Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Ascension of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, one of the most important feasts of the Church's year. The first Preface of the Ascension states why: "Christ, the mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abondon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where He has gone, we hope to follow." This feast is commemorated with a fine stained glass window in the apse. Sadly few people really appreciate the window, as it is largely obscured by the Triptych.

On the occasions when people do take a closer look, however, they (and particularly children) are often amused by this detail: as Christ ascends, a small patch of grass beneath Him carries feet marks where He stood. Although there is something cartoon-like about the image, it makes a serious point: the world is not left as it was before He came. God has walked the face of the earth, and the signs of His presence are left with us.

The main account of the Ascension is found at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles; the passage is the first reading at Mass today. The details of this account can be seen in the window. St Luke, author of Acts, speaks of two men in white who appear in order to reassure the disciples after Christ has gone from their sight. These men can be seen on the left and the right towards the top of the above picture, pointing to heaven and promising the Lord's return.

Below, the Apostles and Mary are gathered as Christ ascends. St Luke tells that after the Ascension, the Apostles "joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14). The Cathedral's patron, St Peter, is easily identifyable; he stands just above the footprints, holding his keys.

As the Apostles and the women spend time in prayer, the Holy Spirit descends upon them. The Spirit's coming is also foreshadowed in the window; the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, is seen descending at the very top of the image. The coming of the Holy Spirit is celebrated at Pentecost, next Sunday.