Relatively few people seem to miss last Thursday’s holy day. I noticed Raymond Arroyo’s Twitter feed got a bit cheeky–ashes for Monday for him in 2016. No need for that, really, as people do attend Ash Wednesday, on the day, in big numbers. Maybe we ought to look deeper on that.
For my own preferences, I’d rather be celebrating liturgy associated with a monastic community, so my own choice would be a Thursday even for this holy day. But most people seem to have forgotten about that shift.
As a minister, my own choices are nearly irrelevant for the pastoral and liturgical practices of the faith communities I serve. As for my best day to observe a commemoration like Ascension, who cares? But I do have a few thoughts for the rest of the Church.
Moving Ascension to Sunday and celebrating it like any other given Sunday in May seems to be a waste of effort. Theologically, Ascension is no worse than number five among the major observances of Christians. For a parish observing Ascension on Sunday or Thursday, it would seem that we need to reinforce that importance.
I’m also a skeptic on having a holy day of obligation just for the hardcore Catholics who like making it hard on themselves, and even harder on others. Again, the theology is vital here. Ascension isn’t about “doing” an extra Mass inside a building, and away from the world. Jesus giving the Great Commission (no less a commandment than eat my flesh, drink my blood) and leaving the disciples behind suggests an outward focus. Not a holy-me-and-Jesus good-Catholic thing. We’re not play-acting the Pentecost novena and waiting for the Holy Spirit. Unless, somehow, the Holy Spirit given in baptism is somehow on vacation for these key nine days.
So, some suggestions:
- For people who like a Thursday holy day, by all means go to Mass. But maybe it’s time to stop harping on people who don’t, be they individuals or most of American dioceses. This observance is about obeying the Lord. And he didn’t tell people on the fortieth day to go to the Temple and wait and feel holy. He told them to do something. Maybe that obligation needs to be taken as seriously as Sundays and holy days. And as seriously as the Lenten observances of fasting, praying, giving alms, and going to church on Wednesday before Lent.
- For people who like Ascension on Sunday, and with a dose of good liturgy, why not celebrate this Sunday like it’s the number five day of the Christian year? Big music. Extra rehearsals. A superior homily that preaches the whole of the Easter season and not just another weekend in Spring.
- For both Thursday and Sunday ascenders, maybe the day is an occasion for a parish party. In other words, celebrate like the medieval Christians did. Not just some canned piety.
Forgive the slight spirit of curmudgeonry, but I think the observance of the Ascension leaves a lot to be desired no matter who is coming to Mass or complaining. And whether it lands on one day or another is about the last bit of business we should be discussing.
Maybe celebrating Ascension Mass should wait for the committed way we’ve engaged the Great Commission.