Happy Ascension Thursday Sunday!
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
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
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 on 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, 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) and 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!
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
Throughout history, there have been no changes I can call to mind which entail MORE exertion in the adoration of God. Every change is proposed to make it easier. I have used the term “social entropy” to describe this lost energy, or winding-down phenomenon. The elimination of Ascension Thursday is a defining example. Imagine the horror with which a proposal to ADD some holy day of obligation would be met. What if we were asked to start attending Mass in celebration of, say, the first time Jesus restored a blind man’s sight? Call it the Day of Vision. It would never happen. But lots of rationale can be found for ELIMINATING holy days of obligation. We rely heavily on our hope that God does not mind, but I fear that maybe he does.
Hi Dick! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and even more so to comment. I looked up “social entropy” and it seems that it was penned in 1990 by an American sociologist Kenneth D. Bailey. The way I think you are using it is that we are moving towards a gradual societal decline into disorder. I think there is merit to that belief. Concessions have definitely been made to increase Mass attendance which have had the opposite effect. Indeed, there is a high cost in lowering the bar.
I grew up in NH where we celebrate ascension Thursday on Thursday. I believe Maine and Massachusetts does as well. I never knew that others didn’t.
Thanks for writing Erika! I live in Miami, FL and I don’t remember ever celebrating ascension Thursday on Thursday. It was always moved to the next Sunday. How was attendance on Thursdays? Was it a packed house, like a typical Sunday, or more so like daily Mass numbers? Wondering if keeping it on Thursday makes the day stand out more like Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday Mass at my parish is very well attended.
Growing up it was always Ascension Thursday and a holy day of obligation. If mass attendance was down, wouldn’t that mean people were committing a sin by not attending? So, to keep them from committing a sin, they just do away with the obligation since going to mass on the following Sunday was already a requirement. In reality, the holy day of obligation (Ascension Thursday) was just eliminated. The horrors!!!! better to just eliminate it and condone those not attending on the proper day! Too many changes have been made in the church to make things “easier” for those who find it difficult to follow church teaching!
Hi Richard! Thanks for reading my post and for commenting. I definitely see your point in lowering the bar. If missing a holy day of obligation is a sin, then move it to Sunday so people won’t sin. You mentioned that Ascension Thursday was no longer a holy day of obligation. Could you show me where you read that? From what I understand, it is still an obligation to attend, but in some locations, it’s been moved to Sunday.
I wonder if folks started the Church’s oldest Novena today if they haven’t celebrated Ascension THURSDAY? Come, Holy Ghost!
I’m from Texas and I think it should be on Thursday. I still call it Ascension Thursday. It would be like celebrating Christmas on the nearest to the 25th. Or lets celebrate the birth of John the Baptist a month yearly because by June, people are going on vacations…. then we’d have to move Christmas to Nov. 25, oh no what, to the nearest Sunday in November to the 25th.
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.
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
Cindy and Cheryl are right in my opinion.
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?
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?
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.
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!
I agree with you, Cindy. The bar should not be lowered. WE as loving children of God SHOULD make the extra effort.
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.
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.
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.