Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday Within the Octave of the Ascension

O rex gloriæ, Domine virtutum, qui triumphator hodie super omnes cœlos ascendisti, ne derelinquas nos orphanos; sed mitte promissum Patris in nos Spiritum veritatis, alleluia.

O King of glory, Lord of hosts, who didst this day ascend in triumph above all the heavens! leave us not orphans, but send upon us the Spirit of truth, promised by the Father, alleluia.

The Lord of glory has ascended into heaven and, as the Apostle says, he has gone thither as our forerunner; but how are we to follow him to this abode of holiness, we whose path is beset with sin—we who are ever needing pardon, rather than meriting anything like glory? This brings us to another consequence of the exhaustless mystery of the Ascension; let us give it our closest attention. Jesus has gone to heaven, not only that he may reign as King, but also that he may intercede for us as our High Priest and, in this quality, obtain for us both the pardon of our sins and the graces we need for following him to glory. He offered himself, on the Cross, as a victim of propitiation for our sins; his precious Blood was shed as our superabundant ransom: but the gates of heaven remained shut against us, until he threw it open by his own entrance into that Sanctuary, where he was to exercise his eternal office of Priest according to the order of Melchisedech. By his Ascension into heaven, his priesthood of Calvary was transformed into a priesthood of glory. He entered with the veil of his once passible and mortal Flesh, within the veil of his Father’s presence, and there is he our Priest forever.

How truly is he called Christ, that is, “the Anointed!” for, no sooner was his Divine Person united to the Human Nature than he received a twofold anointing: he was made both King and High Priest. We have already meditated upon his Kingship; let us now contemplate his Priesthood. He gave proofs of both during his life among us on earth; but it was only by his Ascension that their unclouded splendor was to be declared. Let us, then, follow our Emmanuel, and see him as our High Priest.

The Apostle thus describes the office of a High Priest. He is taken from among men, and is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for our sins: he is appointed their ambassador and mediator with God. Jesus received this office and ministry, and he is fulfilling it in heaven. But, that we may the better appreciate the grand mystery, let us study the figures given of it in the Holy Scriptures, and developed by St. Paul in his sublime Epistle; they will give us a precise idea of the grandeur of our Jesus’ Pontifical character.

Let us go, in thought, to the Temple of Jerusalem. First of all, is the spacious uncovered court, with its porticos; in the center, there stands the Altar, whereon are slain the victims of the various sacrifices, and from the Altar there radiate a number of conduits, through which flows the blood. We next come to a more sacred portion of the edifice; it is beyond the Altar of holocausts, is covered in, and is resplendent with all the riches of the East. Let us respectfully enter, for the place is Holy, and it was God himself who gave to Moses the plan of the various fittings which adorn it with their mysterious and rich beauty:—the Altar of Incense, with its morning and evening cloud of fragrance; the seven-branched Candlestick, with its superb lilies and pomegranates; the Table of the Loaves of Proposition, representing the offering made by man to him who feeds him with the harvests of the earth. And yet, it is not here, though the walls are wainscoted with the bright gold of Ophir, that is centered the great majesty of Jehovah. At the extreme end of the Temple there is a Veil of precious texture, richly embroidered with figures of the Cherubim, and reaching to the ground: it is there, beyond this Veil, that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has fixed the abode of his presence; it is there, also, that rests the Ark of the Covenant, over which two golden Cherubim spread their wings. It is called the “Holy of Holies,” and no one, under pain of death, may draw aside the Veil, or look or enter within the hallowed precinct, where the God of Hosts deigns to dwell.

So then, man is banished from the place wherein God dwells: he is unworthy to enter into so holy a presence. He was created that he might see God and be eternally happy with that vision; but because of sin, he is never to enjoy the sight of God. There is a Veil between himself and Him who is his Last End; neither can he ever remove that Veil. Such is the severe lesson given to us by the symbolism of the ancient Temple.

But there is a merciful promise, and it gives a gleam of hope. This Veil shall, one day, be raised up and man shall enter within: on one condition, however. Let us return to the figurative Temple, and we shall learn what this condition is. As we have already noticed, none were allowed to enter the Holy of Holies; there was but one exception, and that was in favor of the High Priest, who might, once a year, penetrate beyond the Veil. Yet even he had certain conditions to observe. If he entered without holding in his hands a vessel containing the blood of two victims, previously immolated by him for his own and the people’s sins, he was to be put to death; if, on the contrary, he faithfully complied with the divine ordinances, he would be protected by the blood he carried in his hands, and might make intercession for himself and all Israel.

