Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What is the difference between the Ascension and Assumption (Asked by Charlie Rancudo, SE-1)


The biblical verses referring to the Ascension are:

- “Then he led them as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” – Luke 24:50-53

- “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” - Mark 16:19-20

- Also Acts 1:9-12

The Ascension (or being lifted up to heaven) is described as Jesus Christ's return to the Father. It marks the end of the visible ministry of Jesus on earth.

The Ascension is best understood in connection with the Resurrection which you can read in the footnote below.[1] In the Resurrection, Jesus went through a transformation in body and spirit. Jesus was not just resuscitated (like Lazarus, who eventually died), but transformed.

This transformation of Jesus did not stop at the Resurrection, but continued with the Ascension. We think of the Ascension not so much as the transition of Jesus from one place to another (i.e. from earth to heaven) but from one condition to another. When we say that Jesus ascended, we mean:

- Jesus withdrew from a world of limitation (that is our human condition) to that higher existence where God is.

- It is the end of the visible activities of Jesus on earth, but not the end of Jesus presence. Jesus is now physically far, but spiritually near. Jesus ascension precedes the sending of the Holy Spirit which is His presence in our everyday life today. “It is much better for you that I go… If I go, I will send the Paraclete to you.” – John 16:7. Being now free from earthly limitations, Jesus can now more “freely” interact and intercede for us.

- It is the return of Jesus to the Father in the beginning of time before He came into the world. Ascension or being "lifted up into Heaven" is Jesus Christ's coming back home. It is also at this event that marks the sending of the Holy Spirit to work within us.


The Assumption refers to Mother Mary’s “body and soul” (that is, her entire being) as taken up into heaven without having tasted death. The bible also refers to both Elijah and Enoch being taken to heaven in the same manner (2 Kings 2:11 and Hebrews 11:5).

Again, just in the explanation of the Ascension, “taken up to heaven” should be read as Mary having gone through a transformation from one condition to another (rather than physically floating from earth to the skies).

The Assumption was declared as a dogma on November 1, 1950 by Pius XII.

That early Christian believed in Mary's Assumption is proven in the lack of her relics, empty tombs, and quotes from early Christians. The early Christians were very careful to keep the relics of saints and martyrs, even if it involved great risk (like trying to retrieve the remains of those who were eaten by lions). Because Christians took care of the remains of the saints, we know where the bones of Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene and many other New Testament believers are buried. But where are the remains of the Virgin Mary? There is no record of anyone ever claiming to possess the body of the Mother of Jesus.

This would have been the most prized relic of all; the mortal remains of the Savior's closest blood relative, the very same body which had carried God Incarnate for nine months and nursed and cared for Him afterward! Yet in all of Church history, both biblical and extra-biblical, there is no record of its whereabouts.

The early Church Fathers were very zealous for the faith. They strenuously fought all new heresies which threatened the Faith delivered to the Apostles. If the Assumption of Mary were a novel belief at the time, we would expect to find Christian writers of the third to fifth centuries condemning it as a newfangled heresy. Yet none do! Nowhere in the writings of the early Church Fathers do we find the slightest condemnation of this doctrine.

(Sources: CFC, 524 – 525, article found in http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2bvm54.htm, and article found in http://home.nyc.rr.com/mysticalrose/marian8.html)

[1] An understanding of the Resurrection will help us understand what happens during consecration.

We regard the Resurrection of Jesus as not just resuscitation (as in the case of Lazarus, who eventually died), but that of transformation (Jesus lives forever). Resurrection refers not just to a physically risen Jesus, but to a spiritually Risen Jesus.

Our Risen Lord was no longer bound by time and space. He could walk through walls. In the account of the “doubting Thomas” in John 20:19-29, the evangelist emphasizes by saying twice that “the doors were locked,” and yet Jesus suddenly appeared to them.

In the story of the two men on the way to Emmaus in Luke 24:1-53, we learn other aspects about our Risen Lord. We know that the tomb was empty and so his body rose and changed (24:12). His body changed because when Jesus appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus, he was not readily recognizable (24:32), and yet he could be seen and touched, and he ate brad and fish. We also know that he was recognized when he started to talk about the Scriptures and when they broke bread (24:35), and that this encounter with him brought about much excitement and joy (24:33 and 41).

I’m afraid that is as much as we can know about Jesus Resurrected presence. (The disciples did not have a video camera then, so they could not be any more helpful). But one thing we do know, Jesus was not just resuscitated; he was transformed to a glorious presence.

The close analogy I can think of is that of a caterpillar that is transformed to a butterfly. It changes to something totally new.