Why do some places celebrate Ascension on Thursday while others move it to the following Sunday? The Synoptic Gospels give us the tradition of placing the Ascension forty days after Christ’s resurrection. This is how we get the tradition of Ascension Thursday, or the fortieth day after Easter.
So how did we get an option for Ascension Sunday? The Code of Canon Law, canon 1246 §1, lists the holy days of obligation, including Ascension. In §2 of that same canon, conferences of bishops are given permission to omit certain days from this universal list or transfer their observance to a Sunday. In 1999, the US bishops allowed individual ecclesiastical provinces in the United States to decide whether Ascension should be moved from Thursday to the following Sunday. (An ecclesiastical province is a group of local dioceses under the jurisdiction of an archdiocese.) Only the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha decided to retain the tradition of observing Ascension on Thursday, while everywhere else in the US, the solemnity was moved to Sunday.The Solemnity of the Ascension isn’t so much about where Jesus went but about where Jesus sends us. Click To Tweet
Regardless of when your province celebrates the Ascension, the more important issue is what we believe Christ’s ascension means for us. We can imagine that scene with the disciples staring up into the sky. Some religious paintings and sculptures even depict this event showing only Jesus’ feet dangling from beneath the clouds! Yet, if all we understand about ascension is that Jesus went up to heaven, we miss the point. In a homily in 2009 on the solemnity of the Ascension, Pope Benedict XVI explained that “this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and for ever.”Ascension draws us closer in union with Christ found most clearly not up in the sky but here in our neighbor and in those most in need. Click To Tweet
Ascension isn’t so much about where Jesus went but about where Jesus sends us. Just as Christ commissioned his own disciples to go to all the nations, our memorial of Christ’s ascension moves us out into the whole world to proclaim the Gospel. As Christ is one in union with the Father, Ascension draws us closer in union with Christ who is found most clearly not up in the sky but here in our neighbor and in those most in need.
Excerpt by Diana Macalintal from Living Liturgy: Spirituality, Celebration, and Catechesis for Sundays and Solemnities, Year B, 2018, by Brian Schmisek, Diana Macalintal, and Jay Cormier, published by Liturgical Press. Copyright © 2017, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used with permission..
Image credit: Curtis MacNewton, unsplash, CC0.
About Living Liturgy
If you enjoyed this short catechetical article of mine on liturgy, music, or the RCIA, I encourage you to check out the entire Living Liturgy 2018 resource because you will get so much more than just reading from my excerpts. Brian Schmisek and Jay Cormier did a fantastic job of providing a wealth of theological information, pastoral reflections, and practical resources for every Sunday and solemnity of the entire year. Not only do you get all the readings, opening prayers, and Gospel verses for every feast, but you also get scripture exegesis, homily points, psalm response reflections for your psalmists, liturgical preparation questions for all your liturgical ministers and catechists, a lector’s pronunciation guide, sample penitential act tropes, and intercessions, including the presider’s introduction and concluding prayer for those intercessions.
Living Liturgy 2018 is a finalist for the Association of Catholic Publishers’ Excellence in Publishing Awards in the category of “Resources for Liturgy.”
I have been blessed to be part of this project that continues the good work begun by Sr. Joyce Ann and Sr. Kathleen and Liturgical Press, and I pray that our team’s contribution through Living Liturgy will help you every week of the new liturgical year.