Thursday, May 10, 2018

Durandus on the Ascension

The following texts are take from William Durandus’ Rationale Divinorum Officium, book 6, chapter 104, in my own translation.

On the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, which is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter, since Christ on the fortieth day after the Resurrection ascended into heaven, a solemn procession is held; for the Lord commanded that His disciples go before him to the Mount of Olives, that they might see Him ascend. And they made a procession for Him, and He, lifting up is hands, was born into heaven. … This procession signifies the going from virtue to virtue (or “from strength to strength”) and (during it), a responsory is sung from the Office of the Ascension, that we may be invited to ascend after the Lord.

The Ascension, by Benvenuto Tisi (1481-1559), generally known as Garofalo.
Now the Lord ascended from Bethany, which means “obedience”, from place which He led the Apostles out. By this is signified that fact that without obedience, no one can ascend into heaven. For this reason, some churches sing during the procession the responsories which speak about the Lord leading them out. The fact that He ascended from the Mount of Olives signifies that we must ascend by means of the works of mercy. … There follows the Introit “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? etc” For they were looking with their eyes fixed, and would have looked even longer, had the Angels not told them to depart, saying, “This Jesus, Who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.” That is, He will so come to judge, in a cloud. The cloud signifies grace, since without the cloud, and without grace, no one can ascend, even Christ, insofar as He is a man, and the cloud in which He ascended signifies this. And because the joy over the Ascension cannot be expressed in speech, therefore there follows the verse “All ye nations, clap your hands.”

There follows the Epistle “The former treatise” (Acts 1, 1-11) which speaks of the Ascension, then the double Alleluja, since the Lord ascended in a double garment (i.e. in His divinity and His humanity), … the first Alleluja is “God has ascended with rejoicing”, which is to say, with the ineffable joy of the ancient Fathers, who ascended with Him (from the limbo of the Fathers), and the Apostles and Angels, saying “Who is this king of glory?” (Psalm 23, 8) (just as) Isaiah says (63, 1) “Who is this that cometh from Edom?” (From very ancient times, both of these texts were understood by the Fathers as references to the Ascension; see the sermon of St Gregory of Nyssa on the fourth day within the octave of the Ascension in the Breviary of St Pius V.) There follows “And the Lord in the voice of the trumpet”, that is, with the terrible sound, referring to the voice of the Angels; or else, the Lord speaks though the Angels, when he said to the Apostles, “So shall He come.” … There follows the Gospel of Mark (16, 14-20), who roars out (i.e, like a lion, his traditional symbol), “As the eleven disciples were at table”, which continues “He reproved them”; this is the roaring. …

It should also be said that some of the things which are sung on this day tell the story of the Ascension, such as that which John says after the Passion, (i.e., the antiphon at the Benedictus, “I go up to my Father and yours, my God and yours, alleluia.” from John 20, 17), and the words “God has gone up.” But some of them are the consolatiom of the Bridegroom to the bride, such as “Let your heart not be troubled, nor fearful”, and “It is time that I return”, and “If I do not go, the Paraclete shall not come.” (These are all texts from the responsories of Matins.) Some others are the congratulations of the Bride to the Bridegroom, such as the responsory “Be thou exalted, o Lord” and “Thou makest the cloud.” In the narrative part, hope is conceived, in the part about consolation, it is raised up, in the congratulations is it made certain and declared.

Likewise, in the day’s Mass, the Ascension is narrated in the Epistle and Gospel, where it is said that the Lord was taken up into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, in equality with the Father. In the Alleluja, “The Lord is on Sinai” the bride congratulates; in the other Alleluja, “I will not leave you”, the bridegroom consoles. In the Offertory, it is narrated that the Ascension was completed, and likewise in the Communion, which says “Sing ye to the Lord, who mounteth above the heaven of heavens to the East, alleluia.” that is, (sing) to the Word, united to Him as one person. It is not said that He has arisen (i.e., in the past), nor that He will arise, but rather, that He is arising, because the Son proceeds eternally from the Father, …

Icon of the Ascension, by Andreas Ritzos (1421-92). At the very top, the Holy Trinity is represented by showing the three Angels that appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18, 1-10. This follows the standard custom of Byzantine iconography, made particularly famous by the Trinity of Andrej Rubliev.

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