The Ascension

Today is celebrated as the Ascension of Our Lord in many churches (40 days after Easter). The Catholic lectionary gives two options for the second reading, one of which may be Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23:

Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that men and women die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since through the blood of Jesus
we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary
by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil,
that is, his flesh,
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed in pure water.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.

The author of the epistle directs our attention above, to Christ ministering in the heavenly sanctuary, where he intercedes on our behalf, and from whence he shall come again.

He knows of Jesus’ promises, “I am with you to the end of the world,” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” But he doesn’t say, “Look to Jesus in your midst.” He doesn’t say, “Look to Jesus in your heart.” He says, “Look above.”

In John 14-16, Jesus said he was leaving to prepare a place for us, and would come again. “It is better for you if I go,” he said, “because if I go, the Father will send you another advocate, a comforter, the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is our means of communion with the Father and the Son now, in the interim, while Jesus is absent. This is what reconciles Jesus’ statements of his absence with the promise that he wouldn’t leave us.

Now, would Jesus have spoken in this way if he had intended to remain here with a physical presence? Would Jesus have directed us to heaven, where he interecedes, if he had intended to be available in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle? Is it any wonder that talk of Jesus’ heavenly ministry and of his second coming is virtually absent in those churches which teach Jesus’ physical presence in the Eucharist? Why look above, if you have him here? Why expect him in the future, if he is here already?

The implications of this have been followed through by Catholic apocalypticists, who do not expect a return of Christ, but instead a fuller manifestation of himself through the Eucharist–perhaps even apparitions of his bodily form– culminating in a “Eucharistic reign of Christ” that will lead to a period of peace. See the links in this post. I think it is likely that we will hear of such apparitions, and maybe will experience wonders such as those predicted–but it won’t be Christ who is manifesting himself. Jesus’ teaching on his return is clear. He says in Matthew 24:24ff:

If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. So if they say to you, ‘He is in the desert,’ do not go out there; if they say, ‘He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

Don’t look for Jesus in inner rooms or apparitions–look up, to the heavens, where he now intercedes. Look up to the clouds, from whence he will come.

19 thoughts on “The Ascension

  1. And what about the early Christians? Did they denign that Christ was in the Eucharist?

  2. Quite a metaphysical leap, Bret. As to your second question, what does it mean for Christ to be present? That was the question, about which there were many proposals as time went by.

    Yes, Liam–but when was the last time you preached on it, and what role does it have in your own spirituality?

  3. I think it is important to understand first what the Catholic claim is. The Tertia Pars of the Summa Theologica, Question 76, Articles 1-8 do a splendid job clarifying the Catholic doctrine.

    In this question, we discover (1) By the power of the sacrament the dimensive quantity of Christ’s body is not in this sacrament; for, by the power of the sacrament that is present in this sacrament, whereat the conversion is terminated. But the conversion which takes place in this sacrament is terminated directly at the substance of Christ’s body, and not at its dimensions; which is evident from the fact that the dimensive quantity of the bread remains after the consecration, while only the substance of the bread passes away, (2) every body occupying a place is in the place according to the manner of dimensive quantity, namely, inasmuch as it is commensurate with the place according to its dimensive quantity. Hence it remains that Christ’s body is not in this sacrament as in a place, but after the manner of substance, (3) Christ is not in this sacrament as in a place.

    Aquinas (and his students) show us how Christ is truly present, yet not in the exact same way that he was when he walked this earth. Therefore, there is still a dimensive Second/Final coming from the dimension of heaven to the dimension of earth, wherein Jesus will be here as in a place.

  4. That’s a long way from what any Scripture passage teaches (and, I might add, from what 99.9% of Catholics would be able to articulate).
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is authoritative in a way Thomas is not, puts it this way:

    1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

    And the venerable Catholic hymn, Ave verum corpus says that the Eucharistic body is the same as that natum ex maria virgine (an expression which Berengar of Tours was obliged to confess).

  5. Well, yess Bill, thats very true. When it came to preaching I tried as much as possible to keep my themes within season and link the preaching as well as I could to the Lectionary. But you also know, at least as well as I do, how the Second Coming it taught in Catholic schools of theology and seminaries. If it were not for Canon Law and ecclesiology seminarians would have nothing to study. But just because the Church shies away from it does not mean it does not beleive. What does the Catechism say? I was also thinking about the end of the first millennium, people expected Christ to return then. But, perhapse, that example only emphasises the disconnect between popular beleif and official teaching. I am away from home these days thats why I am asking for you to search.

  6. Pr. Bill (Cuz. ), Fr. Luther had a rather interesting remark toMr. Weber’s remarks, and I believe it went something like this: “a silly way to try and explain something that cannot be explained.”

    “Take eat, this IS My body. Take drink, this IS My blood” Christ our God said. How He is present…it’s mystery; best left that way. Thomas Aquinus had problems doing this. But He is truly present in the sacrament bespeaking us forgiven of our sins and bestowing on us life and salvation in the sacrament.

    One other “note bene” for any and all Roman Catholics on this board concerning Christ’s Second Coming. What do you confess every time you celebrate the Mass? “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” End of story.

  7. “The implications of this have been followed through by Catholic apocalypticists, who do not expect a return of Christ, but instead a fuller manifestation of himself through the Eucharist–perhaps even apparitions of his bodily form– culminating in a “Eucharistic reign of Christ” that will lead to a period of peace.”

    Where oh where do they get this stuff? Do any of the pay attention to the Nicene Creed?

    Right alongside those folks who claim there won’t be a Second Coming but mankind will become progressively better and better until we through our own efforts *build* the Kingdom of God on earth.

    Oops, I’d better change that to *reign* of God. *Kingdom* is too offensive to the progressives.

  8. “Why pay attention to the Creed when you have Garabandal?”

    Sad, but in some cases all too true.

  9. Why pay attentention to Garabandal when you have the Church? The Church has never said Garabandal is authentic. Now there is no doubt that the Church is slow to proclaim the Second Coming of Christ but lets be fair, She has not rejected the the beleif.

  10. Nature abhors a vacuum. Catholics shouldn’t be surprised when folks on their own fringes fill the gap left when a central teaching of the Christian faith is not proclaimed by the official teachers.

  11. I’m with you there. But Catholics, including clergy need to be educated. Many are put off by the great emphasis put on Christ’s comming by fundamentalists, raptures, dispensationalism, premillennialism, postmillennialism etc. etc. etc. Its confusing and the apolegetics type books do not help, they put greater emphasis on why attacks on Catholics are wrong rather than explain what the Church actually beleives.

  12. And what about the Holy Spirit? Apart from the Charismatic Renewal there is little emphasis put on the presence of the Holy Spirit. This, despite the fact that we proclaim our belief and call down his presence. I know this post is about the Second Coming but over the past week you have been pointing out some of the areas the Church is weak.

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