Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Elevating Collect of Ascension Thursday

The Ascension, Folio 13v of the Rabula Gospels (Florence, Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana, cod. Plut. I, 560)
Lost in Translation #50

The Collect of Ascension Thursday is:

Concéde, quáesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut, qui hodierna die Unigénitum tuum Redemptórem nostrum ad caelos ascendisse crédimus, ipsi quoque mente in caeléstibus habitémus. Per eundem Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who believe Thine only-begotten Son, our Redeemer, to have this day ascended into Heaven, may ourselves dwell in mind amidst heavenly things. Through the same our Lord.
It is the petition that I find particularly interesting. The Collect draws a natural parallel between Our Lord’s rising up to Heaven and our own mental dwelling in heavenly things. But it also seems to be a refusal to heed the reprimand in the Epistle reading of the day, when two angels gently rebuke the disciples for staring up to Heaven after Jesus ascended into a cloud:
Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen Him going into heaven. (Acts 1, 10)
The tension is resolved by the qualifier in mente. The sense is that we do not need to wait until the other side of the grave to get to the “heavenly things.” We can dwell among them right now, even in the midst of this valley of tears. Where? In our minds. We cannot have a total immersion in heavenly things until we get to Heaven, but we can have mental peace and mental nourishment, thanks be to God, despite everything else. This beautiful sentiment foreshadows the Golden Sequence that we will hear/sing on Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit is addressed with the following: “In labor, you are rest.” The Holy Spirit is not rest after labor, but rest in the midst of labor, a cool breeze during hard, sweltering work. God is consoling us right now, not taking away all our woes, but providing refreshment as they happen. While we work through the entanglements of this world, we remain free, dwelling with the High and enjoying a foretaste of the total bliss which is to come.
And so, even though there is no profit to be gained from staring at an empty sky, there is much profit to be gained from ruminating on a higher realm filled with meaning. Understandably, then, Sacred Scripture exhorts us to seek the things that are above (see Col. 3, 1-2), for our “citizenship” (politeuma) is in the Heavens (see Phil 3, 20).
Our sacred authors are not the only ones to see the value of dwelling amidst the heavenly. After concluding that the just city is impossible on earth, Plato’s Republic adds a note of hope from the mouth of Socrates:
But in heaven, perhaps a pattern is laid up for the man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. It doesn't make any difference whether it is is or will be somewhere. For he would mind the things of this city alone, and of no other. [Republic IX, 592b, trans. Allan Bloom (Basic Books, 1968)]
For Socrates, it does not matter whether the heavenly archetype exists or not, so long as it inspires the proper instantiation of justice in one’s life. Politically, the just city can only exist “in words” (en logois), but personally, perhaps it can exist in one's soul. The Gospels, on the other hand, boldly proclaim that the logos is not just a word but the Word made flesh. When St. Paul writes that our citizenship is in the heavens, could it be that he had the Republic in mind? Perhaps, but either way the key takeaway is that we participate, here and now, in a real City of God, and that we should keep our minds oriented accordingly.

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