Feast of the Ascension: I, too, will see heaven. | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Feast of the Ascension: I, too, will see heaven.

Along with just a scant dozen religious sisters from Jerusalem, the Franciscans of Jerusalem began the celebrations of the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord on the Mount of Olives.

Today is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, it should be said, and the day’s demonstrations and parades brought the closed roads—and traffic jams in the ones that were left open—discouraging anyone who could not reach the top of the Mount on foot from attending.

The friars were able to go by bus just before access to the Old City was closed. They received the Custodial Vicar, Fra Artemio Vitores, for his Solemn Entry to the site of the Ascension, which is now—and has been since the Crusades—property of the Waqf (Muslim religious authority).

After Vespers, followed a little later by Compline, most of the friars should have returned to Saint Saviour Monastery at the New Gate. However, alongside the Jerusalem Day festivities, there were clashes at Damascus Gate, not far from where the bus dropped off the friars, and access to the Old City was closed. Following their orders and certainly not recognizing the religious habits, the police were not so easily moved to allow the friars to enter. All was forgotten, however, when the same friars again went to the site of the Ascension—this time at night—for the Office of Readings at 11 pm.

As soon as the Office, at which some pilgrims and religious brothers and sisters of Jerusalem assisted, was over, the Masses began.

According to tradition, on the night between Wednesday and Ascension Thursday Catholics are allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in this chapel that is closed to worship all the rest of the year. This right was obtained by the Franciscans, as Fra Artemio mentioned in his homily, from the Ottoman authorities. (See the homily in PDF format, below.)

From midnight until 7:30 am, with Masses every half hour, group after group of worshippers took their places at one of the two portable altars near the Aedicule. Germans, Indians, and Italians began this prayer as watchmen over the city. They were joined a little later by the Christians of Nazareth, always faithful and accompanied by their pastor, Fra Jack Karam ofm.

The last of these “little” Masses was celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio. After it the faithful were able to have a time of prayer inside the chapel around the boulder that traditionally marks Jesus’ departure for Heaven, while outside the pastor of the Jerusalem parish, Fra Feras Hejazin, celebrated Mass for the parish faithful before the day’s Solemn Mass began.

With about a hundred people assisting in addition to the friars, the Custodial Vicar presided over the Solemn Mass at 9:30 am. In his homily, Fra Artemio emphasized the promise of eternal life, confessed in the Creed, that the Feast of the Ascension opens to us. Because Christ went up to Heaven, “we, too, will see Heaven” if we place our feet in the footsteps of Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. He promised his disciples “I will come back and take you with me, and there where I am, you will be, too” (Jn 14:3). Fra Artemio encouraged the assembly to go back to Jerusalem and be witnesses of Christ.

At the conclusion of the Mass, the faithful went one last time to venerate the site of the Ascension. Then, without “gazing into the sky”, they each returned to Jerusalem to await the next feast: Pentecost, which closes Easter Time.