Thursday, May 17, 2007

Grant Our Hearts May Thither Rise

A most happy and blessed Ascension Thursday to one and all.

This day, along with All Saints, the Third Mass of Christmas, and the Easter Vigil ranks right up there as one of my favorite festivals of the year. The Propers for this day are magnificent, but there is also a hymn that immediately comes to my mind when I think of this solemnity, and I'm always disappointed when it is not sung. It is usually sung to the grand tune called Llanfair, although other wonderful melodies, such as William Monk's Ascension, are sometimes used.

Here is some of the text:

Hail the day that sees Him rise, Alleluia!
To His throne above the skies, Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
Reascends His native heaven, Alleluia!


Grant, though parted from our sight, Alleluia!
Far above yon azure height, Alleluia!
Grant our hearts may thither rise, Alleluia!
Seeking Thee beyond the skies, Alleluia!

The full text of this hymn can be found here. is a great resource, and it has no copyright issues, so this can be of use whether you are in want of traditional hymns in general, or if you want to get away from some of the silly versions of them that appear in the books put out by the big Catholic publishers.

The above quoted text is obviously the original. I take well the point that its dated nature might strike people as odd, but what could be a more beautiful expression of the concept of "sky" and "heaven" than the phrase "Far beyond yon azure height." Isn't that wonderful? I think it is.

This hymn is a beautiful expression of the meaning of the mystery of the Ascension. It speaks of the fact that just as Christ's glorified body--still with the marks of the Passion--is in heaven, so we are to raise our hearts to heaven in anticipation of the day when, please God, we shall also be there in our glorified bodies. (This "sursum corda" relates quite closely to the "sursum corda" of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.) This truly is a heavenly feast.

This is also a feast that marks an important event in the History of Salvation, a salvation that God, through His grace, has worked out for us on His timetable. The Lord ascended into heaven forty days after Easter. This mirrors the forty days of fasting and prayer of Lent and the forty days of the Israelites' wandering in the desert. I read somewhere that "forty days" in the Jewish culture meant a "very long time." Could it be that Christ's presence for forty days after the Resurrection is symbolic of His promise that He "shall be with us always, even until the end of time"? Forty days after Easter is today, and it is always on a Thursday.

Why then should we dare to move the date that the Ascension is celebrated, as though it were some kind of civic holiday? There are good intentions involved--the bishops, many opine, want to make more people aware of the feast, and that's fine in itself--but moving this feast treats, to a degree, the economy of salvation the same as the economy of man. We schedule the Ascension like the bankers on Wall Street schedule their office hours. One priest once told me that holydays were for a "different culture" than the one we have now. This is a copout. It is our job not to cave in to culture, but to help transform it, and to help fellow Christians transcend it in its current manifestation. Moreover, I suspect that in playing with the liturgical calendar like this, we confuse many good Catholics--far more than the ones we may reinvigorate with this change. Some even begin to think of the whole holyday setup as a mockery, and this is sad indeed. I fail to see the advantage in all of this. How can we ask people to put their faith first, and then start cutting corners?

I am grateful that I live in an ecclesiastical province that has "held out" on this change. I pray that I will never have to play for or attend a Mass on "Ascension Thursunday." This feast is too beautiful, too glorious, and too important to be kicked to the nearest convenient day.

But my rant is over now, and so I wish you a Happy Ascension Thursday, no matter which province you live in.

BTW, Fr. Z has a great podcazt up about the Ascension. Go check it out. Be sure to tell him if you liked it.

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