Ascension Day

On this page

Psalms from the Daily Office
Motets and cantatas
John Keble, “Ascension Day”



Viri Galilaei. Acts 1
Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? Alleluia : in like manner as ye have seen him going up into heaven, so shall he come again. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. [Psalm 47] O clap your hands together, all ye people: O sing unto God with the voice of melody. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen. Ye men of Galilee . . .


Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.


Alleluia, alleluia. [Psalm 47] God is gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump, alleluia. [Psalm 68] The Lord is among them as in the holy places of Sinai, he is gone up on high; he hath led captivity captive. Alleluia.


[Psalm 47] God is gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump, alleluia.


[Psalm 68] Sing ye to the Lord, who ascended to the heaven of heavens, to the sunrising, alleluia.

back to top

Psalms from the Daily Office

Recordings of plainchant settings of the Psalms for today are presented here.

back to top

Motets and cantatas

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motet Viri Galilaei
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Missa Viri Galilaei
J. S. Bach, “Praise God in His kingdoms” (Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11)

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motet Viri Galilaei

Dating from 1569, Palestrina’s motet Viri Galilaei takes its text from the Introit and Offertory propers for today, with an added text from Psalm 103:

Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes in coelum?
Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?

Hic Jesus, qui assumptus est a vobis in coelum,
This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven,
sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in coelum. Alleluja.
shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven. Alleluia.

Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae. Alleluja.
God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet. Alleluia.
Dominus in coelo paravit sedem suam. Alleluja.
The Lord hath prepared his throne in heaven. Alleluia.

Viri Galilei is sung here by the Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Royale conducted by Philipe Herreweghe.

back to top

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Missa Viri Galilaei

In 1601, seven years after the composer’s death, a Mass based on the Ascensiontide motet presented above was published. Given this original source, it is likely that Palestrina intended the Mass to be sung between the Ascension and Pentecost. Listen closely to hear echoes of the motet’s melodic phrases in the movements of the Missa Viri Galilei. For example, here are the opening measures of the motet, with the singing of the words Viri Galilaei (“Men of Galilee”):

And here is the opening of the Kyrie, with the first singing of the words Kyrie, eleison (“Lord, have mercy”):

That is only one example of the way Palestrina re-purposed medlodic elements from his motet in this Mass.

The Missa Viri Galilaei has been recorded by same group that recorded the motet, the Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Royale, conducted by Philipe Herreweghe. The recording of this Mass below also features the propers for the feast of the Ascension, which are chanted in Latin by the Ensemble Organum. The singing of the Mass is followed by the singing of the Motet Viri Galilaei, which in turn is followed by the singing of one of Palestrina’s settings of the Magnificat.

back to top

J. S. Bach, “Praise God in His kingdoms” (Ascension Oratorio)

In his book, Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, Liturgy, Marcus Rathey observes that there are two major themes in the texts for Acension Oratorio: “the relationship between seeing and understanding and the presence of Christ in the heart (or soul) of the believer.” As you listen to the performance below, you may read the entire text for this stirring and comforting work here. Or, if you prefer a simpler approach, just follow along with the conveniently provided English subtitles in the recording.

This performance was recorded at a concert given as part of the London Proms in 2013. It features the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. The soloists are Hannah Morrison, soprano; Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Mulroy, tenor; and Peter Harvey, bass.

back to top

John Keble, “Ascension Day”

“Why stand ye gazing up into Heaven?
this same Jesus, which is
taken up from you into Heaven,
shall so come in like manner
as ye have seen Him go into Heaven.”
Acts i. 11

      Soft cloud, that while the breeze of May
Chants her glad matins in the leafy arch,
   Draw’st thy bright veil across the heavenly way
Meet pavement for an angel’s glorious march:

      My soul is envious of mine eye,
That it should soar and glide with thee so fast,
   The while my grovelling thoughts half buried lie,
Or lawless roam around this earthly waste.

      Chains of my heart, avaunt I say —
I will arise, and in the strength of love
   Pursue the bright track ere it fade away,
My Saviour’s pathway to His home above.

      Sure, when I reach the point where earth
Melts into nothing from th’ uncumbered sight,
   Heaven will o’ercome th’ attraction of my birth.
And I shall sink in yonder sea of light:

      Till resting by th’ incarnate Lord,
Once bleeding, now triumphant for my sake,
   I mark Him, how by seraph hosts adored,
He to earth’s lowest cares is still awake.

      The sun and every vassal star,
All space, beyond the soar of angel wings,
   Wait on His word: and yet He stays His car
For every sigh a contrite suppliant brings.

      He listens to the silent tear
For all the anthems of the boundless sky —
   And shall our dreams of music bar our ear
To His soul-piercing voice for ever nigh?

      Nay, gracious Saviour — but as now
Our thoughts have traced Thee to Thy glory-throne
   So help us evermore with thee to bow
Where human sorrow breathes her lowly moan.

      We must not stand to gaze too long,
Though on unfolding Heaven our gaze we bend
   Where lost behind the bright angelic throng
We see Christ’s entering triumph slow ascend.

      No fear but we shall soon behold,
Faster than now it fades, that gleam revive,
   When issuing from his cloud of fiery gold
Our wasted frames feel the true sun, and live.

      Then shall we see Thee as Thou art,
For ever fixed in no unfruitful gaze,
   But such as lifts the new-created heart,
Age after age, in worthier love and praise.