As every year, forty days after Easter, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land celebrated the solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus to heaven on the Mount of Olives. The episode is taken from the Acts of the Apostles (1, 1-12) which narrates that the Lord, after having announced to them the coming of the Holy Spirit, and therefore Pentecost, ascends to the sky, “taking him from their sight.”
The celebrations opened on Wednesday 17th May, with the recital of the first vespers. These were followed by the procession around the small shrine from the time of the Crusaders which contains the rock where the footprint of Jesus’ right foot can be recognized, complins and, lastly the nocturnal office of the vigil. Until the next morning, holy masses attended by small groups of pilgrims and local Christians followed on one another. The solemn mass was held on the morning of Thursday 18th May; both the liturgy of the vigil and of the eucharist were presided by the vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Ibrahim Faltas.
Celebrations of the Vigil
“The vigil of the Ascension is for all of us a moment of great joy and jubilation which we must feel very strongly in the intimacy of our hearts, because we have to see accomplished in Jesus his glory and our glory.” It was with these words that Fr Ibrahim inaugurated his commentary on the Word for the celebration of the vigil. He addressed the many faithful present, exhorting them to receive the great message of the Ascension which is capable of giving everyone “such a great drive, a strong desire for eternal life.” Christ, rising to the Father, invites us to follow his example, feeling that we are of Heaven, believing that our real homeland is Paradise. ”Jesus rises to heaven, but remains with us every day until the end of the world. He returns to the Father not telling us “to manage on our own,” but “I trust you.” Until we join celestial life, “we have to remain with our feet on this earth to build the Kingdom here and now,” Father Ibrahim concluded.
Solemn Mass of Ascension
On Thursday morning, Fr. Faltas together with many other co-celebrants, presided the solemn mass that opened with the song that recites the words of the Scriptures: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there, looking at the sky?”(Acts 1, 11).
In his homily, Father Ibrahim reminded the assembly that the feast of the Ascension gives us a glimmer of the future of the whole of creation: “He was the first to inaugurate heaven, entering it with his whole body, his flesh and his life. Ascension is the mystery of Easter seen in its accomplishment.”
Returning to the passage of the Acts which narrates the episode of the Ascension, the preacher insisted on the mission that Jesus entrusted to his Apostles before leaving the earth.” We are therefore called to be his witnesses and to be his disciples: “Not for a period, but for always. We are disciples because he has loved us and chosen us, and sends us everywhere in the world to take the fruits of love and peace. If we do not communicate this, love comes to an end; if we do not work for peace, the grass of violence and evil grows,” he added.
To follow Christ who ascends, we have to follow the way of heaven which is that of those who, despite their sins, choose the strength of love for all, especially for those who are weak and poor. And in doing so, Father Ibrahim concluded, we also have to be “fearless witnesses, because the Lord is with us.”
Filippo De Grazia