Friday, May 18, 2007

Pretend it's Thursday

The Ascension: Some Technical Aspects
From Dr. Thusday
I myself have little Latin and less Greek. But I know enough Greek to know the meaning of the second syllable of "enthusiasm," and I know it to be the key to this and every other discussion.
[GKC, The Thing CW3:139]
Note: the second syllable of enthusiasm comes from the Greek word QeoV which means God.
Yes, like GKC I have very little Latin and even less Greek - but I try to be enthusiastic. Hence, for me, and for the Chestertonians who like The Man Who Was Thursday, today's feast is a very special one. After all, it is always celebrated on a Thursday! Yes, so is Holy Thursday. And there is a very curious connection between these two great feasts.To find out the curiosity, continue reading.

Our modern world - no, the civilized world - makes much of connections, of linkings, of unitings, of tyings-together, bonds, unions, weddings, contracts. So many forms, so many purposes.

If there is one word which is the glaring trademark of civilization, from ancient Sumer and Egypt, out to the Magellanic Clouds and all points south, it is communication, which is the most fundamental and most grand form of joining. It links two minds, separated by years, or by distance, or by life-experience. The mystery of the spoken word, the written word: this is the linking which binds us in time. This is a reasonable, and even logical thing to recall today, for St. John calls Jesus "the Word" ("ho Logos in Greek)!

And from time immemorial, there have been ships, there have been carts and waggons, there have been beasts-of-burden - and there have been roads, both Roman and interstate. There's a method in my madness, however - for Jesus told us "I am the way" ("he Hodos" in Greek)!

Now today we see another road - the road to heaven, to eternity - taken by a Man who was dead, but now lives.

Today marks His "departure" from this world in that visible body with its five glorious wounds. Yet today is not at all sad - nor are His last words the usual words of departure or leave-taking. Yes, it is paradoxical - like oOur dear Uncle Gilbert, whose last words were "Hello, my dear" - the last words of Jesus were "Behold, I am with you always." (see the very end of St. Matthew for the details.)

So - this day is a kind of feast day of communication. (Speaking personally and quite technically, I would have to say that the real feast day for communication is March 25, but I will have to discuss that another day.)

Why? Well, partly because communication plays well into the haphazard structure of meditations for the Thursdays of Paschaltide which I stumbled into a few weeks back. We've been exploring the Great Vigil, and last week we had gotten up to the blessing of the water and the renewal of Baptism. But after that, except for the proper prayers and a special Hanc igitur, and the double Alleluias at the dismissal, there really isn't anything different in the bulk of the Vigil Mass from that of any Mass from the rest of the year. Just what is in that "bulk"? Chiefly, it is simply the "thanksgiving" prayer (which is what "eucharist" means) - but it is the re-presentation of Calvary, as Jesus taught us at the Last Supper.

In a word, it is Transubstantiation - it is the way in which Jesus is with us always.

Yes, that's a hard word, for us who deal with fuel injection and broadband and internet web pages and so forth. No, it's just the supreme form of commuication, whereby God communicates with us - and we communicate with God.
As to Transubstantiation, it is less easy to talk currently about that; but I would gently suggest that, to most ordinary outsiders with any common sense, there would be a considerable practical difference between Jehovah pervading the universe and Jesus Christ coming into the room.
[GKC, The Thing CW3:180]
As you read this, the signals of hundreds of television channels, of radio stations, of beams and signals from satellites, from cell-phone towers, from antennae of many kinds - all kinds of waves are pervading your presence. You, poor weak human, are completely unaware of them - the most that might happen is you would be cooked if you were too close to a high-power microwave source. But any detector, even a simple one, can turn those undetectable waves into a form we can perceive - it's as if their source walked into the room with you.

Behold, our God has not left us orphans. He is with us hidden in the sacred species, as hidden in His Manhood as He once hid His divinity on Calvary. And if there is one clear fact about the sacred species, it is that they are products of engineering: you have to grind wheat, crush grapes, add water, and do all the rest of the various steps in just the right way - ain't no philosophy there, buddy - it's reality.

So, too, in the Ascension, there is another kind of engineering. Jesus, the Way, shows us the way we also will go, if we choose to follow Him. He has built the "back-channel", the other side of the highway - the bridge which goes back from earth to heaven.

P.S. I've always wondered why there aren't some devout engineering titles for our Lord. Well - maybe there is at least one: the Pope is still called by a title of the high priests of ancient Rome - pontifex maximus - the Greatest Bridge Builder. And if the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, I guess Christ can have that title too. (You can just imagine Him out there with His hard hat and clipboard, blueprints rolled up under His arm, checking the traverses!) But though there are other liturgical phrases and prayers which hint at the technical character of our faith (like St. Joseph the worker!) there is always that beautiful line in the Litany of the Sacred Heart:
"Heart of Jesus, in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
[See St. Paul's letter to the Colossians 2:3 for the source.]


  1. St. Catherine of Siena has a huge portion of Dialogue with God about his role as bridge builder--actually I think the Son is the foundation of the bridge, by that account. That is neat!

  2. This is a very good post and I am not offended at all by Catholic theology being presented by the ACS, since Chesterton warmly approved of Catholic theology...but are non-Catholics welcomed here too? Maybe only Catholics are reading this blog...or maybe a little more care should be taken not to exclude...
    I think Chesterton has a lot to offer to our culture and to every person, whether Catholic or not.

  3. The blog is wide open to everyone. Welcome, anon.

  4. Where did the mistaken notion arise that GKC had little Latin?

    Gabriel Austin

  5. This is a quote from GKC, so he said it himself, Gabriel. He was very humble, and probably thought he didn't know as much as he should, so consequently, said he had "little" Latin.


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