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Friday after the Octave of the Ascension

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

O Rex gloriæ, Domine virtutum, qui triumphator hodie super omnes cœlos ascendisti, ne derelinquas nos orphanos; sed mitte promissum Patris in nos, Spiritum veritatis, alleluia.
O King of glory, Lord of hosts, who didst this day ascend in triumph above all the heavens! leave us not orphans, but send upon us the Spirit of truth, promised by the Father, alleluia.

The octave is over; the mystery of the glorious Ascension is completed; and our Jesus is never again to be seen upon this earth, until He comes to judge the living and the dead. We are to see Him only by faith; we are to approach Him only by love. Such is our probation; and if we go well through it, we shall, at last, be permitted to enter within the veil, as a reward for our faith and love.

Let us not complain of our lot; rather let us rejoice in that hope, which, as the apostle says, confoundeth not.[1] And how can we be otherwise than hopeful, when we remember that Jesus has promised to abide with us even to the consummation of the world?[2] He will not appear visibly; but He will be always really with us. How could He abandon His bride the Church? And are not we the children of this His beloved bride?

But this is not all: Jesus does something more for us. One of His last words was this, which shows us how dearly He loved us: ‘I will not leave you orphans.’[3] When He used those other words, upon which we have been meditating during the last few days, ‘It is expedient for you that I go’, He added: ‘For if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you.’[4] This Paraclete, this comforter, is the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son; He is to descend upon us a few short hours hence; He will abide with us, making us feel His presence by His works, until Jesus shall again come from heaven that He may take His elect from a world which is to be condemned to eternal torments for its crimes. But the Holy Ghost is not to come until He be sent; and as the sacred text implies, He is not to be sent, until ‘Jesus shall have been glorified.’[5] He is coming that He may continue the great work, which was to be begun by the Son of God, and carried on by Him as far as the eternal decrees had ordained.[6]

Jesus laboured in this work, and then entered into His rest, taking with Him our human nature, which, by assuming it, He had exalted to the divine. The Holy Ghost is not to assume our humanity; but He is coming to console us during Jesus’ absence; He is coming to complete the work of our sanctification. It was He that produced those prodigies which we have been admiring: the faith and love of man in and for Jesus. Yes, it is the Holy Ghost who produces faith in the soul; it is the Holy Ghost who ‘pours the charity of God into our hearts.’[7]

So, then, we are about to witness fresh miracles of God’s love for man! A few hours hence, the reign of the Holy Ghost will have begun on earth. There is but the interim of this one short day, for to-morrow evening the solemnity of Pentecost will be upon us. Let us then linger in our admiration of our Emmanuel. The holy liturgy has daily gladdened us with His presence, beginning with those happy weeks of Advent, when we were awaiting the day on which the Virgin Mother was to give us the ever blessed Fruit. And now He is gone! O sweet memories of the intimacy we enjoyed with our Jesus, when we were permitted to follow Him day by day, we have you treasured within us! Yea, the holy Spirit Himself is coming to impress you still deeper on our hearts; for Jesus told us that, when the Paraclete should come to us, He would help us to remember all that we have heard, and seen, and felt in the company of the God who deigned to live our life that so He might teach us to live His for all eternity.[8]

Neither let us forget how, when quitting this His earthly home,—where He was conceived in Mary’s womb, where He was born, where He spent the three and thirty years of His mortal life, where He died, where He rose from the grave, and from which He ascended to the right hand of His Father—He left upon it an outward mark of His love. He left the impress of His sacred feet upon Mount Olivet, as though He felt separating Himself from the earth to which so many years and mysteries had endeared Him. St. Augustine, St. Paulinus of Nola, Saint Optatus, Sulpicius Severus, and the testimony of subsequent ages, assure us of the prodigy.