How beautiful and impressive are these figures of the first Covenant! but how much more so their fulfillment in our Jesus’ Ascension! Even during the period of his voluntary humiliations, he made his power be felt in this sacred Dwelling of God’s Majesty. His last breath on the Cross rent the Veil of the Holy of Holies, hereby signifying to us that man was soon to recover the right he had lost by sin, the right of admission into God’s presence. We say soon; for Jesus had still to gain the victory over Death by his Resurrection; he had to spend forty days on earth, during which he, our High Priest, would organize the true Priesthood that was to be exercised in his Church to the end of time, in union with the Priesthood he himself was to fulfill in heaven.

The fortieth day came, and found all things prepared—the witnesses of the Resurrection had proclaimed the victory of their Master; the dogmas of faith had all been revealed; the Church had been formed; the Sacraments had been instituted: it was time for our High Priest to enter into the Holy of Holies, accompanied by the holy souls of Limbo. Let us follow him with the eye of our faith. As he approached, the Veil that had closed the entrance for four thousand years was lifted up. Jesus enters. Has he not offered the preparatory Sacrifice?—not the figurative Sacrifice of the Old Law, but the real one of his own Blood? And having reached the Throne of the Divine Majesty, there to intercede for us his people, he has but to show his Eternal Father the Wounds he received, and from which flowed the Blood that satisfied every claim of Divine Justice. He would retain these sacred stigmata of his Sacrifice, in order that he might ever present them, as our High Priest, to the Father, and so disarm his anger. My little children, says St. John in his first Epistle, I write these things to you, that ye may not sin; but if any man do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Just. Thus, then, beyond the Veil, Jesus treats of our interests with his Father; he gives the merits of his Sacrifice their full efficacy; he is the eternal High Priest, whose advocacy is irresistible.

St. John, who was granted a sight of the interior of heaven, gives us a sublime description of this twofold character of our Divine Head—Victim and yet King, Sacrificed and yet Immortal. He shows us the Throne of Jehovah, round which are seated the Four-and-Twenty Ancients, the four symbolical living creatures, and then the seven Spirits burning like lamps before it. But the Prophet does not finish his description here. He bids us look at the right hand of Him who sits on the Throne. There we perceive a Lamb standing and as it were slain,—slain and and yet standing, for he is radiant with glory and power. We should be at a loss to understand the vision, had we not our grand mystery of the Ascension to explain it; but now, all is clear. We recognize in the Lamb, portrayed by the Apostle, our Jesus, the Word Eternal, who, being consubstantial to the Father, is seated on the same Throne with him. Yet is he also the Lamb; for he has assumed to himself our flesh, in order that he might be sacrificed for us as a victim; and this character of Victim is to be forever upon him. Oh! see him there, in all his majesty as Son of God, standing in the attitude of infinite power, yet withal, he will not part with his resemblance of the Immolated. The sword of Sacrifice has left Five Wounds upon him, and he would keep them for eternity. Yes, it is identically the same meek Lamb of Calvary, and he is to be forever consummating in glory the immolation he perfected on the Cross.

Such are the stupendous realities seen by the Angels within the Veil; and when our turn comes to pass that Veil, we also shall be enraptured with the sight. We are not to be left outside, as were the Jewish people when, once each year, their High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies. We have the teaching of the Apostle: The Fore-runner, Jesus, our High Priest, has entered within the Veil for us. For us! O what music there is in these two words: For us! He has led the way; we are to follow! Even at the commencement, he would not go alone; he would have the countless legion of the souls of Limbo to accompany him: and ever since then, the procession into heaven has been one of unbroken magnificence. The Apostle tells us that we, poor sinners as we are, are already saved by hope; and what is our hope, but that we are one day to enter into the Holy of Holies? Then will we blend our glad voices with those of the Angels, the Four-and-Twenty Ancients, the myriads of the Blessed, in the eternal Hymn: To the Lamb that was slain, power, and divinity, and wisdom and strength, and glory, and benediction, for ever and ever! Amen.

