Let us pray (in silence) [that we may consciously live in the presence of the Risen Christ]
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we, who believe your only-begotten Son, [only-begotten One]
ascended this day to heaven,
may also in heart and mind there continually dwell;
through Jesus Christ
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The above is my reworking for my Book of Prayers in Common in which I seek to provide a set of collects with history and commentary.
It is from the Gregorian sacramentary (#497) and found in the Liber sacramentorum Augustodunensis (9th c.) and Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis (8th c.). It continued, on this day, through the Sarum Missal, the Reformation Books of Common Prayer, and into the Roman Catholic 1962 Missal:
Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus:
ut, qui hodierna die Unigenitum tuum Redemptorem nostrum
ad coelos ascendisse credimus;
ipsi quoque mente in coelestibus habitemus.
Grant, we beseech You, Almighty God,
that we, who believe Your Only Begotten Son our Redeemer
to have ascended on this day to heaven,
may ourselves also dwell in mente amongst heavenly things.
Cranmer for the 1549 BCP rendered it as:
GRAUNTE we beseche thee, almightie god, that like as we doe beleve thy onely-begotten sonne our lorde to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascende, and with him continually dwell[, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Ghost, one God world without end]*.
*Added after 1604
He changed “Redeemer” to “Lord”. Mente is more than “mind” – Cranmer rendered this “heart and mind.” The prayer was not in the 1970 or 1975 Roman Catholic Missal, but was restored in 2002 and is now translated by ICEL as:
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we, who believe that your Only Begotten Son, our Redeemer,
ascended this day to the heavens,
may in spirit dwell already in heavenly realms.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
It is found in TEC’s BCP, in the Church of England, South African, Australian, Irish and New Zealand (Prayer Book p602) Anglicanism.
There is a strong allusion to Col 3:1-3:
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
There is much to enrich us in monastic spirituality. Benedictine spirituality in many ways is the undergirding spirituality of Anglicanism. The monastic tradition of “fuga mundi” (“flee the world”), however, is too easily misinterpreted as an anti-creation, other-worldly, so-heavenly-minded-as-to-be-of-no-earthly-use spirituality. This has little validity in a world in ecological crisis, or in a religion that believes in Incarnation. And resurrection. And sacraments.
God did not dress up in a human body and then discard this at death, returning to some preferable spiritual state. God’s hypostatic union to creation is permanent. Christ retains his full, created, creaturely, humanity in the resurrection. Including his body. The Ascension proclaims and celebrates Christ takes this creation into the full presence of God. The metaphorical language of “up” must never allow for an escapist spirituality. If we do not find God in our everyday life of work, sport, friends, food, music, nature, bodies,… we do not find God at all.
The New Zealand Prayer Book Commission’s alteration of the Sursum Corda to “Lift your hearts to heaven/ where Christ in glory reigns” is one of the more unfortunate innovations, encouraging a dualistic as well as triumphalistic spirituality. Thankfully, General Synod 1987 had the wisdom to restore “Lift up your hearts/we lift them to the Lord” in several New Zealand Prayer Book Eucharistic rites.
Ascension is not a literal date – even Luke, whose chronology most quickly springs to mind, has the Ascension on Easter Day in his gospel, and forty days later in his volume two, the Acts of the Apostles. For John, Jesus ascends, is lifted up, on the throne of his cross. Roman Catholics, in New Zealand and elsewhere, celebrate Ascension 43 days after Easter Day!
Ascension Day is a feast, not a season. The Season is the fifty days of the Easter Season. The Easter Candle continues to burn until and including the Day of Pentecost. The Lectionary’s referring to it as “Ascensiontide” is confused and confusing. I cannot locate the formulary that would have this collect read daily from now until the following Thursday as advised by the New Zealand lectionary. Nor can I see any logic in this. Nor can I understand the liturgical purpose of following its suggestion to have two collects.
Ascension Day commences the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the Southern Hemisphere. That the Northern and Southern Hemisphere cannot even agree on dating the week of prayer for Christian Unity is in itself, sadly, worthy of reflection.