Proper of the Time and the Vigil of the Ascension
But, after His Resurrection, what must not these privileged men (the Apostles) have felt, when they perceived, as we do, that this beloved Master was soon to leave them? They had, so to speak, been living with Jesus glorified; they had experienced the effects of His divine condescension and intimacy; they had received from his lips every instruction they needed for the fulfilling His will, that is, for the founding, on earth, the Church He had chosen as His Spouse. These happy forty days are fast drawing to a close. The Apostles will then be deprived of Jesus’ visible presence, even to the end of their lives.
We, too, shall feel something of their sadness, if we have kept ourselves united to our holy mother the Church. From the very first day, when she recommenced, for our sakes, the Ecclesiastical Year, during which all the Mysteries of our Redemption, from the Birth of our Emmanuel even to His triumphant Ascension into heaven, were to be celebrated, have not we, also, been living in company with her Jesus, our Redeemer? And now that he is about to close the sweet intercourse which these Seasons and Feasts have kept up between Himself and us, are not our feelings very much like those of the Apostles?
But there is one creature on earth, whom Jesus is leaving, and whose feelings, at the approaching separation, we cannot attempt to describe. Never had there been a heart so submissive to the will of her Creator; but, at the same time, there never was any Creature so severely tried as she had been. Jesus would have His Mother’s love still increase; He therefore subjects her to the separation from Himself. Moreover, He wishes her to co-operate in the formation of the Church, for he has decreed that the great work shall not be achieved without her. In all this, Jesus shows how tenderly He loves His Blessed Mother: He wishes her merit to be so great, that He may justly give her the brightest possible crown, when the day of her own Ascension into heaven comes.
The heart of this incomparable Queen is not, indeed, to be again transfixed with a sword of sorrow: it is to be consumed by a love so intense that no language could describe it. Under the sweet, yet wearing, fire of this love, Mary is at length to give way, just as fruit falls from the tree, when its ripeness is complete, and the tree has nothing more to give it. But, during these last hours of Jesus’ presence, what must not such a Mother have felt, who has had but forty days to enjoy the sight and the caresses of her glorified and divine Son? It is Mary’s last trial; and when her Jesus tells her of His wish that she should remain in exile, she is ready with her favorite answer: Behold the Handmaid of the Lord! Be it done to me according to thy word! Her whole life has been spent in doing God’s will; it was this that made her so great in His eyes, and so dear to His heart . A holy servant of God, who lived in the 17th century, and was favored with the most sublime revelations, tells us, that it was left to Mary’s choice, either to accompany her divine Son to heaven, or to remain some years longer upon the earth–to assist the infant Church; and that she chose to defer her entrance into eternal bliss, in order to labour, as long as it was God’s good pleasure, in the great work which was so closely connected with the glory of her Son, and so essential to the salvation of us her adopted children.
If this generous devotedness raised the co-operatrix of our salvation to the highest degree of sanctity, by giving completeness to her mission on earth, we may be sure that Jesus’ love for His Mother was increased by the new proof she thus gave Him of her uniformity with every wish of His sacred Heart. He repaid her, as He well knew how to do, for this heroic self-sacrifice, this prompt submission to His having designed her to be, here on earth, as the Church calls her, Queen of the Apostles, and a sharer in their labours of planting the Church.
During these, His last few hours on earth, our Lord’s affection for His Apostles and Disciples seemed to be redoubled. For several of them, the separation was to be a long one. The Beloved-Disciple, John, was not to enjoy the company of his divine Master till more than fifty years had elapsed. It was to be thirty before the Cross would carry Peter to Him who had entrusted to his keeping the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Magdalene, the fervent Magdalene, would have to wait the same length of time. But no one murmured at the divine appointment; they all felt how just it was, that Jesus, now that He had so fully established the faith of His Resurrection, should enter into his glory (St. Luke, xxiv. 26).
On the very day of His Resurrection, our Saviour bade the Disciples go into Galilee, for that there He would meet them. As we have already seen, they obeyed the order, and seven among them were favoured by Jesus’ appearing to them on the banks of the Lake Genesareth: it is the eighth of the manifestations mentioned in the Gospel. The ninth, also, took place in Galilee. Our Lord loved Galilee: it gave him the greater number of his Disciples, it was Mary and Joseph’s country, and it was there that He himself passed so many years of his hidden life. Its people were simpler and better than those of Judea, and this was another attraction. St. Matthew tells us, that the most public of all Jesus’ manifestations, after his Resurrection, the tenth in reality, and the ninth mentioned by the Evangelists, took place on a hill in this same district (St. Matth. xxvii. 16).
According to St. Bonaventure, and the learned and pious Denis the Carthusian, this hill was Mount Thabor, the same that was honoured by the mystery of the Transfiguration. Upwards of five hundred of Jesus’ Disciples were assembled there, as we learn from, St. Paul (I. Cor. xv. 6): they were mostly inhabitants of Galilee, had believed in our Lord during his three years’ public life, and merited to be witnesses of this new triumph of the Nazarene. Jesus showed Himself to them, and gave them such certitude with regard to His resurrection, that the Apostle appeals to their testimony in support of this fundamental mystery of our Faith. Further than this, we know of no other manifestations made by our Saviour after His Resurrection. We know that he gave order to his Disciples to repair to Jerusalem, where they were to see him once more before his Ascension. Let us, during these few days, follow the Disciples to Jerusalem. Faithless city! how often has not Jesus sought to gather together her children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and she would not (St. Matth. xxiii. 37)! He is about to re-enter her walls; but she is not to know it. He will not show Himself to her, but only to those that love him; and after this He will depart in silence, never to return until He comes to judge them that have not known the time of their visitation.
