Ascension Thursday was kept as a holy day of obligation and strictly observed in U.S. dioceses on Thursday, the 40th day of Easter. But for some reason, its celebration in all but a few dioceses has been moved to the following Sunday, seemingly making the solemnity of little or no importance.
The Ascension of Our Lord is often greatly misunderstood. When asked about its significance, Catholics will start asking questions: "You're asking about when Jesus disappeared into the clouds, right?" or "Is that after or before Jesus commissioned the disciples?" or "Did Jesus sort of float up into the sky like a balloon?"
Sadly, the transfer of this solemnity from Thursday to Sunday in most U.S. dioceses with little or no explanation has only increased confusion surrounding this holy day. Many think what took place during Our Lord's Ascension wasn't too important because "they don't change the date when other important holidays like Christmas are celebrated."
But what took place at Our Lord's Ascension is important and of great theological significance.
Saint Mark recounts the commission Jesus gave to His disciples: "He said to them, 'Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.'"
By this "Great Commission," Our Lord clearly orders His disciples to bring converts into His Church. By this commissioning of His disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus leaves them no wiggle room whatsoever.
All nations are to be told the good news that, in Christ, God has redeemed all people, and all are to be baptized. Period. Any disciple who ignores this mandate of Our Lord is not much of a disciple. It's lamentable that so few Catholics are even aware of the Great Commission or the importance of baptism in man's redemption.
But this lack of understanding is changing, thanks to Church Militant and other good Catholic media sites spreading authentic Church teaching. Jesus wants all to be baptized, and we are all on the hook to evangelize those we encounter in our day-to-day activities. If we slow walk this commandment or ignore it outright, we'll be forced to render an account for our negligence at our judgments.
Many clerics and bishops appear to be ignoring this commandment from Our Lord. Instead of evangelizing and baptizing, they shutter and demolish thousands of our Catholic Churches throughout the world. And despite this horror playing out plain for all to see, they remain indifferent and apathetic.
You would think that these bishops, after closing even one parish in their own diocese, would start to connect the dots — that the lack of evangelization and baptisms is evidence of neglect for Christ's Great Commission. They should see that to rectify the problem, they need to get back to work and do their job of building the Church!
Our Lord did not commission the Apostles on Mt. Olivet to "dialogue" with all nations or to publicize the evils of global warming. Our work as disciples, depending on the position we hold, clerical or lay, is to carry on Christ's work of salvation. You can be sure we will be judged on how well we fulfill or neglect this task!
The second major thing we celebrate on the solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord is how Jesus showed by His ascent into Heaven that He was truly divine. Jesus is Lord, and there is no other.
In the fullness of time, as He promised, He will return on the clouds and usher in the new heavens and new earth. And just as Jesus fulfilled His promise to rise from the tomb on the third day, we can also be confident that in the fullness of time, Christ will keep His promise to return.
Knowledgeable of all these things, we should be mindful to keep the commandments Christ gave us, including the Great Commission. We have no other more important tasks. The really great news is that if we, as laymen and clerics, get down to business evangelizing and calling people to the sacraments of the Church, souls will be saved.