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The Liturgical Cycle

Happy Ascension Thursday Sunday!

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This Sunday is one of the few days of the year that Catholics (who attend the Ordinary Form) will be hearing different readings depending on where they live. Either they will hear the readings for The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord or for the 7th Sunday of Easter.

The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord celebrates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven. Two of the evangelists give an account:

“Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”-Luke 24:50-51

“So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.”-Mark 16:19

ascension

For all Catholics, this day is a Holy Day of Obligation:

“Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. The following days must also be observed: the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and All Saints.” -Code of Canon Law #1246 §1

Why Thursday?
Historically, this feast was celebrated on Thursday. How was it reckoned? The Book of Acts tells of Jesus appearing to his followers for forty days after his resurrection:

“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”-Acts 1:3

The 40th day after Easter Sunday will always be Thursday, therefore the Church, from very early on, celebrated Christ’s Ascension on this day.

Why the change?
This is a subject of great debate. Some say that, in recent history, attendance at Ascension Thursday Masses had been steadily declining. Consequently, the U.S. petitioned the Holy See to transfer the day in accord with Canon Law:

“With the prior approval of the Apostolic See, however, the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.”-Code of Canon Law #1246 §2

To move or not to move. Who decides?
The decision when to celebrate the Ascension is up to the ecclesiastical province. What’s that? Many Catholics (myself included) have never heard of this entity. An ecclesiastical province is a large archdiocese and other dioceses that are bound to it through geography or history. In the United States, there is typically one ecclesiastical province per state (in the Latin Rite).

In the U.S., all ecclesiastical provinces have transferred the celebration of the Ascension to Sunday except Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha. Why? Perhaps because these are among the oldest provinces in the country and decided to uphold tradition.

We are not alone.
Several other countries have obtained permission from the Holy See to move the celebration of the Ascension to the following Sunday including Canada, Australia, Ireland, England and Wales.

What about travelers?
I am from Miami, Fl where the Ascension has been transferred to Sunday. Let’s say I am taking a trip to Boston where the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday. Am I obligated to attend the Ascension Mass on Thursday (in Boston) then again on Sunday when I return to Miami? According to Canon Law, yes. I would have heard the readings for the Ascension twice.

What about the opposite? What if my friend Boston Rob visited me from Wednesday to Saturday? Well he is out of luck. He will celebrate the Sixth Thursday of Easter in Miami, and then the Seventh Sunday of Easter in Boston. He will not celebrate the Ascension this year.

What about you? Will you be attending the Ascension Mass or the Seventh Sunday of Easter this weekend? Some believe Ascension Thursday should remain on Thursday. Do you agree? Have you experienced this traveling conundrum? Share and let’s learn together!

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12 Comments

  1. Celsius Offor

    May 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Coming from Nigeria, I’ve always known “Ascension Thursday” as a Holy Day of Obligation and the Masses are well attended both city and rural. Here in our diocese in Louisiana Ascension is celebrated on the Sunday following, yet I’ve not witnessed any significant boost in the attendance. It’s still the usual regular Sunday quota, despite the publicity and extra emphasis given the previous week about on the Ascension. Same can be said of other Holy Days that were not moved to sunday. The working class especially the young adults are not ready to share their job with religion or worship.

  2. Ana

    June 2, 2014 at 3:54 am

    Mark, in answer to your question, yes. Here is the relevant documentation from US bishops conference. http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/canon-law/complementary-norms/canon-1246.cfm

  3. Cucolio

    May 31, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Cindy and Cheryl are right in my opinion.

  4. Lindsay

    May 31, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I think it may be time for the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces that have transferred the Ascension to assess whether there is any evidence of the intended effect. Has Mass attendance stayed steady (or increased) on the other Holy Days of Obligation that do not fall on a Sunday? What, for example, makes the Ascension different from a year when the Immaculate Conception falls on a Thursday? The Immaculate Conception always requires attendance at Mass, and it is not moved to increase attendance (or stem a decline in attendance). In fact, Ascension Thursday could be even easier to accommodate because it will always fall on the same weekday, whereas the Immaculate Conception moves from year to year.

    Overall, if the stated goal was to mitigate declining Mass attendance, did it work? If it didn’t work, why not end the transfer?

    • Mark Bradley Cappetta

      May 31, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      Sadly there have been instances of the Archbishop (Chicago and San Francisco) waiving the obligation to attend Holy Mass on several Holydays of Obligation such as Immaculate Conception and Assumption. This usually happens when the Holyday of Obligation falls on a Monday or Friday. I wonder if The Holy See has been aware of this?

  5. Mark Bradley Cappetta

    May 31, 2014 at 5:06 am

    A.M.D.G.

    Greetings!

    I firmly believe all parishes throughout the world should celebrate a Holyday of Obligation on the same day as celebrated in The Holy See with no exceptions. This would eliminate the confusion mentioned in this weeks article.

    • Dan

      May 31, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Whenever there is dissension, I always try to understand the opposing side. Perhaps Mass attendance on Thursday was dwindling and the bishops wanted to make it easier for the faithful to celebrate the Ascension. I get it. But like Cindy and Cheryl mentioned below, it is lowering the bar. My wife is a teacher and if she teaches to a higher level, all students rise to the occasion. I believe your solution would solve the confusion and engender unity.Thank you for taking the time to comment!

    • Patrice Bilenski

      May 3, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      AMEN!

  6. Cheryl

    May 30, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I agree with you, Cindy. The bar should not be lowered. WE as loving children of God SHOULD make the extra effort.

    • Dan

      May 31, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Cheryl:

      And we get to attend Mass twice in one week. Imagine if I told my wife “I’m not going to tell you ‘I love you’ today, but will postpone saying so till Sunday.” Why not both? Will attending Mass on a Thursday make us shuffle our schedules, get out of work early, perhaps get there late, maybe ask for an hour off in advance? Yup. It will be a small sacrifice to partake in THE SACRIFICE.

  7. Cindy

    May 30, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    I think Ascension should be observed on Thursday.
    As a mom, I know you get what you expect. You lower the bar, and performance drops. And the opposite is also true. It seems to me that part of the problem in the Church today is the result of a pattern of lowering the bar to make things easier for everyone. If more effort was expected wouldn’t the faithful rise to the occasion? I don’t think it would hurt most of us (myself included, obviously) to try a little harder.

    • Dan

      May 31, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Cindy:

      A great observation and a perfect analogy. Obliging the faithful to attend Mass on Thursday underscores the feast’s importance, its place in history and affirms the Universality of our Church. Having separate readings this Sunday undermines unity for the sake of convenience.

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