Vigil of the Ascension
The Disciples are all assembled in Jerusalem. They are grouped around the Blessed Mother, in the Cenacle, awaiting the hour when their divine Master is to appear to them for the last time. Recollected and silent, they are reflecting upon all the kindness and condescension He has been lavishing upon them during the last forty days; they are ruminating upon the instructions they have received from His sacred lips. They know Him so well now! they know in very deed that He came out from the Father (St. John, xvii. 8). As to what regards themselves, they have learned from Him what their mission is: they have to go, ignorant men as they are, and teach all nations (St. Matth. xxviii.19); but, O sad thought! He is about to leave them; yet a little while, and they shall not see Him (St. John. xvi. 16)!”
What a contrast between their sorrow and the smiling face of nature, which is decked out in her best, for she is going to celebrate the triumphant departure of her Creator! The earth is blooming with the freshness of her first-fruits, the meadows have put on their richest emerald, the air is perfumed with blossom and flower; and all this loveliness of Spring is due to the bright Sun that shines upon the earth to give her gladness and life, and is privileged to be, both by its kingly splendour and the successive phases of its influence upon our globe, the grand symbol of our Emmanuel’s passage through this world.
Let us go back in thought to the dismal days of the winter solstice. The sun looked then so pallid; his triumph over night was slow and short; he rose, and sank again, often without our seeing him; his light had a certain timid reserve about it, and his heat was, for weeks, too feeble to rescue nature from the grasp of frost. Such was our divine Sun of Justice, when first He came on earth; His rays made but little way in the world’s thick gloom; He kept His splendour in, lest men should be dazzled by too sudden a change from darkness to light. Like the material sun, He gained upon the world by slow advances; and even so, His progress was shrouded by many a cloud. His sojourn in the land of Egypt, His hidden life at Nazareth, were long periods of His being wholly lost sight of. But when the time came for Him to show Himself, his glory shone forth, with all its magnificence, upon Galilee and Judea; he spoke as one having power (St. Matth. vii. 29), His works bore testimony to His being God (St. John, x. 25), and the people hailed him with the cry of Hosannah to the Son of David!
He was almost at the zenith of His glory, when suddenly came the eclipse of His Passion and Death. For some hours, His enemies flattered themselves that they had for ever put out His light. Vain hope! on the third day, our divine Sun triumphed over this final obstruction; and now stands in the firmament, pouring out His light upon all creation, but warning us that His course is run. For He can never descend; there is no setting for Him; and here finishes the comparison between Himself and the orb of day. It is from heaven itself that he, our beautiful Orient, is henceforth to enlighten and direct us, as Zachary foretold at the birth of the Baptist (St. Luke, i. 79). The Royal Prophet, too, thus exultingly sang of Him: He hath rejoiced, as a giant, to run the way: His going out is from the higliest heaven, and His circuit even to the summit thereof: and there is no one that can hide himself from His heat (Ps. xviii. 6, 7).
This Ascension, which enthroned our Emmanuel as the eternal centre of light, was, by His own decree, to take place on one of the days of the month which men call May, and which clothes, in its richest beauty, the creation of this same God, who, when he had made it, was pleased with it, and found it very good (Gen. i. 31). Sweet month of May! not gloomy and cold like December, which brought us the humble joys of Bethlehem; not lowering and clouded like March, when the Lamb was sacrificed on Calvary; but buoyant with sunshine, and flowers, and life, and truly worthy to be offered, each year, to Mary, the Mother of God, for it is the month of her Jesus’ triumph.
O Jesus! our Creator and Brother! our eyes and heart have followed thee from thy first rising upon our world. We have celebrated, in the holy Liturgy, each of Thy giant steps. But our very seeing Thee thus ever growing in beauty and brightness, told us, that thou must one day leave us, to go and take possession of the place that was alone worthy of Thee, the throne at the right hand of Thine Eternal Father. The splendour that has been on Thee since thy Resurrection, is not of this world; Thou canst no longer abide among us; Thou hast remained here below, for these forty days, only for the sake of consolidating Thy work: and tomorrow, the earth that has been blessed with Thy presence for three and thirty years, will be deprived of its privilege and joy. We rejoice at Thy approaching triumph, as did Thy Blessed Mother, thy Disciples, Mary Magdalene and her companions; but we are sad at the thought of losing Thee, and Thou wilt forgive us. Thou wast our Emmanuel, our God with us; henceforth, Thou art to be our Sun, our King, reigning from the throne of heaven, and we shall no longer be able to hear Thee, nor see Thee, nor touch Thee, O Word of Life (l. St. John, i. 1)! Still, dearest Jesus, we say to Thee with all our hearts: Glory and love be to Thee, for Thou hast treated us with infinite mercy! Thou owedst nothing to us; we were unworthy of a single look from Thee; and yet, Thou camedst down to this sinful earth, Thou hast dwelt among us, Thou hast paid our ransom by Thy Blood, Thou hast re-established Peace between God and man. Oh, yes! it is most just that thou shouldst now return to Him that sent thee (Ibid. xvi. 5). The Church, Thy Spouse, consents to her exile; she only thinks of what is most glorious to her Jesus; and she thus addresses Thee, in the words of the Canticle: Flee away, O my Beloved! and be swift as the roe and as the young hart, and ascend to the mountains, where the flowers of heaven exhale their sweet fragrance (Cant. viii. 14)! Can we, poor sinners as we are, refuse to imitate this loving resignation of her, who is Thy Spouse, and our Mother!
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.