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Ascension Thursday or Sunday?

May 12, AD 2013 0 Comments

The celebration of the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord has been transferred to the following Sunday in many dioceses, but the 40th day after the resurrection remains a Holy Day of Obligation. This allowance to transfer the celebration has confused many Catholics, and so it seems worthwhile to examine this phenomenon. On Facebook and elsewhere many who were staunch supporters of retaining Thursday as the celebration of the Holy Day of Obligation had plenty of “shake my head” (smh) moments.

While I can’t propose to solve this problem, I will try to structure the discussion.

Whenever I see confusion and complaint such as this, I try to look for the root of the problem. There are a number of good reasons why the Ascension should be celebrated on its proper day, forty days after Easter. There are, on the other hand, a number of reasons that prevent us from it too, many of them social and cultural.

I believe that part of the Ascension-day mix-up is rooted in the same problem as the dress code at Massproblem. People don’t think it really matters. Many people take this attitude toward a number of things. If we regard the Ascension as important we should make it important in our lives. We can do simple things like wishing someone a “Happy Ascension Day,” to more complex things, like gathering for prayer, sharing a dinner, or planning some formal event in celebration of it.

Many civil holidays, we notice, have a special Mass. For instance, Memorial day is coming up. People consider celebrating our soldiers’ courage as something important. Their sacrifice for our country is a concrete reality which is felt by many. How would we feel if the general public stopped thinking it was important and wanted to postpone the celebration until a more convenient day, or ignore it all together?

We can make Ascension important by making it concrete in our lives. Consider what it is: It is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the completion of Christ’s redemptive act, the anticipation of Christ handing on His mission to the Church. If we can commemorate our beloved dead, surely we can celebrate the Holy Day of the Ascension of Our Lord.

On the other hand, I think it would be unfair to call ‘Ascension Sunday’ a surrender on the part of the bishops or a total neglect on the part of the faithful. We see that there remains some innate desire for this obligation that exists among the faithful when it comes to Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, funerals, and weddings. In a culture that forgets God so often there seems to be something that still tethers the hearts of many to God through these important events. We can see the connection between all of them, a concrete representation of the Catholic faith in culture and life. We can do this again for all our Holy Days as well, but it requires personal care and attention.

Maybe it starts with something as simple as a conversation with your family, starting with, “What does the Ascension mean to you?” or “What’s the importance of this day?” Start with how you approach it, continue by discovering what the Church has said about it for ages. “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.” I have found in my time with children and adults alike that they are ready to hear this, and that they desire to understand it. How much better would it be to slowly have it transform their lives!

It continues with celebrating the day with mass, with prayer, and with others. If we show it is important enough in our lives to stop our routines, it just may inspire others to do the same. Really, these Holy Days are meant to do just that. Like special saints’ days, these Holy Days are meant to be an interruption of the best possible kind. A tough, boring, or hectic day interrupted by prayer is something that may very well transform that whole day. Likewise our daily lives are interrupted by these special days to remind us of the hope we have in our labor, no matter how mundane that labor seems.

For now, here in Chicago and many places, we celebrate the Ascension on Sunday in hopes of reminding people of her importance and calling them to meditate upon its importance. It’s easy, if you hold the Ascension with high esteem, to be confrontational or derogatory with those who don’t care as much. Chances are they don’t see the day as special. Enjoy the day, use your Facebook and other social means to express its importance to you. If people question you, explain with confidence why you think it’s important. If they disregard it allow them to return to the mundane-ness of their own lives.

For our part, making these Holy Days holy requires sacrifice. The benefit of such sacrifice is that it allows our minds to focus on that day in our labors. When we work so as to keep our hearts and minds close to God the difficulties are certainly worth it.

Prayer helps to keep us close to God in a given situation. Mass helps us give thanks for what what God has done. Celebrations help us to express that something is important to us in a holistic way.

Interrupt your lives with these Holy Days! August 15th, the Assumption of Mary, is right around the corner. You could start making some plans now.

Filed in: Religion, Spirituality

About the Author:

Matthew Heinrich is a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He enters his 13th year in seminary. He attended the high School seminary (Archbishop Quigley), went to St. Joseph (at Loyola), continued at Theological College in Washington DC (Catholic University of America) where he earned his PhL. He currently studies at Mundelein Seminary working towards his STB, STL. He loves philosophy, has studied Greek, and fell in love with Patristic thought. He is a huge Chicago fan--Cubs, Bears, Hawks (2013 Champs!), and Bulls. The views expressed by the author are his alone, they neither reflect those of the diocese he studies for nor at the seminary where he studies.