Jesus’s work of redemption did not end on the cross of Calvary, nor was it completed even with his glorious resurrection. It reached its ultimate fulfilment with his ascension.

In this article, we will delve into another crucial aspect: the entry into the heavenly sanctuary.  This layer of the Ascension mystery is the foundation of the Eucharistic offering that has sustained the Holy Mass for millennia, yet it tends to be overlooked. In our exploration of this mystery, we will rely on biblical revelation to unpack how the scriptures reveal the secret of  the universality of the Eucharist. 

Of all the books of the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews has one of the most detailed accounts of Jesus’s ascension. 

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through  the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he  entered once for all into the holy place,” ……how much more will the blood of Christ, who  through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance…… 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one,  but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the holy place year  after year with blood that is not his own, … But as it is, he has appeared once for all at  the end of the ages to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:11-12a, 14-15a, 24- 26)” 

Furthermore, a similar statement is found in Romans: “Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for  us.(8:34)”  

In these passages, we glean important insights regarding Jesus’s ascension. He is not merely seated at the right hand of God, symbolising his reign as the King of the universe, but according to Hebrews, on the day of his Ascension, he also “entered once for all into the Holy  Place, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood,” in order to offer himself to God “once for all”, as the eternal High Priest for all generations. 

It is so important that without understanding this meaning, we cannot comprehend why the Ascension is an indispensable part of the Paschal mystery. When it comes to Jesus as the ransom for human sins, many may think of his sacrifice on the cross—which indeed surpasses all sacrifices. Some may also recall the Last Supper, where Jesus gave himself to all through  the transubstantiation of bread and wine—a necessary sacramental establishment for eternal life. However, what many of us may not consider is that beyond these “earthly  offerings”: from the Last Supper on Holy Thursday to the climax on Good Friday at Calvary,  Jesus did not stop there; rather, with his resurrection and ascension, he brought his glorified body, bearing the wounds, into the heavenly sanctuary to present himself as a sacrifice to God the Father, for the remission of the sins of many. Moreover, not temporal, but once and for all, in another word, eternally outside the time frame. 

Based on this brief exposition, it can be elucidated that on Good Friday on earth, Jesus was  the fulfilment of the Paschal Lamb, while his ascension ultimately fulfilled the Day of  Atonement under the Old Covenant. However, unlike the Jewish high priest who entered the Holy of Holies once a year, Jesus, as the eternal High Priest, offered an atoning sacrifice once for all in the true sanctuary of heaven. This is the unalloyed fascination of the Ascension:  through it, Jesus has transformed his historical crucifixion, an event that took place in the  Near East two thousand years ago, into an eternal redemption that transcends time and space. 

St Leo the Great, in the 5th century, wrote:  

“For otherwise in the Church of God, which is Christ’s Body, there are neither valid  priesthoods nor true sacrifices, unless in the reality of our nature the true High Priest  makes atonement for us, and the true Blood of the spotless Lamb makes us clean. For  although he be set on the Father’s right hand, yet in the same flesh which He took from the  Virgin, he carries on the mystery of propitiation. (Letter 80 II)”  

Clearly, in the early Church’s insight, this mystery has been explicitly articulated:  understanding the essence of the Eucharistic sacrifice hinges on understanding Christ’s  ascension. The two keys in St Leo’s statement can be explained as follows: 

First, Jesus retains the same body after his ascension as he had on the cross, which is why his  resurrected and ascended body still bears the wounds. While Christ’s post-resurrection body  undoubtedly exists in a marvellous state, the continuity of his physical form implies the  perpetual unity of his human nature with his divinity. 

Second, it is the bodily ascension of Jesus as the eternal High Priest that ensures the efficacy  of all sacraments. Although his suffering ended with his death on the cross, the paschal  offering did not conclude there. According to Hebrews chapter 9, he brought it into an eternal state. (Jesus is not still suffering, but he is still offering, in an infinite sense, that outside time  and space.)

