In this magazine there is an article which you may consider to be in the wrong month. It is entitled “Holy Thursday” – not a reference to the universal title for the Thursday before Easter (called Maundy Thursday only in this country) but to the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Although many churches now celebrate the feast on the Seventh Sunday in Eastertide, it is really to be kept on the fortieth day. The Acts of the Apostles informs us that Our Lord returned to His Father in heaven forty days after His resurrection. The article is really a preparation for the Ascension – and most of you will read this either on the Sunday when some keep the feast or, at least, soon after. Sad to say, the church was not packed for a really lovely and worshipful mass and a thoughtful sermon from Father Kevin.
In earlier times, before evening masses were introduced (following the relaxing of the “fast from midnight” rule of former centuries) it was the norm, like Kilvert, to attend an early celebration. Anglo-catholic churches in the past would have a Sung Mass at about 6.30am. Others would have a said celebration. Now I know that many of the congregation were away on holiday – some even attending a wedding! (Cheaper than at weekends.) The question still has to be asked, how many would have made the effort to attend had there been masses on the hour, every hour, during the day? How many know what the Feast of the Ascension is all about?
I sat in the congregation, singing the cantors bits, yelling the hymns, and selecting a suitable Taize chant for the communion. All though the mass I was conscious of the Majestas, the Christ-in-glory depicted above the east window. I was concious of Our Lord’s returning to his own place at the right hand of the Father. I was concious of our destiny. Only a few days earlier, Rita Brown, a very faithful worshipper, had died and preparations were being made for her funeral. Rita left instructions that she was to be received into church the night before (the 7th of this month at 5.30pm) and that her funeral (at 11.30am) was to be a requiem. Hymns had been requested as well. (Did you know that the priest/minister has the final say?) She is called, by God’s grace, to enter into His glory. Not yet, of course. We all need to be cleansed of our sin and made right with God. We need the prayers of the faithful as we make this journey. Rita will not become an angel. She is a human being, “Dust, bound for glory.” as a preacher put it. Mae West once said, “I used to be snow white – but I drifted.” She may have meant that she played Snow White, but I doubt it. We are snow white at our baptism, and immediately on receiving absolution during the Sacrament of Confession – but not the rest of the time. As a nun remarked to me, “I had a wonderful retreat and had grown a lovely halo – only to have it fall off as soon as I left the chapel!” (Funny, I have my most murderous thoughts when I am praying – or driving the car!)
The Ascension is about Our Lord completing His sacrifice. It started with the Annunciation, when Mary said her Yes to the Father. The immolation took place on Good Friday and the offering completed at the Ascension. The gate of heaven, closed to us through the sin of Adam, was opened by Christ “in the flesh” entering by those same gates. This is, of course, put crudely and with picture-language – but it doesn’t stop it being the truth. “No one can come to the Father except through me.” says the Lord. In addition, it is about Jesus returning to His true home. Lovely to go away on holiday – but how lovely to return to the familiar, to home. That is what heaven is. It is what it should be for us. In the Letter to the Hebrews it says, “Here we have no abiding city, but we are after the city which is to come.” (chapter 13 verse14) In fact, having just skimmed through The Letter to the Hebrews I realise that it is one of the most important, and neglected, books of the New Testament. Why not sit down and read the whole thing? By God’s grace, you wouldn’t miss Ascension Day next year!
P.S. Father Andy Hawes has also written an article about the prevalence of “bad language” in modern society. Speaking as someone who lives in the modern world, I can see how the culture of swearing has affected me. You can get used to anything. I decided to include the article because it makes for uncomfortable reading for someone like myself who gives way to expletives. I suspect that I started swearing when I learned how to ride and drive. Not a thing to be proud about – but so easy to take for granted. A young friend commented about how much he hated the modern age and wished that the fifties were back. He wasn’t born until the end of the 70s! I know what he means, though.