Commentary for Ascension Sunday Year B


“All three readings for today’s feast revolve around a single mystery: that Jesus’ departure to the Father is simultaneously the Church’s send-off for her mission to all the world” ~ Balthasar, LW, 195

The revelation we celebrate on this day is that the direct experience of God revealed to men and women in Jesus of Nazareth continues to be experienced when the Body of Christ, the Church, gathers in witness, love and mission.

First Reading: Acts 1:1–11

“The first reading initially destroys the naive expectation of the disciples that the resurrected Lord would employ his authority on earth to set up the Kingdom of God (they call it the “kingdom of Israel” [v. 6]); this would lead to positions of honour for them (as the sons of Zebedee had once thought [Mt 20:21]). But something better is intended for them: they are to be harnessed to the task of constructing the Kingdom (which means they have to renounce knowledge of deadlines and date-setting). The Holy Spirit will equip them for this task… To open this worldwide space for them and make it accessible, Jesus’ visible form disappears. The centre of the cosmos is no longer the place where he is visible, the centre is now everywhere, which is where the Church will constantly have to go” ~ Balthasar, LW, 195

Psalm: Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9

Second Reading: Option A: Ephesians 1:17–23

or Option B: Ephesians 4:1–13

4 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;

he gave gifts to his people.”

9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

Yes, the Lord had earlier, just after His death, descended to Sheol, awakened the dead, and preached the gospel to them (cf 1 Peter 4:6). Now, for those He had justified, came the moment to ascend with Jesus as a “host,” as an army of former captives now set free. Behold the great procession that enters behind Christ through the now-opened gates of Heaven: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Judith, Deborah, David, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, John the Baptist, … and one day, you! Yes, this is a great rescue. Adam and his descendants have not simply been restored to some paradisiacal garden; they have entered Heaven. ~ Msgr Pope

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

“The second reading adds something important, putting the Ascension into perspective from two angles. In the first place, we realize that the ascent of Jesus “above the heavens” in no way means that he henceforth abandons the Church to labour alone, rather, he is indeed the One who, from on high, directs the diverse personal missions within his Church. Missions are not something one seeks for himself. They are granted to a person from on high and, although we refer to them as charisms of the Holy Spirit, they are also ways to imitate Christ and are distributed to each person by Christ himself. In the second place, the differentiations within the Church serve a single purpose: “to lead all to the unity of faith and knowledge” (v.13) of Christ, indeed, to give the Lord himself his perfected form.” ~ Balthasar, LW, 196

Gospel: Mark 16:15–20

15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.]]

“The Gospel supplements the account of the Ascension on two sides: the words of commission have the same breadth (“into the whole world”)… [and] the disciples are promised special protection and special authority as an indication that they are obedient to the Holy Spirit in their preaching… With this instruction and promise the Lord has told the Church all she needs to know, follow, and hope until the end of time. Therefore he disappears into heaven” ~ Balthasar, LW, 196

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