During the “Reformation”, Luther and Calvin rebuked the Holy Mass as a blasphemy of the  most terrible kind, because they believed that the offering made during the Mass was a re-sacrifice of Jesus. Their error consisted in the misunderstanding that the Mass involved a re-sacrifice, as if the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary was insufficient and needed to be repeated  continuously. However, what Pope St Leo the Great understood, and what Luther and Calvin  failed to grasp, was the mystery of the Ascension: the Eucharist is not about re-sacrificing  Jesus. On the contrary, the Church firmly declares that there is only one atoning sacrifice,  which is Jesus’s offering on Calvary. This one sacrifice, through the mystery of the Ascension,  transcends the limitations of time and space by entering the true heavenly sanctuary with Jesus himself. Thus, it becomes an eternal sacrifice. Therefore, it cannot be emphasised  enough: the Holy Mass does not repeat the sacrifice on Calvary; rather, it participates in  Jesus’s current and eternal offering of himself in the heavenly sanctuary to God the Father

Additionally, by comprehension of the transubstantiation, it is not hard to explore that the  Eucharist we receive is indeed the body of Christ who suffered, rose, and ascended – his glorified body, eternally offered to the Father in the heavenly altar.  

Thus, regardless of five hundred, one thousand, or two thousand years after Christ, and regardless of where on earth the Mass is celebrated, it is not a separate, isolated event. Rather, each Mass is united with the one, complete, and effective redemptive sacrifice of Christ in heaven. This means that every Eucharist partakes in the same grace and redemption,  transcending time and space, and drawing us into the eternal offering of Christ. 

By quoting Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church’s teaching cannot be made more explicit.  

‘The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his  Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and  eternal Covenant, “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands… but into heaven  itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw  near to God through him”. As “high priest of the good things to come” he is the centre  and the principal actor of the liturgy that honours the Father in heaven. (Paragraph 662)’ 

In another word, why is the sacrifice Jesus made on Calvary 2000 years ago still   effective for us today? Why is the Eucharist we receive today the same as that received by the  disciples 2000 years ago? How can the Mass celebrated by the ecumenical Church across  millennia and in different locations maintain the same meaning and efficacy? Why can the  Body and Blood of Jesus, sacrificed on the cross, still be “present” in our Mass today? These are profound questions that the theological possibility may not often be contemplated, yet by no means are incomprehensible.  

It is not that the priest re-sacrifices Jesus each time Mass is celebrated. Instead, every sacrifice is a participation in the eternal sacrifice that Christ has made, and the Eucharist we receive is the glorified body of Christ, which is the very same body that was crucified, resurrected, and ascended, now presenting in the appearance of bread.  

This is why the Ascension of Christ holds such crucial and essential theological importance. If our understanding of Christ’s redemption is narrowed into the crucifixion and resurrection, it remains incomplete, which fails to address the underlying reason why humanity is able to enter into the life of God nor the true source of the universality and eternal efficacy of the  Holy Mass. 

Therefore, the Ascension is in every sense indispensable of the paschal mystery and the fulfilment of eternal atonement. This is evident in the apostles’ teachings, as demonstrated by  the examples from Romans 8:34 and 1 John 2:1-2, where they often view the Passion,  Resurrection, and Ascension as interconnected events. 

The Ascension of Christ indeed acts as the link and transformation between the earthly sacrifice—the crucifixion at Calvary, and the heavenly sacrifice—the everlasting offering, which goes down to us through the Eucharist. It also reveals the depth of our participation in the heavenly liturgy which is portrayed in the Book of Revelation. 

Furthermore, the mystery of the Ascension is the foundation of Christian hope, as Christ is our eternal intercessor and advocate before the Father. If we understand that Jesus Christ is our defence attorney, advocating for our justification rather than our condemnation, how could our hope for eternal life be anything but secure? 

As St John Chrysostom eloquently stated: 

“Christ not only died for us, he now intercedes for us. You see how it is shown by every  argument, that there is no other reason for Paul’s having mentioned intercession, save to show the warmth and vigorousness of his love for us; for the Father also is represented to us as beseeching men to be reconciled to him. ” (Homilies on Romans, 15) 

This profound interpretation uncovers the twofoldness of divine love: the love demonstrated  through Christ’s death and the love manifested in his Ascension, highlighting both his sacrificial love on the cross and his ongoing eternal love in heaven. 

In conclusion, the Ascension underscores the enduring and active love of Christ for the human  race, providing us with unwavering hope and a profound understanding of our reconciliation with God. 


Brant Pitre, The Ascension of the Lord, Year A, Mass Reading Explained 

St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 15, Translated in NPNF1, 11:455 St Leo the Great, Letter 80-II, Translated by Charles Lett Feltoe. From Nicene and Post-Nicene  Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) 

All Bible citations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Angelica Shen (North West)