WDTPRS Ascension (1962MR): cracks into a greater way, a bigger way of living

I  was struck today by the beauty of the Communion rite today, the Communion Antiphone and the Post Communion prayer in older, traditional form of Holy Mass today, for the Feast of the Ascension… which falls 40 days after Easter.  The Mass texts from the Feast of the Ascension can be used for the feria days that follow.

There is a pattern repeated during Mass. There is a procession, a greeting and a prayer.  Think, Introit chant- Dominus vobiscum – Oremus….  The same occurs at the Offertory and then Communion, the chant accompanies the procession to receive and, after Communion, there is the greeting and then the prayer.  The chant and the oration tie together, and at the core of the knot is the greeting and response.

So… first we hear the Communion Antiphon (in chant notation below).  Then, the


Praesta nobis, quaesumus,
omnipotens et misericors Deus:
ut, quae visibilibus mysteriis sumenda percepimus,
invisibili consequamur effectu

That word mysterium in Latin prayers is laden with significance.  It is the Latin rendering of Greek mysterion and is virtually interchangable with sacramentum, another Latin word used to render Greek mysterion.

This prayer is found in many ancient manuscripts.  In the Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis it is found at the entry CXLI. ITE IN ASCENSA DNI. AD SCM PETRUM… that is, for the Feast of the Ascension celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Grant us, we implore,
almighty and merciful God:
that we may obtain by an invisible effect
that which we grasped by means of visible sacramental mysteries

The sacraments, especially Communion of the Most Holy Eucharist, are gateways, paths, even cracks into a greater way, a bigger way of living.

Moses, having encountered God in the burning bush and having learned his ineffable Name, later wants to see God.  He asks God to show Himself to him.  God instructs Moses to stand behind a rock with a cleft in in and then glimpse God as God passes before the rock with His back turned. This is what happens with us during Holy Mass and Holy Communion. We get a glimpse at the vast reality beyond, a reality was cannot grasp here and now.  Only in the time to come will we grasp it.

That percipio means “take possession of” or “seize”, but also “to perceive, understand”, “to obtain”.  There is a juxtaposition of “grasping” in the prayer found in consequor and percipio.  Consequor can be “reach, attain, obtain” but also “follow a model”.  In our conformity to the thing we consume at Holy Communion we have the possibility of grasping that which it signifies.  Sacraments, mysteries, are signs which symbolize and confer that which cannot be perceived, grasped, in the senses.  They are visible signs that confer grace.

We must learn in our worship to peer not only at the signs themselves, but also through the cracks and spaces between the signs, which permit us a glimpse of MYSTERY.

Let us turn to the East in our worship, toward the One who returns though He has never left us alone.

Moreover, that Communion Antiphon (above) has an interesting musical element linking it to the 4th Sunday of Advent’s Ecce virgo.  There is an ascent in the melody: re-mi-fa-sol-la on the accented syllables of the words “Orientem” in the Ascension chant and, respectively, “Emmanuel” in in the Advent chant. This particular figure occurs only in these two chants.  The Advent chant (just before Christmas) refers to Christ’s First Coming and the Ascension (just before Pentecost) referring to his Second Coming.   Both involve an ascent and a descent, an emptying and a filling, a going forth and a return, an exitus and a reditus.  The Son leaves the Father us so He can return with us.  Christ leaves us so that He can return.  These chants are like bookends in the liturgical seasons.

Also, in the chant today we sing or say: “Psállite Dómino, qui ascéndit super coelos coelórum ad Oriéntem, allelúia. … Sing to the Lord, who ascended above the heavens to the East.”  Today’s chant reminds us that the best and proper “orientation” of our liturgical worship is toward the liturgical EAST, whence Christ will come again.

It is as if the liturgical East is the crack in Moses’ rock through which we peer at mystery.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. MJFarber says:

    I was struck by the following from my St. Andrews Missal:”It is on Ascension Day that Christ begins His heavenly Priesthood, showing His glorious wounds to God.”

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z, thank you, thank you, thank you. To be able to have the hope, the joy of attaining the unattainable, through the mysteries of the sacraments is a truth which touches my soul today. Do not our hearts reach out ever for that which we can barely perceive, and sometimes, as in a mist, see-the Love of Go? Your comment is like an opening of a door. We must be content with mystery, and like Moses, ask, but dare not look, until God deems the time. When we are at Mass, we are on Holy Ground, like Moses before the Burning Bush and on Sinai, only more so. Of course, one is reminded of St. Thomas Aquinas’ great hymn.

    Pange, lingua, gloriosi
    Corporis mysterium,
    Sanguinisque pretiosi,
    quem in mundi pretium
    fructus ventris generosi
    Rex effudit Gentium.


    Tantum ergo Sacramentum
    veneremur cernui:
    et antiquum documentum
    novo cedat ritui:
    praestet fides supplementum
    sensuum defectui.

    This meditation is truly beautiful. I know this is self-centered, but I feel as if you were speaking to me personally today in this meditation.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    sorry, I am not that Jewish not to put the “d” in God above, although my great-grandmother’s family converted to Catholicism–just too excited.

  4. q7swallows says:

    Oh, so beautiful: “The Son leaves the Father [for?] us so He can return with us.  Christ leaves us so that He can return.”

    Unspoken corollary: With us.

    It drove me to instant tears.

  5. AnAmericanMother says:

    O magnum mysterium . . . that we can only glimpse sidelong, heads bowed in reverence.

    Father, thank you!

  6. benedetta says:

    Thank you for this Fr. Z!

  7. Rob in Maine says:


    For once I was happily able to read the Latin without referring to my dictionary or grammar book. I have one question: does “coelos coelórum” translates as “the heavens of heavens” as in “not just the sky above, but the heavens above that” ?

  8. mrsarchieleach says:

    Oh how much we have lost in the NO Mass….. Discovering all that there is in the Old Rite, both for Mass and Rituale Romanum is none other than breathtaking! As a convert from Protestantism, to put it “mildly” – I don’t want to be a “half-baked Catholic”! I’ve been on the “other side” and that’s why I “crossed the tracks” – but give us the treasures that are HOLY MOTHER CHURCH!

    LOVE THAT!!!

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