The Heavenly Priesthood of Jesus Christ

Gustave Doré - L'Ascension
Gustave Doré. The Ascension (1879) Petit Palais, Paris
The great feast of the Ascension is part of the cycle of Easter. Our Lord, crucified to redeem us, and risen in glory, now ascends to heaven to take His place at the right hand of the Father. In the sacrifice of the Cross, He is our supreme High Priest. In His throne of glory in heaven, that supreme high priesthood is eternal: He is indeed, as King David put it, “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the worship of the Old Testament, which was still in place during the earthly life of Jesus, the High Priest went into the holy of holies to offer sacrifice, an animal killed for the worship of God and other gifts given over as a symbol of our offering ourselves to God.

Our Lord put an end to all of these sacrifices by offering Himself at the Last Supper and being sacrificed on the cross. In this sacrifice, He is also the priest, but he does not go through the curtain to enter the holy of holies in the temple. That is only symbol of the true holy place. At the time of His crucifixion in fact, the veil was torn apart, showing the end of those old sacrifices.

Our Lord now enters heaven itself, so that that he may appear in the presence of God for us, as St Paul explains in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb 9.24) There, as St John tells us in the book of Revelation, the angels and the priests, the martyrs and other saints, cry out with triumphant joy, acclaiming the holiness of the lamb of God, and bowing in adoration to offer joyful worship to Him for all eternity. (Rev 5.11-14)

As St Paul explains again, the eternal and heavenly priesthood of Our Lord means that He is for ever able to save those who come to Him since He always lives to plead for us in intercession. (Heb 7.25) This is the ground of our hope, our trust in Jesus Christ. He is our eternal High Priest, always pleading for us before the Father. When we come before Him as sinners, we know that we have our advocate, our mediator, Jesus Christ. He receives our sorrow and our prayer and presents it to the Father, perfected in His own eternal prayer.

St Paul goes on to explain that when we celebrate the sacred Liturgy, we do something much greater than even Moses on Mount Sinai when there was the fire, and whirlwind and darkness and storm. We come to something greater than that. He says:

But you are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, And to the church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel. (Heb 12.22-24)

St Paul is speaking here of the worship of the Holy Mass, the tremendous mystery in which Christ is offered and received. We have this available to us because Our Lord ascended to heaven. That is why this great feast is one of rejoicing. There could be no greater benefit than what Our Lord brings us here. That is why, like the apostles, we do not stand gazing into the sky, wondering what will be next. We come to share here and now in the worship of heaven in spirit and in truth. Come, let us adore Christ the Lord.