The Ascension of Jesus should remind Christians of the promise of Heaven and the power of earthly prayer, Pope Benedict XVI said at the Regina Coeli prayer on Sunday.
When he ascended into heaven, Jesus “did not separate himself from our condition, in fact, in his humanity, he took mankind with him in the intimacy of the Father, and so has revealed the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage,” the Pope told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on May 20.
“Just as he came down from heaven for us, and for us suffered and died on the cross, so for us he rose again and ascended to God, who therefore is no longer distant, but ‘Our God,’ ‘Our Father.’”
The Pope spoke to several thousand people who gathered to hear his midday Sunday address, followed by recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer.
He noted that in many countries the feast of the Ascension – which occurs 40 days after the Resurrection – is celebrated today, rather than on Thursday.
“The Ascension of Our Lord marks the fulfillment of salvation which began with the Incarnation,” the Pope explained. It is “the ultimate act of our deliverance from the yoke of sin.”
“Not only is the immortality of the soul proclaimed, but also that of the flesh,” he said, quoting Pope St. Leo the Great. “Today, in fact, not only are we confirmed possessors of paradise, but in Christ we also penetrated the heights of heaven.”
The Ascension also tells us that when we pray, “our humanity is brought to the heights of God, so every time we pray, the earth joins with Heaven.”
“And like burning incense, its fragrant smoke reaches on high,” the Pope said of prayer, adding that “when we raise our fervent and trusting prayer in Christ to the Lord, it crosses the heavens and reaches the Throne of God, it is heard by Him and answered.
“Let us beseech the Virgin Mary to help us contemplate the heavenly things, which the Lord promises us, and become more credible witnesses of divine life.”
After the Marian prayer, Pope Benedict issued a series of greetings and appeals.
The Pope asked people to pray for the Church in China, “that they may announce with humility and joy the Risen Christ, be faithful to his Church and the Successor of Peter and live their daily life in a manner consistent with the faith we profess.”
Also on the pontiff’s mind was a bomb attack that hit at a high school in the southern Italian town of Brindisi on Saturday. The blast seriously injured several students and took the life of a 16-year-old girl named Melissa. Pope Benedict described the attack as “cowardly” and asked everyone to pray for the victims of the “brutal violence,” especially for Melissa and her family.
Finally, he offered his “affectionate thoughts” and said he is “spiritually close” to the victims of a 6.0 earthquake that hit northeastern Italy at around 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. The quake killed at least four people and caused millions in damage to historic buildings.