ascension

The Holy Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Basilica Hymn
O Lord, the God of my salvation
You have arrayed him in honor and glory
For he is the image and glory of God
For he has made for us a glorious name
O Lord, in your love, you honored our nature in the beginning, in your living image and in your likeness. And, because the Backbiter cast us out of our glory in his envy, you sent your Son. By his Birth, he turned our race back from ignorance; by his revered Baptism, he promised us adoption; by his suffering and death, he saved us from slavery to sin; by his resurrection, he justified us, and by his ascension, he lifted us up to his right hand.

The Mountain of the Lord 

The 24th Psalm begins thus: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who live there. For God founded it on the seas, established it over the rivers. Who may go up the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place?” The Psalm continues in explaining that those who are pure and have a true faith will “receive blessings” from God, but it does not at any point answer its own question: Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?

In Biblical language, such an unanswered question is intended to have a negative answer. “Who is like the Lord our God?” in itself is meant to imply the answer “nobody.” Similar also are many other questions in Scripture, such as “Who has understood the mind of the Lord?” and God’s question to Job, “Where were you when I founded the earth?” (Job 38: 4)

Christ is the fulfillment of all the Scriptures, and the exception to every limitation placed on sinful humanity, and in fact, he is the one who has “climbed the mountain of the Lord” by ascending to heaven, an event which we celebrate on this Feast of the Ascension. The book of the Acts of the Apostles relates that Christ appeared to his disciples for a period of forty days before he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:3). Thus, forty days after celebrating his resurrection, we celebrate his ascending into heaven.

The View from Above

The perspective of the eye changes depending on its distance from its object as well as on the angle. The farther the eye is from the object, the less detail it can see, though its field of vision is wider. Similarly, the closer the eye is to its object, the more detail it can see, though there is less within its scope. On a merely human level, we can say that though looking at our life or our common history from far away deprives us of some detail, it allows us to single out the most important events and see them in relation to each other. In other words, because we cannot get caught up in the details of particular events, we are able to see only the most major moments. And this fact is not a consequence of our sins; it is a fact of our nature, with sin or otherwise.

The teaching of the Church is that Christ is fully human and fully Divine, even now while in heaven. That is, there was never a moment when his humanity was swallowed up or absorbed into his Divinity; the fact that he is God never took away from the fact that he is a man. That being the case, we must say, with all the teachers of the Church that even now, while in heaven, Christ has both a human and a Divine perspective, both a human and a Divine mind, the latter which is the Godhead itself, and the former which cannot ever comprehend it fully; if it did, it would cease to be a human mind at all.

The Basilica Hymn of the Feast of the Ascension is a human look at the events of salvation history. We know it is a human look, obviously, because it was written by a human being, but also because it has the limitation of the human mind: it is short and to the point, and within time and therefore limited in the amount of detail it can contain. Only the Divine Mind can at once view all of history in every minute detail. But even as a human examination of history, it is not one that is earthly, for its perspective is so wide as to imply an immense distance from its object. Perhaps it is a guess at the perspective of the Messiah who has ascended into heaven itself, who has climbed the mountain of the Lord and is looking down upon the whole physical realm in heavenly love, and who has brought us with himself:

O Lord, in your love, you honored our nature in the beginning, in your living image and in your likeness. And, because the Backbiter cast us out of our glory in his envy, you sent your Son. By his Birth, he turned our race back from ignorance; by his revered Baptism, he promised us adoption; by his suffering and death, he saved us from slavery to sin; by his resurrection, he justified us, and by his ascension, he lifted us up to his right hand.