These venerable authorities tell us that when the Roman army, under Titus, was encamped on Mount Olivet while besieging Jerusalem, divine Providence protected these holy marks, the farewell memorial left by our Lord to His blessed Mother, to His disciples, and to us: it is here that He stood when last seen on earth, it is here that we shall again see Him when He comes to judge mankind. Neither the rude tramp of the soldiers, nor the ponderous chariots, nor the horses’ hoofs, were permitted to efface or injure the sacred footprints. Yes, it was on this very mount, forty years after the Ascension, that the Roman banner was first unfurled, when the time of God’s vengeance came upon the city of deicide. Let us call to mind, firstly, how the angels announced that the same Jesus, who had just ascended, would again come to judge us; and secondly, how our Lord Himself had compared the two awful events, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world. These sacred marks of Jesus’ feet are, therefore, the memorial of His affectionate farewell, and the prophecy of His return as our terrible Judge. At the foot of the hill lies the valley of Josaphat, the valley of the judgement; and the prophet Zacharias has said: ‘His feet shall stand, in that day, upon the mount of Olives, which is over against Jerusalem, towards the east.’[9] Let us humbly give admission to the feeling of fear, wherewith our Lord thus inspires us, that we may be more solidly grounded in His love; and let us affectionately venerate the spot on which our Emmanuel left the impress of His feet. The holy empress, St. Helen, was entrusted with the sublime mission of finding and honouring the objects and places that our Redeemer had sanctified by His visible presence. Mount Olivet was sure to elicit her devoted zeal. She ordered a magnificent church of circular form to be built upon it; but when the builders came to pave the church with rich marble, they were prevented, by a miraculous power, from covering the spot on which were imprinted the holy footmarks. The marble broke into a thousand pieces, which struck them on the face; and after several attempts, they resolved to leave that part of the rock uncovered.

This fact is attested by many holy and creditable authors, several of whom lived in the fourth century, when it occurred. But our Lord would do more than keep open to our view these His last footprints, which seem to be ever saying to us: ‘Your Jesus is but now gone, and will soon return.’ He would, moreover, have them teach us that we are to follow Him to heaven. When the time came for roofing the church, the men found that they had not power to do it; the stones fell as often as they attempted to put them up, and the building was left roofless, as though it had to be our reminder that the way opened by Jesus on the summit of Mount Olivet is ever open for us, and that we must be ever aspiring to rejoin our divine master in heaven.

In his first sermon for the feast of the Ascension, St. Bernardine of Siena relates an edifying story, which is in keeping with the reflections we have been making. He tells us that a pious nobleman, desirous of visiting the places that had witnessed the mysteries of our Redemption, passed the seas. Having reached Palestine, he would begin his pilgrimage by visiting Nazareth, and there, on the very spot where the Word was made Flesh, he gave thanks to the infinite love that had drawn our God from heaven to earth, in order that He might save us from perdition. The next visit was to Bethlehem, where our pilgrim venerated the place of our Saviour’s birth. As he knelt on the spot where Mary adored her new-born Babe, the tears rolled down his cheeks, and, as St. Francis of Sales says (for he also has related this affecting story), ‘he kissed the dust whereon the divine Infant was first laid.’[10]

Our devout pilgrim, who bravely travelled the country in every direction, went from Bethlehem to the banks of the Jordan; he stopped near Bothabara, at a little place called Bethany, where St. John baptized Christ. The better to honour the mystery, he went down into the bed of the river, and entered with much devotion into the water, thinking within himself how that stream had been sanctified by its contact with Jesus’ sacred Body. Thence he passed to the desert, for he would follow, as nearly as might be, the footsteps of the Son of God; he contemplated the scene of our Master’s fasting, temptation, and victory. He next went on towards Thabor; he ascended to the top, that he might honour the mystery of the Transfiguration, whereby our Saviour gave to three of His disciples a glimpse of His infinite glory.

At length, the good pilgrim entered Jerusalem. He visited the cenacle; and we can imagine the tender devotion wherewith he meditated on all the great mysteries that had been celebrated there, such as Jesus’ washing His disciples’ feet, and the institution of the Eucharist. Being resolved to follow his Saviour in each station, he passed the brook Cedron, and came to the garden of Gethsemani, where his heart well-nigh broke at the thought of the bloody sweat endured by the divine Victim of our sins. The remembrance of Jesus’ being manacled, fettered, and dragged to Jerusalem, next filled his mind. ‘He at once starts off,’ says the holy bishop of Geneva, whom we must allow to tell the rest of the story: ‘treading in the footsteps of his beloved Jesus; he sees Him dragged to and fro, to Annas, to Caiphas, to Pilate, to Herod: buffetted, scoffed at, spit upon, crowned with thorns, made a show of to the mob, sentenced to death, laden with a cross, and meeting, as He carries it, with His heart-broken Mother and the weeping daughters of Jerusalem.

