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Thoughts from the
Early Church
The Solemnity of the Ascension
May 13, 2018


Commentary by Leo the Great
The Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God.
 (Mk 16:19)

The sacred work of our salvation was of such value in the sight of the Creator of the universe that he counted it worth the shedding of his own blood.

From the day of his birth until his passion and death this work was carried out in conditions of self-abasement; and although he showed many signs of his divinity even when he bore the form of a slave, yet, strictly speaking, the events of that time were concerned with proving the reality of the humanity he had assumed.

But he was innocent of any sin, and so when death launched its attack upon him he burst its bonds and robbed it of its power. After his passion weakness was turned into strength, mortality into eternal life, and disgrace into glory.

Of all this our Lord Jesus Christ gave ample proof in the sight of many, until at last he entered heaven in triumph, bearing with him the trophy of his victory over death.

Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible.
And so while at Easter it was the Lord’s resurrection which was the cause of our joy, our present rejoicing is on account of his ascension into heaven. With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up in Christ above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father.

It is upon this ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established, so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvelous when, in spite of the withdrawal from our sight of everything that is rightly felt to command our reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold.

For such is the power of great minds, such is the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight.

Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible.

This is why Christ said to the man who seemed doubtful about his resurrection unless he could see and touch the marks of his passion in his very flesh: “You believe because you see me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

It was in order that we might be capable of such blessedness that on the fortieth day after his resurrection, after he had made careful provision for everything concerning the preaching of the gospel and the mysteries of the new covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ was taken up to heaven before the eyes of his disciples, and so his bodily presence among them came to an end.

From that time onward he was to remain at the Father’s right hand until the completion of the period ordained by God for the Church’s children to increase and multiply, after which, in the same body with which he ascended, he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high.

Sermon 74, 1-2: CCL 138A, 455-57


Leo the Great (c. 400-61) was elected pope in 440. At a time of general disorder he did much to strengthen the influence of the Roman see. Although he was not a profound theologian, Leo’s teaching is clear and forceful. His Tome was accepted as a statement of Christological orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon (451). One hundred and forty-three of his letters and ninety-six sermons have survived. The latter, which cover the whole of the liturgical year, have been published in a critical edition.


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Edith Barnecut, OSB. was a consultant for the International Committee for English in the Liturgy, Sr. Edith was responsible for the final version of many of the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Journey with the Fathers
Commentaries on the Sunday Gospels
- Year B, pp. 60-61.
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Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
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