The importance of the Ascension Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Jun. 05, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. As a brother-bishop jokes, we celebrate this glorious mystery exactly according to the Acts of the Apostles . . . 44 days after Easter . . .

Regardless the accuracy of the date, however, it is a tremendously important Feast for us -- one of the most important.

What the Paschal Mystery means

Throughout the Easter season, especially in the Opening Prayers of the Mass and in the Prefaces, we have heard reference over and over again to the Paschal Mystery.

We repeat that many times. And I wonder if it's clear in our heads what that means. These 50 days of Easter time are the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

The Paschal Mystery means the Easter Mystery. And the Easter Mystery is, of course, in the first place, the dying of Christ and His glorious Resurrection.

That’s the very first part of the Easter Mystery, the Paschal Mystery. But that's not the end of it. And this is why we need 50 days to celebrate it.

We need 50 days, as it were, to unpack this mystery which is superabundant. And on this past Sunday we put an exclamation point on our celebration of the Paschal Mystery with the Feast of the Ascension. (And we'll add a final exclamation point next week with Pentecost.)

Every time we celebrate Mass, we re-present the dying and rising of Jesus. The Eucharistic sacrifice is a re-presentation of Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice. But, we sometimes forget that every single time we celebrate Mass, we also rather dramatically re-present the Ascension.

Celebrating the Ascension at Mass

Every single time we celebrate Mass, we re-present the coming of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes we forget about that too. The Easter mystery is a packed mystery. So much so that it takes 50 days to unpack it.

But for our reflection today, we recall that every time we celebrate Mass, we celebrate the Ascension. And as a matter of fact, in the Eastern churches, the Ascension is their primary model for understanding the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The primary model in the East is not the Resurrection, it’s the Ascension, because their term for the mystery of the divine liturgy in the East, is "the great entrance."

Jesus was raised, He ascended, and He entered the heavenly kingdom, opening the gates for everyone else. And the Scriptures tell us He entered and He took His place at God’s right hand. And whenever we hear "Jesus at the right hand of the Father", that means Jesus the one Eternal High Priest. So, the Feast of the Ascension is a very priestly feast.

And that's something that priests should never forget as they celebrate the Eucharist, that in the person of Christ, they are privileged to enter the sanctuary, the heavenly sanctuary. The priest is privileged to enter and to take his place in the person of Christ at the right hand of the Father.

The Feast of the Ascension is a marvelous feast of the priesthood, a marvelous feast for helping every priest to understand who he is. In the person of Christ, he must suffer, he must die, he must be raised, and then he must make that final great entrance when the Lord calls him home to heaven (if indeed He does).

So, priests should have Ascension right at the forefront of their minds as they prepare to offer each Mass; it is such an important reality for who we are and what we do for God’s people.

Looking back on ordination to the priesthood

This had a particularly powerful meaning for me this past Sunday as it was 40 years ago, June 1, that I was ordained a priest.

Forty years ago, June 1, was not the Ascension, but rather the Feast of St. Justin the Martyr. And, as an aside, what did St. Justin do? He tried to use philosophic reasoning to promote and to defend the Truth of Christ. And he got killed for it. I stay close to him. (At least I try to.)

It was also the Vigil of Pentecost, 40 years ago on June 1, and I had the great privilege to be ordained by Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, the Archbishop of Baltimore at the time. It was his last official public act to ordain 12 Jesuits on the Vigil of Pentecost. Maybe ordaining 12 Jesuits finished him off!

And so this past Sunday was a very special day for me and while I do not usually spend time in these columns talking about myself, I'd ask you to indulge me and to offer up a prayer with me for Cardinal Shehan, for Fr. Henry Lavin, who preached at my first Mass and who has also gone to see the face of Christ, and for the many Jesuits who were instrumental in my priesthood and in my formation.

I want to say personally how grateful I am for 40 years as priest (and the last 15 as Bishop). I cannot even begin adequately to thank God. I have had many joyful days along the way and I have had enough tough days too. But those tough days are nothing other than days when the Lord showers His unseen gifts on me.

When I am having a tough day, that's a call to me to find the hidden gift of God that is concealed beneath the problems I am facing -- whatever they are. I find myself so incredibly grateful that I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I am so grateful for all of you, whose holiness and witness continues to inspire me. When I look at my life, it's almost too good to be true.

Usually things that are too good to be true are not true, but this is just one more spectacular gift from God to me.

My life has been truly blessed in so many ways by the priesthood of Christ and even by the office of high priesthood, as Bishop. And I never thought it would be that way. Jesuits are trained never to think about becoming bishops, because by and large they don’t. And they never become Pope, so it was always said — the God of surprises!

Reflecting on blessings

And so I reflect on blessings. Each one of us has, in his or her own way, been tremendously blessed by the Lord. Tremendously blessed!

And I give thanks to the Lord, as I did this past Sunday, especially through the Eucharist, which re-presents the suffering, the death, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Holy Spirit's presence in the Church, and which is primarily about thanksgiving.

So if you would, please join me in thanksgiving for my 40 years of priestly service, but particularly, also take some time today and recall everything that you have to be grateful for too -- foremost of which is the great High Priest who sits at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ!

So let that gratitude fill our hearts and minds. I really do need your prayers every day. You have my prayers every day. You are very dear to me. And if you want to pray for me, pray that the Lord will continue to give me the grace to be as grateful to Him every blessed day -- for so many things I could never mention them all -- as I am right now. Praised be Jesus Christ!