Although many dioceses in the United States (including the one in which I am currently living) have transferred the solemnity to the seventh Sunday of Easter, I still think of today as Ascension Thursday, which is how we referred to it when I was growing up. Whether we celebrate the solemnity today or on Sunday, however, it is important for us to spend some time contemplating the meaning of Christ’s Ascension.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains this simple statement of the Ascension: “After forty days during which Jesus showed Himself to the apostles with ordinary human features which veiled His glory as the Risen One, Christ ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. He is the Lord who now in His humanity reigns in the everlasting glory of the Son of God and constantly intercedes for us before the Father. He sends us His Spirit and He gives us the hope of one day reaching the place He has prepared for us.”
He gives us hope of one day reaching the place He has prepared for us. Pope Benedict wrote that that the meaning of the Ascension is its expression of “our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way.” It means that we have “found an everlasting place in God.”
Catherine of Siena expresses this in the Dialogue through her image of Christ as the bridge. In one of her visions, God invites Catherine to “look at the bridge of my only-begotten Son.” He tells Catherine that Jesus, the Bridge, “stretches from heaving to earth by reason of [God’s] having joined [himself] to [our] humanity, which [God] formed from the earth’s clay.” This bridge is the means by which we pass from “the bitterness of the world” to reach eternal life, thorugh which we enter “into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way.”