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!