JERUSALEM – On Thursday, May 26th, forty days after Easter, Christians in the Holy Land celebrated the feast of the Ascension, which marks the last meeting between Christ and his disciples.
Under a blazing sun, pilgrims and religious gathered this morning in the small Chapel of the Ascension, at the top of the Mount of Olives. Of Crusader origin, this emblematic place of the Holy Land, which, according to tradition, contains the last footprint of Christ, just before his return to the Father, was built in 1152 as an octagonal church. In 1198, it was converted into a mosque by Saladin. Today, although it is still part of what is known as the Mosque of the Ascension, located next to the Church of the Pater Noster and built to celebrate the Ascension of the Prophet ʿĪsā, it is open to the public year-round. It is also the only mosque in the world where a Christian Mass is celebrated every year, on the occasion of the Feast of the Ascension.
In Christianity, the term “Ascension” refers to the ascension of Christ to heaven and his return to God (for other biblical figures such as Mary, Moses and Elijah, we say “Assumption”). According to the Gospels, and more particularly Saint Luke, the Ascension took place in Bethany, a village located on the Mount of Olives. It is always celebrated forty days after Easter Sunday, and always on a Thursday. Its date differs, however, depending on the year and the rites; thus, this year, the Orthodox who follow the Julian calendar will celebrate it on June 2nd.
This year, the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land celebrated the traditional Mass in front of the aedicula of the Chapel of the Ascension in a warm and friendly atmosphere. First at 8 am, in Arabic; then at 9:30 am, in Latin. The previous day, foreign and local Christians had already been able to attend vespers and compline, still on the Mount of Olives. Today, at the end of the Eucharist, the faithful, crowded under the canvases stretched here and there or sheltered by the shade of the walls surrounding the chapel, massed inside to contemplate the place where Jesus would have joined His Father. In a week’s time, they will celebrate His gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, the closing of the Paschal Season, and the mark of the propagation of the Good News: the first fruits of the universal Church!