The good pilgrim mounts to the top of Calvary, where he sees in spirit the cross lying on the ground, and our Saviour stretched upon it, while the executioners cruelly nail Him to it by His hands and feet. He sees them raise the cross and the Crucified in the air, and the Blood gushing from the wounds of the sacred Body. He looks at the poor Mother, who is pierced through with the sword of sorrow; he raises up his eyes to the Crucified, and listens with most loving attention to His seven words; and, at last, sees Him dying, and dead, and His side opened with a spear, so that the sacred Heart is made visible. He watches how He is taken down from the cross, and carried to the tomb; and as he treads along the path all stained with his Redeemer’s Blood, he sheds floods of tears. He enters the sepulchre, and buries his heart side by side with his Jesus’ Corpse.

After this, he rises again together with Him; he visits Emmaus, and thinks on all that happened between Jesus and the two disciples. Finally, he returns to Mount Olivet, the scene of the Ascension; and seeing there the last footprints of his dear Lord, he falls down and covers them with untiring kisses. Then, like an archer stretching his bowstring to give his arrow speed, he concentrates into one intense act the whole power of his love, and stands with his eyes and hands lifted up towards heaven: “Jesus!” he says, “O my sweet Jesus! where else am I now to go on earth seeking thee? Ah Jesus! my dearest Jesus, let this heart of mine follow thee yonder!” Saying this, his heart kept darting upwards to heaven, for the brave archer had taken too sure an aim, to miss his divine object.’[11]

St. Bernadine of Siena tells us, that the companions and attendants of the noble pilgrim, seeing that he was sinking under the vehemence of his desire, hastened to call a physician, that they might bring him to himself again. But it was too late: the soul had fled to her God, leaving us an example of the love that the mere contemplation of the divine mysteries can produce in man’s heart. And have not we been following these same mysteries, under the guidance of the holy liturgy? God grant that we may now keep within us the Jesus whom we have had so truly given to us! And may the holy Spirit, by His coming visit, maintain and intensify in our souls the resemblance to our divine King which we have thus received!

In order the more worthily to celebrate the great mystery which closed yesterday, and the equally glorious one which begins to-morrow, we place between the two the sublime canticle, wherein the royal psalmist prophesies both the Ascension and the Christian Pentecost. The sixty-seventh Psalm (composed for the reception of the Ark of the Covenant on Mount Sion) is, as St. Paul himself has interpreted it,[12] a prophecy of Jesus’ triumphant Ascension into heaven. It begins by celebrating the victory gained by Christ over His enemies by His Resurrection; it proceeds to speak of the favours bestowed upon the Christian people; it shows us the combats and triumphs of the Church; in a word, it puts before us the commencement of the work by our Emmanuel, and its consummation by the Holy Ghost. With a view to facilitating the understanding of this mysterious psalm, we give a commentary rather than a translation; and in doing so, we offer to our readers the interpretation given by the early fathers.

Psalm 67

Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici ejus: et fugiant, qui oderunt eum, a facie ejus.

Sicut deficit fumus, deficiant: sicut fluit cera a facie ignis, sic pereant peccatores a facie Dei.

Et justi epulentur, et exsultent in conspectu Dei: et delectentur in laetitia.

Cantate Deo, psalmum dicite nomini ejus: iter facite ei qui ascendit super occasum: Dominus nomen illi.

Exsultate in conspectu ejus, turbabuntur a facie ejus, patris orphanorum et judicis viduarum.

Deus in loco sancto suo: Deus qui inhabitare facit unius moris in domo.

Qui educit vinctos in fortitudine, similiter eos, qui exasperant, qui habitant in sepulchris.

Deus, quum egredereris in conspectu populi tui, quum pertransires in deserto:

Terra mota est: etenim cœli distillaverunt a facie Dei Sinai, a facie Dei Israel.

