by Edward Bourne
WE ARE now in Ascensiontide, a time of triumph and rejoicing. Last Thursday, the feast of the Ascension, was a holiday of obligation — a misnomer, if ever there was one. It was certainly no holiday for most of us; it was work as usual.
For until we have succeeded in rechristianising the society in which we live, our employers are
not likely to view with favour a request for a day-off to celebrate
a religious festival.
The word obligation comes nearer to the mark. The good Catholic is, in a sense, obliged to go to Mass on such days. But obligation is a harsh sounding word for something which ought to be a privilege and a joy.
Originally the Church authorities bargained with slave-owners and employers for these holidays, so that the faithful could be free to celebrate the feast in a fitting manner by sharing in the solemn offering of Mass.
But there is a sense in which we can speak of an obligation, for, as the Liturgical Constitution says (Article 102): Holy Mother Church considers it Tier DUTY to celebrate the saving work of her divine Spouse by devoutly recalling it to nand on certain days
throughout the year . . As
each year passes by, she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from his incarnation and birth until the ascension, she day of Pentecost and the expectation of blessed hope and of the corning 01 the Lord.
The thing to notice is that this duty is characterised as the duty of a bride towards her bridegroom, not that of a slave towards his master. It is a free man's duty of love freely given.
To refuse to do this duty ought to be unthinkable to a genuine Christian. To refuse out of malice is obviously a serious sin. But to go to Mats merely to avoid serious sin 'betrays a strange mentality indeed in a Christian, possible only with people whose religion is a matter of law rather than love.
ON THURSDAY the joy of Eager reached its climax: we celebrated Christ's victorious ascent into heaven. Having conic out from His Father, He now returns to His Father, His work accomplished.
The liturgy of the Ascension makes it clear that in celebrating the historical event mentioned in the gospel we are celebrating three things: • The glory and triumph of Christ's risen life.
• The fact that Christ's triumph is man's triumph too.
• The beginning of the era of the Church.
CHRIST'S risen life was not ILA something which lasted for a mere 40 days; it is a triumphant eternity in the happiness of heaven as sovereign Lord of the whole of redeemed mankind. And therefore the whole of redeemed mankind rejoices ecstatically in this event:
God rises heavenward amid shouts of triumph; the Lord to the sound of
trumpets (Offertory chant).
As members of Christ we have a further cause for rejoicing, for Christ's triumph is our triumph too. Christ reigns not only as God, but also as Man. He reigns in flesh, in the flesh which he has glorified and divinated. His triumph is man's triumph.
The Preface of the Ascension says that "He was taken up into heaven that he might make us sharers of his Godhead." He takes his spoils with him in his triumphant ascent: and we are his spoils, the people whom he has won in his contest with the powers of evil.
Henceforth heaven has become man's home. Man belongs there. We are the body of Christ, He is the Head; and as Pope St. Leo said in one of his sermons on the Ascension : "Where the Head went in his glory, there the Body is called in hope".
ASCENSIONTIDE also celebrates the beginning of the era of the Church. Christ has entered into His glory, but, though we are united with Him in the mystery of His ascension, our glory must wait upon His second coming.
In the meantime we have Christ's work to do in the world. The angel of the ascension warns its that we must not just "stand there looking heavenward", living "with our hearts in heaven" (Collect) and our heads in the clouds.
We have work to do. We must help others to prepare for Christ's return: "Go and preach" (Gospel), "you are to be my witnesses" (Lesson). Our life must be an in-. vitation to all men to join us in our hopes: Applaud Him, all you nations of the world; acclaim your God with hymns of joy.