Each year, Holy Mother Church commands her pastors to bless a large candle at the Easter Vigil. This candle is then processed through the Church and placed in the sanctuary, where it burns at each Mass of Eastertide until today. This Paschal candle is meant to be the symbol of the resurrected Christ, who is the Light of the World banishing the darkness of sin. This candle reminds us that He who once was dead lives once more and does not rest in the tomb, but remains close to His apostles, showing them His sacred wounds and further instructing them on the mission that He has given to them. But on this, the feast of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven, Holy Church commands us to extinguish this candle so as to better awaken us to the reality of this feast: the reality that our Lord no longer physically remains on this earth, but has ascended to the right hand of the Father, as we profess in the Creed.
Yet we should not greet this moment with sorrow over our Lord’s Ascension, as if He is leaving us behind or abandoning us. For, on the contrary, the Psalmist tells us that “God ascends in jubilation, and the Lord ascends with the sound of the trumpet” (Ps 46:6). We are called to rejoice on this day, not to be sorrowful. We are to rejoice, for our God and King mounts His throne prepared for Him, to reign over His Kingdom. We are to rejoice, for our High Priest ascends to the altar of Heaven, where He who is ever-living makes a continual intercession for us before God (Hebrews 7:24-25). We are to rejoice, for the Lamb who was slain goes to prepare the wedding feast in which the faithful will be united with Himself at the end of days (Rev. 19:7-9).
We should not be sorrowful that He has left, because this world is not ready for Him to rule. Our Lord now possesses that glorified and incorruptible body which is promised to all on the last day, but this day has not yet come. Our world is still filled with corruption and sin, still remaining dark in many corners of the world, still blind to the true Light which burns without being extinguished. How can He remain here in that state of finality when the world remains incomplete? Our Lord ascends to Heaven so as to remind us that we are not meant for the world as it stands now, but for the glories that await in the world to come.
But whom are these glories meant for, if not for all of humanity? And how will all hear of these glories, if no one preaches them, if no one is sent out to preach? (Rom 10:14-15) This is why the last command given by Christ to His apostles is to “go out into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”, waiting for the Holy Ghost to come so as to be His witnesses to the utmost parts of the earth (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). This is the mission of the Church, that mission which we must pray for, support, and do in our own lives, just as Jesus commanded His apostles before going to His seat at the right of the Father.
Let us then rejoice at this Mass today, that the Lord has risen on high and taken captivity captive (Ps 67:18). Let us pray to our Lord this day that He may be nearer to us not in His physical presence, but in His real presence in the Eucharist. Let us also pray for the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, that we may be strengthened and encouraged to proclaim the Gospel message to every creature. But let us also prepare ourselves for that day when He will return, as the angels promised. Let us be watchful and look to the East in eager expectation of our Lord coming as He left us, so as to subject all beneath His feet and to rule in that eternal Kingdom where all shall be gathered to Himself and share in His glory for ages upon ages.