Time For Ascension

ascensionRelatively 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.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Easter, Liturgy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Time For Ascension

  1. jlmck says:

    “Can. 1246 §1. 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:”

    I do not think this resolves the issue, but it does give it a different context. Ascension on Sunday makes it part of a celebration of Easter, even more than the Thursday celebration. Being raised from the dead and ascending to the Father, the two rising moments in the Creed, are joined.

    Since the Gospels give varying versions of the timing of the Ascension, I don’t have a problem with following Luke’s 40 days to Thursday, but Matthew’s account suggests Easter Sunday as the moment of Ascension. (unless it took 40 days to respond to the Magdalene’s “Jesus says to meet him in Galilee”)

    As to whether Ascension is “no worse than number 5” I don’t think the canon answers that. It might be 56th instead of 5th! But 52 of those major obarvances are of Easter, I suppose I can accept the Ascension as 5th. (Hmmm. Easter, Triduum, Nativity Pentecost? Not sure what are your top 4 lol)

  2. Liam says:

    In the Table of Liturgical Days in the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, Class I observances are ranked as follows – So the Triduum, Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost are the “top five”:

    1. Easter triduum of the Lord’s passion and resurrection.

    2. Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, and Pentecost.
    Sundays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter season.
    Ash Wednesday.
    Weekdays of Holy Week from Monday to Thursday inclusive.
    Days within the octave of Easter.

    3. Solemnities of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and saints listed in the General Calendar.
    All Souls.

    4. Proper Solemnities, namely:

    a. Solemnity of the principal patron of the place, that is, the city or state.

    b. Solemnity of the dedication of a particular church and the anniversary.

    c. Solemnity of the title, or of the founder, or of the principal patron of a religious order or congregation.

  3. FrMichael says:

    I always felt it peculiar that Holy Days of Obligations don’t strictly fit the order of precedence.

  4. Todd says:

    Liam’s citation from the General Norms is what I had in mind. That was a seed planted in my brain in grad school, sometime, somewhere …

    The earliest Christian observance of Easter folded Ascension and Pentecost into the fray, perhaps a Matthew tradition rather than a literal interpretation of Luke.

    Ascension is (was) a holy day because it is so much a key portion of the Paschal Mystery. The theological importance of the observance is what makes it a holy day.

    My premise is that is won’t be recovered as a holy day simply on the basis of scare tactics (obligation) but it has to be a complete expression of a community’s celebration. The good news: it may be the least commercialized of the top-five.

  5. Liam says:

    I still remember the extinction of the Paschal Candle after the Gospel on Ascension Thursday from when I was a child. I also remember that, in our family, we were supposed to not finish eating our Easter candy until Ascension Thursday.

    It’s a beautiful feast that remains to be rediscovered. Its themes are not redundant to those of Easter. In “Catholic countries” it was and in some places still is a public holiday, and given that falls in mid-spring or mid-autumn (southern hemisphere), it’s usually a perfect time for a holiday, along with Pentecost Monday / Whitmonday.

  6. jlmck says:

    I wasn’t too serious about ranking the days. It is one of those “can Catholics count?” questions, like What is the first Sunday in ordinary time called? (Ans: the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Is the Triduum 1 celebration or 3? Is Easter 1 or 52? Is Liam’s list 5 or 7? I’m just amused by such questions.

  7. Devin says:

    Moving certain holy days to Sunday was certainly done with laudable motives, but something of the feast is lost that even a spruced up homily or musical program cannot quite compensate for. I don’t think it would be burdensome to mandate Ascension throughout the country, or use Epiphany to replace another solemnity. Those who already attend Mass on holy days would most certainly continue under a new scheme and the rest would act no differently.

    If the bishops ever asked me about the holy day scheme in the U.S., I would suggest Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, a Solementiy of Mary (preferably the Assumption) and if they wanted 5, you could include all Saints.

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