Pluviam voluntariam segregabis, Deus, hæred itati tuæ: et infirmata est, tu vero perfecisti eam.

Animalia tua habitabunt in ea; parasti in dulcedine tua pauperi, Deus.

Dominus dabit verbum evangelizantibus, virtute multa.

Rex virtutum dilecti dilecti: et speciei domus dividere spolia.

Si dormiatis inter medios cleros, pennæ columbæ deargentatæ, et posteriora dorsi ejus in pallore auri.

Dum discernit cœlestis reges super eam, nive dealbabuntur in Selmon: mons Dei, mons pinguis.

Mons coagulatus, mons pinguis: ut quid suspicamini montes coagulatos?

Mons, in quo beneplacitum est Deo habitare in eo: etenim Dominus habitabit in finem.

Currus Dei decem millibus multiplex, millia lætantium: Dominus in eis in Sina in sancto.

Ascendisti in altum, cepisti captivitatem: accepisti dona in hominibus:
Etenim non credentes, inhabitare Dominum Deum.

Benedictus Dominus die quotidie: prosperum iter faciet nobis Deus salutarium nostrorum.

Deus noster, Deus salvos faciendi: et Domini Domini exitus mortis.

Verumtamen Deus confringet capita inimicorum suorum: verticem capilli perambulantium in delictis suis.

Dixit Dominus: Ex Basan convertam, convertam in profundum maris:
Ut intingatur pes tuus in sanguine: lingua canum tuorum ex inimicis, ab ipso.

Viderunt ingressus tuos, Deus: ingressus Dei mei: Regis mei qui est in sancto.

Prævenerunt principes conjuncti psallentibus, in medio juvencularum tympanistriarum.

In ecclesiis benedicite Deo Domino, de fontibus Israel.

Ibi Benjamin adolescentulus, in mentis excessu.

Principes Juda, duces eorum, principes Zabulon, principes Nephthali.

Manda Deus virtuti tuae: confirma hoc Deus, quod operatus es in nobis.

A templo tuo in Jerusalem, tibi offerent reges munera.

Increpa feras arundinis: congregatio taurorum in vaccis populorum: ut excludant eos, qui probati sunt argento.

Dissipa gentes, quæ bella volunt: venient legati ex Ægypto: Æthiopia præveniet manus ejus Deo.

Regna terræ cantate Deo: psallite Domino.

Psallite Deo qui ascendit super cœlum cœli, ad orientem.

Ecce dabit voci suae vocem virtutis: date gloriam Deo super Israel, magnificentia ejus, et virtus ejus in nubibus.

Mirabilis Deus in sanctis suis: Deus Israel ipse dabit virtutem et fortitudinem plebi suae: benedictus Deus.
Let God, the Man-God arise, and let his enemies be scattered: and let them that hate him flee from before his face.

As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

And let the just feast, and rejoice before God, and be delighted with gladness.

O ye that have been redeemed, sing to God, sing a psalm to his name! make a way for him who ascendeth upon the west, as on a throne. He is the Son of Man, and yet Jehovah is his name.

Rejoice ye before him: but his enemies, the wicked spirits, shall be troubled at his presence, for he is come that he may be the father of orphans, the judge and defender of the widow, the Redeemer of mankind, which sin had made a slave of satan.

He is God in his holy sanctuary, and he would give them to dwell in his own house, who shall have lived in the unity of one faith and charity.

He delivers, by the strength of his arm, them that were strongly fettered; but them that provoke him by their resistance, he casts into the abyss.

O God! O Christ! when thou didst go forth on this earth, leading thy chosen people: when thou didst pass through the parched desert of this world,

The earth was moved, and the heavens dropped down a refreshing dew, at the bidding of the God of Sinai, the God of Israel, who had sent thee.

Thou hast reserved for thine inheritance, thy Church, a rain of blessings.

Thine inheritance was lost: mankind was a prey to every misery when thou camest upon the earth: but thou didst restore it and make it perfect.

In it shall henceforth dwell the flock, of which thou art the shepherd. In thy sweetness, O God, thou providest a nourishment that would strengthen its weakness.