We offer our readers, today, the following Sequence, composed by the pious Notker, in the 9th century, for the Abbey of Saint Gall.

Sequence

Christus hunc diem jucundum
Cunctis concedat esse christianis,
Amatoribus suis.

May Crist our Lord grant to all Christians, who love him, that this day may be to them a happy one!

Christe Jesu, Fili Dei,
Mediator nostræ naturæ
Ac Divinæ.

O Christ Jesus! Son of God! thou unitest in thyself the two natures of God and Man.

Terras Deus visitasti æternus,
Æthera novus homo
Transvolans.

Thou, the Eternal God, didst visit our earth; thou, the new Man, didst ascend into heaven.

Officiis te Angeli atque nubes
Stipant, ad Patrem
Reversurum.

The Angels and the Clouds pay the homage of their service to thee, when thou returnedst to thy Father;

Sed quid mirum,
Cum lactanti adhuc
Stella tibi serviret
Et Angeli?

And need we wonder at it, when we remember how, when thou wast a Babe at thy Mother’s breast, a Star united with the Angels in serving thee?

Tu hodie terrestribus
Rem novam et dulcem
Dedisti, Domine,
Sperandi cœlesti.

Thou, O Lord, this day, gavest to the inhabitants of earth a new and sweet sentiment:—the hope of heaven,

Tu hominem non fictum
Levando super sidereas metas,
Regum Domine.

By placing our nature,—which thou, O King of kings, hadst truly assumed,—above the highest stars.

Quanta gaudia
Tuos replent Apostolos,
Quîs dedisti cernere
Te cœlos pergere.

O what joy filled the hearts of thine Apostles, whom thou permittedst to see thee mounting up to heaven!

Quam hilares
In cœlis tibi occurrunt
Novem ordines.

How joyfully did not the nine choirs of Angels go forth to meet thee as thou enteredst heaven,

In humeris portanti
Diu dispersum a lupis,
Gregem unum,

Carrying on thy shoulders the sheep, thy one fold, that had long been scattered by wolves!

Quem, Christe,
Bone Pastor,
Tu dignare custodire,
Amen.

O Jesus! Good Shepherd! vouchsafe to watch over this thy Flock! Amen.

These two eloquent Prayers from the Mozarabic Breviary may also be made part of our evening devotions.

Prayer

Domine Jesu Christe, creator astrorum, qui inclinasti capita nubium, dum te humiliasti in conversatione mortalium: ut in eo corpore, quo pro nobis probra sustinuisti impiorum, in ipso ascenderes super omnes cœlos cœlorum, et laudes sumeres Angelorum; exaudi nos propitius, et hoc nobis concede placatus, ut, absoluti criminibus, illuc te nunc prævium sequamur corde, quo tu ascendisti glorificatus in homine; ut te etiam tunc contemplari possimus conditorem et Dominum æternum in Majestate, quem nunc verum Deum præstolamur et judicem. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of the stars! who bowedst down the heads of the lofty clouds when thou humbly camest to live among men; and who, in that same body, wherein, for our sake, thou sufferedst insult from the wicked, didst ascend above the heaven of heavens and receive the praises of Angels: graciously hear our prayer, and mercifully grant, that, being freed from sin, we may follow thee in desire to the region whither thou hast ascended in thy glorified Humanity; that thus we may, one day, see thee in thy Majesty, our Creator and eternal Lord, whom we now await as our God and Judge. Amen.

Prayer

Domine Jesu Christe, qui ascendisti super cœlos cœlorum ad Orientem, occasum devincens; quos in te suscepisti redimendos, in te perfice ad excelsa tollendos: ut ubi caput præcessit glorificatum, illuc totum corpus adtrahas honorandum: nec in occiduum mundi relinquas, quos ad orientem perpetuum versus triumphator exaltas.

O Lord Jesus Christ! who ascendedst above the heaven of heavens to the East, after triumphing over thine own setting in the West; complete the work of our redemption, by raising us to the courts above. Thou, our Head, hast preceded us in glory; oh! draw thither, after thee, the whole body of thy Church, thy members whom thou callest to share in thine honor. Leave not, we beseech thee, in the inglorious West of this world, those whom thou, the triumphant Conqueror, hast raised, by thine own Ascension, to the everlasting East.

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