Ascension Sunday

Since the transfer of what’s traditionally been called “Ascension Thursday” to Sunday its been a bit confusing as to how to celebrate this solemnity.  

In some areas of the United States, bishops have decided to transfer “Ascension Thursday” to the Sunday immediately following.   The bishops have given various reasons for this, but the most common one is because of the low numbers of people who attended Mass on Ascension Thursday.  Also, it was said that it was sometimes harder to put together adequate resources to celebrate this feast with its due solemnity in the middle of the work week — music, food, etc. The bishops thought it would make for a better celebration if we could do it on Sunday when people could attend more easily and bring together more resources (i.e. choirs, music, etc.) to really celebrate the day.  Yet, I think the reality in most parishes is that the Ascension tends to become ‘one more Sunday’ among the others, just with other music.  Moving the Ascension to Sunday does gives into the secular culture of our day that would have us keep God confined to Sunday and leave the rest of the week to the world.  

That being said, the Catholic Church (i.e. the Church throughout the world) continues to celebrate this Solemnity of the Ascension on the universal calendar on the 40th day of Easter…i.e. last Thursday, during the 6th Week of Easter.  For example, if you were in Rome you would be celebrating the Ascension yesterday.  So, although we will not liturgically be celebrating Thursday as the Ascension of the Lord, I still like to make a personal remembrance of Thursday as the Ascension BECAUSE it is the biblical way: it was on this 40th day of Easter that our Lord ascended to the Father and on the following day (i.e. Friday), that the Apostles began to wait for nine days in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.  

This is a liturgical way of reading and living the Scriptures.  That is, the Acts of the Apostles is written with this chronology of 40 days + 9 days to help us to see the fulfillment of the Lord Jesus’ mission in the light of these two traditional Jewish pilgrimage feasts of Passover and Pentecost.  Whereas in Passover  the Lord’s saving Presence is celebrated in His death and resurrection; in Pentecost the Lord’s Presence in His life-giving New Covenant Law (the Person of the Holy Spirit) is celebrated.  This nine-day novena, from the Ascension to Pentecost, is instituted by the Lord Jesus Himself and is a great way to annually celebrate and renew His New Covenant fulfillment.  

Practically, that can mean that the family might begin to pray a Novena (a nine-day prayer) to God for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.  This can be confusing for adults and kids, but people often celebrate a holiday (like Christmas) when family members can get together rather than only celebrating it on the specific calendar day. So, the way I like to see it is that the local church may get together on Sunday to celebrate Ascension Thursday because of practical reasons of difficulty gathering the whole family together, but we still celebrate the day in our own particular family on the day it falls chronologically.  

So, whether you liturgically celebrate the Ascension on Thursday or Sunday, celebrate with the Universal Church on Thursday and count down the nine days with prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.  Come Holy Spirit, Come!

5 thoughts on “Ascension Sunday”

  1. Our diocese has the moveable feast Ascension, but I know that our parish would have standing room only attendance at a 7pm Ascension Thursday Mass.

  2. This was my first time celebrating Ascension on a Thursday. I went to daily Mass as usual to find… a crowd about triple the size! So, ok, the church wasn’t packed, but there were significantly more people than usual. The priest seemed to be into it too… he gave a homily at least triple the length. Sad to say, due to time constraints (the need to get home so I could take my daugther to pre-school), I actually had to leave early. But I think a longer than usual Mass is appropriate for Ascension.

    I’m not sure the Pope celebrated Ascension on Thursday, though… he was in Portugal and I think they (being Rocco Palmo at said he didn’t do an Ascension Mass.

    Anyway, interesting to think about…

  3. Maria, your comment about the pope not celebrating the Ascension on Thursday made me think about how this varied celebration of feast days puts a crimp in the global Catholic Church and our unity in the celebration of these days. Think about it: let’s say that the pope didn’t celebrate the Ascension on Thursday in Portugal and then returned to Rome on Friday, he would never have celebrated the Ascension. He would have missed it completely.

    A few years ago, before the universal indult for the Mass of Blessed John XXIII, I was able to celebrate the Ascension twice: once with the Latin Mass community on Ascension Thursday and then again on Ascension Sunday with the Novus Order crowd. Now the Latin Mass follows the regular diocesan calendar, so there’s no irregularities like that.

    Well, happy Ascension Sunday…Come Holy Spirit.

    1. It seems to really take the universality out of the Church. I would perfer that the Church at large either decide to move the acension to Sunday or for all of us to celebrate it on Thursday. What is next, move the Solemity of Mary, Mother of God from January 1st to the nearest Sunday. In the USA, a Jan. 1st Mass is not well attended. I am one that believes we are capitulating to culture and that we would do better to educate people on the feast day and the importance of going to mass. Ash Weds. is well attended and it isn’t even a day of obligation. It is during the middle of the week, in the evening, and is properly resourced regarding music, etc.

  4. “In the USA, a Jan. 1st Mass is not well attended.”

    In general, true. A couple of years ago our parish was so dreadfully packed for the Solemnity that the pastor apologized for only one Mass, and we’ve had two ever since.

    But you know, if I held my Religious Ed. classes only when it would be well-attended, I’d be eliminating 1/4 of my classes. The way I figure it, both Mass & class are for those who show up.

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