WDTPRS Ascension – Our humanity, “raised beyond the heights of archangels”

On my planet, this coming Sunday is the 7th Sunday after Easter, Ascension Thursday having fallen on Thursday.

In most places Ascension Thursday has been transferred to Sunday, but not with malice.  The notion the bishops had was to expose more people to the mystery of the Lord’s Ascension.  That may indeed occur, but in my opinion the transfer may reinforce an impression that these great feasts, important for our Catholic identity, aren’t compelling enough to inspire the planning and sacrifices required to go to Mass during the week.

Meanwhile, the Ascension of Our Lord, one of the great mysteries of the life of Christ, has been celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter (i.e., a Thursday) since the 4th century.

Enough said.

For Ascension Thursday Sunday – in the Novus Ordo – there are two Collects from which the priest celebrant may freely choose. The first prayer is a new composition for the Novus Ordo, and thus it is not found in pre-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum.  The second option, added in the 2002, 3rd edition is fairly ancient, but is less interesting.  We will look at the first Collect:

Fac nos, omnipotens Deus, sanctis exsultare gaudiis, et pia gratiarum actione laetari, quia Christi Filii tui ascensio est nostra provectio, et quo processit gloria capitis, eo spes vocatur et corporis.

The main source for this prayer is undoubtedly St Leo the Great’s (d 461) Sermon 73, 4:

Quia igitur Christi ascensio, nostra provectio est, et quo praecessit gloria capitis, eo spes uocatur et corporis, dignis, dilectissimi, exultemus gaudiis et pia gratiarum actione laetemur.

The phrase gratias agere means “to give thanks”.  In Latin, “Thank you!” is “Grátias tibi ágo!, literally, “I give thanks to you.”  The link with Greek eucharistia (“thanksgiving”) is apparent.  In liturgical contexts actio is often the liturgical “action” itself, the act of liturgical worship, even the core of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer.  Provectio is “an advancement, promotion”.


Cause us, Almighty God, to exult in holy joys, and to be glad in devout thanksgiving, because the ascension of Christ Your Son is our advancement, and the hope of the Body is being called to that place from whence comes forth the glory of the Head.

I capitalize Body and Head, because Leo is working with the ecclesiological image of Christ as Head of us, His Body the Church.  I defend “from whence” – which some think a redundant tautology).


Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God, and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving, for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation, and, where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.

Since our Collect is basically St. Leo let’s quote him some more.  On 1 June 444, in that same Sermon 73, 4, he preached to his Roman flock:

“Truly it was a great and indescribable source of rejoicing when, in the sight of the heavenly multitudes, the nature of our human race ascended over the dignity of all heavenly creatures, to pass the angelic orders and to be raised beyond the heights of archangels. In its ascension it did not stop at any other height until this same nature was received at the seat of the eternal Father, to be associated on the throne of the glory of that One to whose nature it was joined in the Son.”

The same Pope Leo (channeling his inner St. Augustine – s. 325, 1) says in Sermon 74, 3, preached on 17 May 445:

“[Our Catholic] Faith, reinforced by the Ascension of the Lord and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, has not been terrified by chains, by prison, by exile, by hunger, by fire, by the mangling of wild beasts, nor by sharp suffering from the cruelty of persecutors.  Throughout the world, not only men but also women, not just immature boys but also tender virgins, have struggled on behalf of this Faith even to the shedding of their blood.  This Faith has cast out demons, driven away sicknesses, and raised the dead.”

We know with holy and Catholic Faith that what was not assumed, was not redeemed (St Gregory of Nazianzus d 389/90).

Our humanity, body and soul, was taken by the Son into an unbreakable bond with His divinity. When Christ rose from the tomb, our humanity rose.  When Christ ascended to heaven, so also did we ascend.  In Christ Jesus, our humanity now sits at the Father’s right hand.  His Ascension then is our great hope now.  Our hope is already fulfilled, but not yet in its fullness.

This hope informs our trials in this life.

WDTPRS Ascension – Our humanity, “raised beyond the heights of archangels”
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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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10 Responses to WDTPRS Ascension – Our humanity, “raised beyond the heights of archangels”

  1. mamajen says:

    My diocese has not transferred the Holy Day, and it’s looking like I’m going to end up at a TLM for the first time in about a decade. I’m hoping that, given what I’ve learned during that time, I can appreciate it more than I did back then.

  2. LarryW2LJ says:

    Went to Mass this morning before work and as usual, Fr. had a great homily. He spoke of how, even though Jesus left us physically, He is still present with us every day and every way through the Holy Spirit.

    And he reminded us that as the Apostles were looking up in the sky as Jesus ascended, the Angels were sent, to remind them and us to return our focus back to earth, and get busy about “doing the Lord’s work”, building up the Body of Christ on earth, the Church.

    He also reminded us of the Great Commission and how, while it’s the role of the clergy to baptize, it’s ALL of our role to spread the Good News and evangelize.

  3. PaterAugustinus says:

    And it shows how inter-connected the Liturgy can be. That homily of Pope St. Leo the Great, at least in the traditional, Monastic Office as I chanted it this morning, is drawn upon for some of the Lessons. Is that also true for any other forms of the Office?

  4. Sonshine135 says:

    Someone told me Easter is falling on a Friday next year ;)

  5. rbbadger says:

    I wish that the bishops had not decided to move the various Holy Days around. At least we still have Holy Days of Obligation, though. Some dioceses and bishops’ conferences have very few. The Diocese of Hong Kong, thanks to the strange state of affairs in China, does not belong to any episcopal conference. In the Diocese of Hong Kong, there is only one Holy Day of Obligation, namely Christmas. In South Korea, where I lived, there were only three Holy Days, namely Mary, Mother of God, Assumption, and Christmas. Canada only has two Holy Days, namely Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and Christmas. The same is true of the Diocese of Honolulu.

  6. tcreek says:

    The bishops are just trying to make it easier and easier to be Catholic. They are such nice “men”.

  7. Gregorius says:

    The diocese transferred the feast, so for today I just simply “transferred” myself to a church that celebrates the TLM. It was a hurried Low Mass, but I am still very grateful for it. It’s a shame too, considering the church I normally attend daily IS named for the Ascension…

  8. tcreek says:

    95% of Catholic don’t go to Mass on Holy Days so the bishops transfer the feast to Sundays when 75% don’t go.

  9. Michaelus says:

    Our diocese does not transfer the feast and I was fortunate to hear our new Bishop Frank Caggiano preach at the 9AM mass this morning. He did a great job. The parish school attended and he gave a sermon appropriate for children but not childish. The church was packed. A fine start to the feast day.

  10. Rachel K says:

    I have no erudite observation about the feast, other than to say I like the picture with the bottom portion of Jesus going up!
    It reminds me of the Anglican Shrine in Walsingham (our National Marian Shrine, which has been there since 1080 or thereabouts) where in one corner there is a pair of plaster feet on the ceiling, signifying Our Lord’s Ascension. As student visitors to the shrine my friends and I always thought this hilarious, especially after a couple of pints in the Black Lion. (There are three pubs in the village, a tiny place with very little else in the way of amenities.)