Editor’s note: One of the most significant books on the sacred liturgy over the past half-century is Jean Corbon’s The Wellspring of Worship, a work particularly focused on the liturgy’s Trinitarian and spiritual aspects. Jean Corbon (1924-2001) was born in Paris, ordained a priest for the Greek-Catholic eparchy in Beirut, and was the principal author of Part IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic of prayer. Adoremus is grateful to Ignatius Press for permission to reprint the following excerpt on the ascension from The Wellspring of Worship (59–62).
It is highly regrettable that the majority of the faithful pay so little heed to the ascension of the Lord. Their lack of appreciation of it is closely connected with their lack of appreciation of the mystery of the liturgy. A superficial reading of the end of the Synoptic Gospels and the first chapter of Acts can give the impression that Christ simply departed. In the mind of readers not submissive to the Spirit, a page has been turned; they now begin to think of Jesus as in the past and to speak of what “he said” and what “he did.” They have carefully sealed up the tomb again and filled up the fountain with sand; they continue to “look among the dead for someone who is alive” and they return to their narrow lives in which some things have to do with morality and others with cult, as in the case of the upright men and women of the old covenant. But in fact the ascension is a decisive turning point. It does indeed mark the end of something that is not simply to be cast aside: the end of a relationship to Jesus that is still wholly external. Above all, however, it marks the beginning of an entirely new relationship of faith and of a new time: the liturgy of the last times. […]
In his ascension, then, Christ did not at all disappear; on the contrary, he began to appear and to come. For this reason, the hymns we use in our churches sing of him as “the Sun of justice” that rises in the East. He who is the splendor of the Father and who once descended into the depths of our darkness is now exalted and fills all things with his light. Our last times are located between that first ascension and the ascension that will carry him to the zenith of his glorious parousia. The Lord has not gone away to rest from his redemptive toil; his “work” (John 5:17) continues, but now at the Father’s side, and because he is there he is now much closer to us, “very near to us,”1 in the work that is the liturgy of the last times. “He leads captives,” namely, us, to the new world of his resurrection, and bestows his “gifts,” his Spirit, on human beings (see Ephesians 4:7-10). His ascension is a progressive movement, “from beginning to beginning.”2
Jesus is, of course, at his Father’s side. If, however, we reduce this “ascent” to a particular moment in our mortal history, we simply forget that beginning with the hour of his cross and resurrection Jesus and the human race are henceforth one. He became a son of man in order that we might become children of God. The ascension is progressive “until we all…form the perfect Man fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself” (Ephesians 4:13). The movement of the ascension will be complete only when all the members of his body have been drawn to the Father and brought to life by his Spirit. Is that not the meaning of the answer the angels gave to the disciples: “Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven” (Acts 1:11). The ascension does not show us in advance the setting of the final parousia; it is rather the activation of the paschal energy of Christ who “fills all things” (Ephesians 4:10). It is the ever-new “moment” of his coming.
Father Jean Corbon (1924-2001) was born in Paris, ordained a priest for the Greek-Catholic eparchy in Beirut, and was the principal author of Part IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic of prayer. He was the author of numerous books, including The Wellspring of Worship.