That he may invite his elect to partake of these blessings, the Holy Ghost, who is also God, is about to give a tongue and voice to them that are to evangelize the world; they shall speak with a power that cannot be resisted.

Kings of mighty armies shall be subdued by him who is the dear and beloved one of the Father: and she that is the beauty of the house shall divide their spoils.

During the contest, ye, O children of the Church, shall sleep in safety in the enclosure that protects you; ye shall be as the silvery-feathered dove, whose back reflects the richness of gold.

When he, whose throne is in heaven, shall execute judgement upon these kings, they that are under his protection shall be fair as the snow which covers the top of mount Selmon. There is a mountain, the mountain of God.

A fertile, rich, & fat mountain; it is his Church. Where else would you seek for mountains, whose richness can be compared to hers?

She is the mountain on which God is well pleased to dwell; there the Lord shall dwell unto the end.

The chariot of the Son of God, as he ascends into heaven, is grander than ten thousand chariots of war; thousands of angels stand in joy around it. The Lord is in their midst; he takes up his abode in his sanctuary, as heretofore he did on Sina.

O Jesus! thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led with thee them that were captives in limbo. Thou, as Man, receivedst ineffable gifts, and thou hast lavished them upon us.

And even they that hitherto believed not, now confess that God dwells amongst us.

Blessed be the Lord day by day! God, the author of our salvation, will make our journey prosperous.

Yea, our God is the God of salvation. To the Lord, to the Lord doth it belong to deliver us from death.

But this God shall break the heads of his enemies, the proud heads of them that walk boastingly in the path of their crimes.

The Lord has said: ‘I will snatch them from Basan, I will cast them into the depth of the sea;

And thou, O my chosen people, shalt dip thy foot in their blood; and the tongue of thy dogs shall be red with the same.’

They have seen thine entrance into heaven, thy triumphant entrance, O my God, my king, who hast taken up thine eternal abode in thy sanctuary!

The princes of the angelic host went before; and with them went those that sing; and around them were young maidens playing on timbrels. Such is the retinue worthy of Christ: strength, melody, and purity.

Ye, then, that are on earth, bless the Lord in your assemblies; ye that come from the source of the true Israel, ye that are the children of the Church!

Let there be seen in the choir of the faithful, the young Benjamin, filled with holy enthusiasm;

Let there be seen the princes of Juda, with their leaders; & the princes of Zabulon, and the princes of Nephthali.

O Christ, our God, command in thy strength! send the Spirit of power! confirm, O God, by him, what thou hast wrought in us.

From thy temple in Jerusalem,—the figure of thy Church,—kings shall offer presents to thee.

Repress the wild beasts that hide in the reeds, the heresies which, like wild bulls, disturb the peace of thy flock. They have conspired to drive from thine inheritance them whose faith has been tried as silver.

Scatter thou the nations that delight in war. Lo! Egypt shall send ambassadors, praying that she may be admitted to the knowledge of the true God; yea, even Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands towards him; she shall come to him sooner than other people.

Sing to God, ye kingdoms of the earth; sing ye to the Lord.

Sing ye to God, who ascendeth above the heaven of heavens; he ascendeth from Mount Olivet, which is to the east.

Lo! the hour is come, and he is about to give new power to his voice by the preaching of the apostles. Give ye glory to God for all that he hath done for the new Israel: his magnificence and his power are made manifest in the messengers he hath sent, who are swift in their passage, as clouds.

God is wonderful in his holy sanctuary: it is he, the God of Israel, that will give to his new people the power and strength that will make them last to the end of the world. Blessed be God!

[1] Rom. v. 5.
[2] St. Matth. xxviii. 20.
[3] St. John, xiv. 18.
[4] Ibid. xvi. 7.
[5] St. John, vii. 39.
[6] Ibid. xvii. 4.
[7] Rom. v. 5.
[8] St. John, xiv. 26.
[9] Zach. xiv. 4.
[10] Treatise on the Love of God. Book vii. chap. xii.
[11] Treatise on the Love of God. Book vii. chap. xii.
[12] Eph. iv. 8.

 

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