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Jesus ascends and the devil descends on the Ascension


Renata Sedmakova | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 05/08/24

Several traditions surrounding the solemnity of the Ascension portray Jesus ascending into Heaven, while the devil is descending, cowering in defeat.

Over the centuries many local customs and traditions connected to the Ascension include a contrast between Jesus and Satan.

While, generally speaking, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are usually seen as the days when Satan was defeated, the solemnity of the Ascension was also believed to be a day when the devil cowers in defeat.

The Ascension is a day when the Church remembers Jesus’ glorified body ascending into Heaven in an act that highlights Jesus’ ultimate victory over sin and death.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that some local traditions tried to visually represent this victorious action:

Rock records the English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing the device of the lion and at the foot the banner of the dragon, to symbolize the triumph of Christ in His ascension over the evil one. In some churches the scene of the Ascension was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church.

Furthermore, even some paintings depicted this, as “the figure of Christ was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.

Victory of Christ

The 19th-century book Ancient Mysteries Describedadds some background to this custom and where it may have originated:

The Golden Legend says that the bearing of banners with the cross on Rogation days is to represent the victory of Christ in his resurrection and ascension, that the people followed the cross and the banners, as Christ was followed when he ascended to heaven with a great prey; and that in some churches, especially in France, it was the custom to bear a dragon with a long tail filled with chaff…it was understood that on the first two days the devil reigned in the world, but that on the third day he was dispossessed of his kingdom.

One passage from the New Testament that has a similar feel to it is in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:53-56

The Ascension still remains a victorious feast, one that gives us a preview of what will come in the future.

BibleJesus ChristLiturgy
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