Bookmark and Share

Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord 1979

Pope St John Paul II's homily at Mass at the English College, Rome
Thursday 24th May 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear sons, brothers and friends in Jesus Christ,
On this solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord, the Pope is happy to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice with you and for you. I am happy to be with the students and staff of the Venerable English College in this year in which you are celebrating your fourth centenary. And today, in a special way, I feel spiritually close to you, to your parents and families, and to all the faithful of England and Wales – to all who are united in the faith of Peter and Paul, in the faith of Jesus Christ. The traditions of generosity and fidelity that have been exemplified in the life of your College for 400 years are present in my heart this morning. You have come to give thanks and praise to God for what has been accomplished by his grace in the past, and to find strength to go forward – under the protection of our Blessed Lady – in the fervour of your forefathers, many of whom laid down their lives for the Catholic faith.

A cordial word of welcome goes also to the new priests from the Pontifical Beda College. For you too this is a moment of special challenge to keep alive the ideals manifested in your patron, St Bede the Venerable, whom you will commemorate tomorrow. Welcome also to the staff and to your fellow students.

With joy then and fresh resolves for the future, let us reflect briefly on the great mystery of today’s liturgy. In the Scripture readings the whole significance of Christ’s Ascension is summarized for us. The richness of this mystery is spelled out in two statements: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place.

In the providence of God – in the eternal design of the Father – the hour had come for Christ to go away. He would leave his Apostles behind, with his Mother Mary, but only after he had given them his instructions. The Apostles now had a mission to perform according to the instructions that Jesus left, and these instructions were in turn the faithful expression of the Father’s will.

The instructions indicated, above all, that the Apostles were to wait for the Holy Spirit, who was the gift of the Father. From the beginning, it had to be crystal-clear that the source of the Apostles’ strength is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the way of truth; the Gospel is to spread through the power of God, and not by means of human wisdom or strength.

The Apostles, moreover, were instructed to teach – to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. And they were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, they were to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. The Apostles were to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began. And everybody knew that this missionary era could never end until the same Jesus, who went up to heaven, would come back again.

The words of Jesus became a treasure for the Church to guard and to proclaim, to meditate on and to live. And at the same time, the Holy Spirit implanted in the Church an apostolic charism, in order to keep this revelation intact. Through his words Jesus was to live on in his Church: I am with you always. And so the whole ecclesial community became conscious of the need for fidelity to the instructions of Jesus, to the deposit of faith. This solicitude was to pass from generation to generation – down to our own day. And it was because of this principle that I spoke recently to your own rectors, stating that the first priority for seminaries today is the teaching of God’s word in all its purity and integrity, with all its exigencies and in all its power. The word of God – and the word of God alone – is the basis for all ministry, for all pastoral activity, for all priestly action. The power of God’s word constituted the dynamic basis of the Second Vatican Council, and John XXIII pointed out clearly on the day it opened: ‘The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively quarded and taught’. And if the seminarians of this generation are to be adequately prepared to take on the heritage and challenge of this Council they must be trained above all in God’s word: in ‘the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine’.  Yes, dear sons, our greatest challenge is to be faithful to the instructions of the Lord Jesus.

And the second reflection on the meaning of the Ascension is found in this phrase: Jesus took his place. After having undergone the humiliation of his passion and death, Jesus took his place at the right-hand of God; he took his place with his eternal Father. But he also entered heaven as our Head. Whereupon, in the expression of Leo the Great, the glory of the Head became the hope of the body. For all eternity Christ takes his place as the firstborn among many brethren: our nature is with God in Christ. And as man, the Lord Jesus lives for ever to intercede for us with the Father. At the same time, from his throne of glory, Jesus sends out to the whole Church a message of hope and a call to holiness.

Because of Christ’s merits, because of his intercession with the Father, we are able to attain justice and holiness of life, in him. The Church may indeed experience difficulties, the Gospel may suffer setbacks but, because Jesus is at the right-hand of the Father, the Church will never know defeat. Christ’s victory is ours. The power of the glorified Christ, the beloved Son of the eternal Father, is superabundant, to sustain each of us and all of us in the fidelity of our dedication to God’s Kingdom and in the generosity of our celibacy. The efficacy of Christ’s Ascension touches all of us in the concrete reality of our daily lives. Because of this mystery it is the vocation of the whole Church to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Dear sons, be imbued with the hope that is so much a part of the mystery of the Ascension of Jesus. Be deeply conscious of Christ’s victory and triumph over sin and death. Realize that the strength of Christ is greater than our weakness, greater than the weakness of the whole world. Try to understand and share the joy that Mary experienced in knowing that her Son had taken his place with his Father, whom he loved infinitely. And renew your faith today in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has gone to prepare a place for us, so that He can come back again and take us to Himself.

