Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Octave of the Ascension 2018

From St Gregory the Great’s 29th Homily on the Gospels, read in the Breviary of St Pius V on the Octave Day of the Ascension.

Concerning this glory of (the Lord’s) Ascension, Habacuc said (3, 11), “The sun was raised up, and the moon stood in its order.” Who is indicated by the name of the sun, if not the Lord, and who by the name of the moon, if not the Church? For until the Lord ascended into heaven, His Holy Church was in every way fearful of its enemies in the world; but after She was fortified by His Ascension, She openly preached what She had come to believe in secret. (Luke 12, 3) Therefore “the sun was raised up, and the moon stood in its order”, because when the Lord repaired to heaven, His Holy Church grew in the authority of her preaching.

The Ascension of Christ, by Andrea Mantegna, 1460-64
Hence through Solomon is it said in the voice of the Church, “Behold He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills.” (Canticle 2, 8) For She looked upon the heights of such great works, and said “Behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains,” since in coming for our salvation, He made certain leaps … From heaven He came into the womb, from the womb to the manger, from the manger to the Cross, from the cross to the tomb, from the tomb He returned to heaven. Behold, that He might set us to run after Him, the Truth made manifest though the flesh made these leaps for us, for “He rejoiced as a giant to run His way” (Ps. 18, 6), that we might say to Him from the heart, “Draw us: we will run after thee to the odor of thy ointments.” (Canticle 1, 3)

Therefore, dearest brethren, it is necessary that we follow Him in our hearts to that place where we believe He ascended in the body. Let us flee earthly desires; let nothing here below now delight us, who have a Father in heaven. And we must also consider this very carefully, that He who ascended peaceably will be terrible in His return, and whatsoever He commanded us with mildness, He will demand of us with severity. Let no one therefore take little account of the times of penance granted to us, let no one fail to take care for himself while he can; for Our Redeemer will come to judgment all the more strictly, according as He first show greater patience to us before the judgment.

The Ascension Dome of the Basilica of St Mark in Venice; mosaics ca. 1175-1200. (click to enlarge) The words written in a circle that separate Christ and the four angels around him from the Virgin Mary and Apostles are four hexameters, “Dicite quid statis, quid in aethere consideratis. / Filius iste Dei, Christus, cives Galilaei, / Sumptus ut a vobis abit et sic arbiter orbis / Judicii cura veniet dare debita jura.” (Tell us what you are standing and looking at in Heaven. This Son of God, Christ, o ye citizens of Galilee, being taken from you, goes; and so He will come as the judge of the world, with right judgment to give all their due.)
We may note here that St Gregory cites the Prophet Habacuc according to the text of the Old Latin version of the Bible, the translation made from the Greek text of the Seputagint, while the citations from the Song of Songs are taken from St Jerome’s version, which we now call the Vulgate. Just as several of Jerome’s Biblical commentaries explain both versions of the text, so also the Church Fathers continued to use both, and of course, there are many text throughout the liturgy, in the Mass, Office and elsewhere, which still use the Old Latin to this very day. Likewise, the first citation from the Song of Songs, (or “Canticle of Canticles” as it is traditionally called in the Vulgate), follows St Jerome’s version, but the second mixes the two, “Draw us” instead of “Draw me.” St Gregory also takes it for granted, as do all the Fathers, that the Song of Songs is a dialogue between Christ and the Church; many early printed Bibles actually contain notes added into the text which explain “This is the voice of the Church speaking to Christ”, or “Christ here says to the Church” etc.

From a Breviary according to the Use of Bamberg, Germany, printed in 1501, part of the Office for the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. In the left column, a bit below the middle, begin the Matins readings from the Song of Songs, with the interpretive notes, “The voice of Christ to the Church”, “The voice of the bride to the young women”, etc.
Our thanks to Fr Joseph Hearty for sharing with us these photographs of the Solemn Mass which he celebrated on the feast of the Ascension at the church of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Boulder, Colorado. (Photos by John Barton.)

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