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Absence and Presence

John Eliot Gardiner's magnificent series of recordings of Bach's Cantatas (Soli Deo Gloria label) includes on one CD the four works which Bach composed to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Listening to them today (in Boston the feast is celebrated on the day God intended!) I was swept up by their joyful affirmation of Christ's triumph -- trumpets and timpani resounding.

Yet it struck me that the main thrust of the texts was upon the absence of the Lord and the longing for his return.

Though this is surely a central part of the Mystery of the Ascension, I think it needs to be held in tension by the celebration of Christ's presence in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Perhaps this is the Catholic sensitivity that is somewhat missing in the great catholic composer.

A recent book on the Ascension by the fine Australian theologian, Anthony Kelly, (Upward: Faith, Church, and the Ascension of Christ) devotes a chapter to "The Ascension and the Eucharist." Kelly has as subtitle to the chapter: "Real Absence and Real Presence." He writes:

By assuming our humanity, the divine Word makes his own the world and the universe to which that humanity is essentially related. In his ascension, that humanity and that world are now irrevocably with God in the glory of a new existence. In this respect Christian identity grows to an immeasurably larger selfhood as the Eucharist celebrates the expansive event of the incarnation as it unites the world and heaven understood as the realm of God.

Even when considering God's action forming the Body of Christ in its wholeness, it is not Christ who has become disembodied, but we human beings are not yet fully embodied in him as we are destined to be.

Sursum corda!

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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(In Boston the feast is celebrated on the day God intended!)


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