Jesus' Ascension into Heaven
Ascension vs. Assumption
This year, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, May 25 (though some dioceses transfer this feast to the following Sunday). On this day, the Church celebrates the glorious ascension of Jesus into heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. The Ascension is described in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-51, and Acts 1:2-11. Though the Ascension is sometimes overlooked in its place between Easter and Pentecost, it is a crucial feast, without which Easter and Pentecost would not have the same meaning. The Ascension is the final step in Jesus’ victory over death. With this act, His resurrected body enters fully into the glory of heaven, thus fulfilling the promise of Easter. It is only once He has ascended that Jesus can send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to truly begin the Church on Pentecost. The concept of being raised, body and soul, into heaven is one that might be familiar. We celebrate a similar feast on August 15: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Assumption celebrates the day that Mary was raised into heaven without her body facing the decay of death. But the Ascension and the Assumption are not the same, and there are important implications from the differences.
Active vs. Passive
The most important difference between the Ascension and the Assumption is who the active party is. In the Ascension, Jesus ascends of His own power and will. Because He is divine, He acts of His own volition to ascend to the Father. On the other hand, Mary is passive. She does not raise herself—God raises her. This is a good reminder that although Mary is worthy of our devotion as God’s greatest saint, she is not herself divine. Only God could raise her into heaven. Just like all of humanity, Mary still needed a savior. The difference is that she was saved before she sinned through the Immaculate Conception. Having stayed free from sin, God preserved her body from the corruption of death by raising her to Himself.
A Body on Earth
Because of the Ascension and the Assumption, it is true that we do not have a corpse for either Jesus or Mary here on earth. But the distinction between the Ascension and the Assumption means that there are some differences in the earthly results. Mary is now with God in heaven, body and soul. The Incarnate Word, Jesus, is also with God and sits at His right hand. Nevertheless, we have the Body of Christ here on earth: the Church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God built His Church on earth, and the Holy Spirit dwells with us today. Jesus is present in His divinity with us in the Body of His Church and in the Eucharist. God’s plan for salvation did not end with Jesus ascending into heaven, but rather, continues to this very day.