Dr. Scott Hahn: The Good News of the Ascension


Dr. Scott Hahn reflects on the Mass readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

Readings:
Acts 1:1–11
Psalm 47:2–36–78–9
Ephesians 1:17–23
Matthew 28:16–20

(In dioceses where Ascension is celebrated on Thursday, see also the reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.)


In today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives the surprising news that there is more of the story to be told. The story did not end with the empty tomb, or with Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles over the course of forty days. Jesus’ saving work will have a liturgical consummation. He is the great high priest, and He has still to ascend to the heavenly Jerusalem, there to celebrate the feast in the true Holy of Holies.

The truth of this feast shines forth from the Letter to the Hebrews, where we read of the great high priest’s passing through the heavens, the sinless intercessor’s sacrifice on our behalf (see Hebrews 4:14–15).

Indeed, His intercession will lead to the Holy Spirit’s descent in fire upon the Church. Luke spells out that promise in the First Reading for the feast of the Ascension: “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). The Ascension is the preliminary feast that directs the Church’s attention forward to Pentecost. On that day, salvation will be complete; for salvation is not simply expiation for sins (that would be wonder enough), but it is something even greater than that. Expiation is itself a necessary precondition of our adoption as God’s children. To live that divine life we must receive the Holy Spirit. To receive the Holy Spirit we must be purified through Baptism.

The Responsorial Psalm presents the Ascension in terms familiar from the worship of the Jerusalem Temple in the days of King Solomon: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord” (Psalm 47). The priest-king takes his place at the head of the people, ruling over the nations, establishing peace.

The Epistle strikes a distinctively Paschal note. In the early Church, as today, Easter was the normal time for the baptism of adult converts. The sacrament was often called “illumination” or “enlightenment” because of the light that came with God’s saving grace (see, for example, Hebrews 10:32). Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, speaks in terms of glory that leads to greater glories still, as Ascension leads to Pentecost: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,” he writes, as he looks to the divinization of the believers. Their “hope” is “his inheritance among the holy ones,” the saints who have been adopted into God’s family and now rule with Him at the Father’s right hand.

This is the “good news” the Apostles are commissioned to spread—to the whole world, to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem—at the Ascension. It’s the good news we must spread today.


Visit the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology website to listen to an audio recording of this reflection from Dr. Scott Hahn and to subscribe to receive his Sunday Mass Reflections via email. We encourage you to support his work.


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About the Author

Dr. Scott Hahn

Dr. Scott Hahn was born in 1957, and has been married to Kimberly since 1979. He and Kimberly have six children (two of which are seminarians for the diocese of Steubenville) and eighteen grandchildren. An exceptionally popular speaker and teacher, Dr. Hahn has delivered numerous talks nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith. His talks have been effective in helping thousands of Protestants and fallen away Catholics to (re)embrace the Catholic faith.

He has been awarded the Father Michael Scanlan, T.O.R., Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and president of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. From 2005 to 2011, Dr. Hahn held the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa. From 2014 to 2015, he served as the McEssy Distinguished Visiting Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization, University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL.

Dr. Hahn is also the bestselling author of numerous books including The Lamb’s SupperReasons to Believe, and Rome Sweet Home (co-authored with his wife, Kimberly). Some of his newest books are The First Society, The Fourth CupRomans: A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, The CreedEvangelizing CatholicsAngels and Saints, and Joy to the World.

Scott received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.

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