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Tomorrow is Ascension Day, and since it doesn’t look like I’ll have much of a chance to be online (rather like today, then), here is a text I wrote for the website of the St. Augustine parish for students in Groningen:
This Thursday we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Catholic Church that day counts as a Sunday. Because just like every Sunday this is a feast day which we specifically celebrate. And of course such a Sunday is more than just a day off. The Church asks us to keep the Sunday holy because of the importance of what we celebrate. That is taken directly from the Ten Commandments. How do we keep that day holy? By showing that we know what we celebrate and that we thank God for it. And we best recognise, celebrate and thank when we attend the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass. That is why there is a Sunday obligation for Ascension Day. We are expected to attend Mass that day. Not because the church has to be full, but because it is important for us, as members of the Body of Christ. Becoming aware of God’s acts is a first step towards the sanctification of our own lives.
There will not be a student Mass on Thursday. Instead you can go to the High Mass at the cathedral at 11:00. If you want to go before that, the doors of the St. Francis church, at the Zaagmuldersweg 67, are open for Mass at 9:30.
The Ascension of Christ is the conclusion of His work here on earth. Not that everything was now done and eternity was ready to begin; far from it. Things were really only starting for the Apostles. Just before ascending into heaven, Christ told them: “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end” (Acts 1: 8). And that is exactly what happened at Pentecost, which we celebrate in almost two weeks. The Holy Spirit came over the Apostles and they become that strong witnesses of the faith who we find in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Ascension is therefore a new beginning. After the new Covenant had been established at the Ressurrection, it can now be put into practice. Jesus promises is that He will send us a helper: The Holy Spirit. We received Him ourselves at our personal Pentecost: the sacrament of Confirmation, and we can always ask the Holy Spirit to come over us anew, to guide and inspire us.
That is what the Ascension already indicates. But until Pentecost we stare up at the empty sky, with hope and faith in the promise made by two angels to the Apostles. And what a promise!
“Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven” (Acts 1: 11).