Ascension Thursday and the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima fall on the same day today. I celebrated Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite today at noon time and it just occured to me that noon time today is doubly significant on account of the two feasts. It has been a custom that the principal Mass of Ascension Thursday be celebrated close to noon time so that the reading of the Gospel would coincide with the height of the sun in the heavens. The noon day sun speaks very much of the mystery of our Lord's Ascension. As the sun reaches the height of the heavens at noon, so also today, the Son of God ascends into heaven and is enthroned above all. Now he reigns at the right hand of his heavenly Father.
Incidentally, it was at noon of this day in 1917 that the shepherd children were watching over their flock when they heard a thunderclap and saw an apparition of our Lady over a holm oak. When asked by the children about her identity, the Lady responded: "I come from heaven."
How significant is today's noontime. Today, our Lord ascended into heaven. Today, our Lady descended from heaven.
In the Philippines, Ascension Thursday is not celebrated as a holy day of obligation. Hence, the solemnity shall be celebrated on Sunday. Thus, in the Gospel reading of the ordinary form of the Mass, our Lord says: "In a little while, you shall no longer see me. And in a little while, you shall see me again...You shall grieve and mourn while the world rejoices...but your grief shall be transformed into joy." I find this reading significant as it connects the Ascension with the Fatima apparitions. The Lord speaks of the kind of life a Christian must lead in between the Ascension and His second coming: "You shall grieve and mourn, while the world rejoices." It is precisely this that our Lady said to the children at Fatima: "Penance! Penance! Penance!"
Last night, I was praying before the Pilgrim Statue of our Lady and I could not help but notice the sadness of her eyes. Sr. Lucia wrote in her memoirs that throughout the apparitions, Our Lady never smiled. Considering the gravity of the message she was sent to announce, the sorrow of our Lady is most understandable. At Fatima, our Lady came to invite all Christians to a life of penitence, a life of mortification: "You shall grieve and mourn as the world rejoices." Between the Ascension and the Second Coming of our Lord, the life of the Christian is characterized by penance. When he was once asked why his disciples did not fast, Our Lord said, "Can the wedding guests fast while the Groom is with them? When the Groom is taken from them, it is then that they will fast." In the extraordinary form, the Paschal Candle is extinguised after the Gospel. This ritual is a clear gesture of the fact that today, the Bridegroom is taken away from us. Now, it is time to fast!
We mourn while the world rejoices. We mourn today so that we may hear in the end: "Blessed are those who weep and mourn, they shall be consoled." The world rejoices today. It continues to eat and drink as in the days of Noah. It is of them that our Lord says: "Woe to you who laugh now, you shall mourn."
Penance is an important element of the Christian spirituality. In prayer and penance, let us wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!