This is the mystery of the Ascension of our Head. Let us always remember: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place. Amen."

Pope St John Paul II's words at the Regina Caeli on 7th Sunday of Easter
Sunday 27th May 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Beloved brothers and sisters!
1. We are living the extraordinary liturgical period between Ascension and Pentecost. In these days the Church, like the first group of disciples, finds herself mysteriously "in the situation of the Upper Room", remaining perseveringly in prayer "with Mary, the Mother of Jesus" (Acts 1, 14). Also this meeting of ours at midday is, on her side, merely a fragment of that remaining united together in prayer.

In the Upper Room, the Church prepares to assume and to carry out the mission received from Christ. It is natural, therefore, that we should turn our thought in the first place to those who will receive Episcopal Ordination in St Peter's Basilica this afternoon. It is a question of 26 Prelates, coning from the following countries: Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Nicaragua, Sudan, Ethiopia, United States of America, Brazil, Norway, Philippines, India, Canada, Chile. Their different origin and their destination are a sign of that same universality of the Church which was already noted at Jerusalem on the day of the first Pentecost.

2. In the second place, I wish to call your attention to another group of Christians, far more numerous, who are preparing particularly in this period to take part in the mission and apostolate of the Church. I am thinking of the many boys and girls who will approach the Sacrament of Confirmation during the days of Pentecost. We know that in Rome as in the whole Church this Sacrament is received by young Christians at different moments of the liturgical year. However, the period of Pentecost is particularly suitable. In fact, the descent of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, with his characteristic gifts and fruits, has as its specific aim the formation of mature and responsible Christians, such as the Apostles were at last when they came out of the Upper Room. As for them, also the maturity of confirmed persons is expressed in conscious and active apostolate, as vigorous witness to the Risen Lord and his Gospel. And it is here that, in the last analysis, the necessary apostolate of the Laity in the Church is founded. For this reason sound preparation is indispensable, made up of prayer, reflection and the deepening of faith. Christian life, in fact, cannot be improvised, but requires real and proper conscientization. On its side, the Sacrament received tends by its very nature to be expressed in the life of each one; it will have to lead to greater faithfulness in catechesis, to deeper participation in religious practice, to more consistent behaviour in everyday existence. Therefore, I call upon you to pray intensely for all those boys and girls who will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, in order that it may really confirm their baptismal commitments in depth, with strength and with joy.

3. I must also add — as you know, moreover — that today the World Day of Social Communications is celebrated in the whole Church.

For this occasion I have already addressed a special Message, which this year, coinciding with the "International Year of the Child", has as its subject: "Social communications for the protection and development of childhood in the family and in society". The subject is an important one and deserves to be considered attentively. I call upon you all, therefore, to raise a special prayer to the Lord, to obtain a sense of responsibility and wisdom for all those who operate in this delicate sector.

4. I cannot but remember at this moment, with deep affliction, the young Somalian Amhed Ali Giama, who was barbarously burnt alive some days ago, just near the church of St Mary of Peace. How can such atrocious episodes occur, here, in Rome, the home of law, the city of St Peter? While I express my own and your deepest censure of this inhuman act, I call upon everyone to raise prayers to the Lord for our brother, a son of beloved Africa."

After reciting the Marian prayer, the Holy Father addressed as follows a group of young people from the diocese of Verona.

"I now address a special greeting to the many thousands of adolescents of the diocese of Verona, who are at this moment linked up with us by radio from the historic amphitheatre of their beautiful city. They are gathered there with their Bishop, His Excellency Mons. Giuseppe Amari, and with their priests to conclude a year of study and reflection on the stimulating subject proposed by the Italian Episcopal Conference, "Evangelization and community".

Beloved boys and girls, I express to you my sincere satisfaction at the commitment you have shown on the path of faith undertaken on a community basis this year, dedicating yourselves to study Christ's message and endeavouring to put it into practice consistently. Remember that the efficacy of the proclamation which you bring to others depends on the intensity with which you live the communion with Christ and with the brethren. Love Jesus, therefore, and love the Church, with sincerity, dedication and joy. Here lies the secret of witness that is able to penetrate into hearts.

May my blessing accompany you.

After imparting the Blessing, the Holy Father referred to his forthcoming journey to Poland as follows:

"I remind you of my imminent journey to Poland, my native land, on the occasion of the ninth centenary of the martyrdom of St Stanislaus. I will be in that dear country from 2nd to 10th June. And I call upon you to pray for this too, in order that this apostolic pilgrimage may be guided by the light and the power of the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church, especially for the good of my fellow-countrymen, and also of other Christians and all men of goodwill."