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Please let us celebrate Ascension on Thursday again

The current Sunday arrangement has not been a great success

By on Thursday, 2 June 2011

A painting at St Peter and Paul Church in Mauren, Liechtenstein, depicts the Ascension (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A painting at St Peter and Paul Church in Mauren, Liechtenstein, depicts the Ascension (CNS photo from Crosiers)

If I have a special wish for this time next year it must be that we will all be able to celebrate Ascension Thursday on the Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and not on the Seventh Sunday, as at present.

The current arrangement, which has been with us for five years, has not been a great success. It is true that more people have been going to Mass for the Ascension, because it is now on a Sunday, but this comes at a cost, namely a tinkering with the Church’s year that breaks its rhythm, and that is something you really can’t do with time.

The restoration of the feast day to its true day (which seems to have near universal support) will mean that parish priests will have the opportunity to celebrate Mass in Catholic schools on that day, which will, if properly handled, give them an opportunity to evangelise.

Funnily enough, when Ascension and Corpus Christi were on their original days, I was working in a Catholic school, which like so many of our schools was staffed by non-Catholics, lapsed Catholics and, in many cases, anti-Catholics, and the moaning in the staff room about losing lessons on a Thursday morning so that the school could celebrate Mass was really something to behold.

But people who do not want to countenance Catholic worship ought not to get jobs in Catholic schools, ought they? Or is that me being simplistic?

My personal memories as a small child of Ascension Thursday were all good ones. On that day we got the whole day off school, and we went swimming – Ascension Thursday being regarded in Malta as the official start of the swimming season. In fact, rather than just having a lesson off to squeeze in Mass, it would be better for Catholic schools to make a whole day of it – to make the Ascension a proper feast.

The same applies to Corpus Christi. And if we get that day back, can we please think about processions? Their demise is deeply regretted by many. As a child, the one thing I remember with clarity is the Corpus Christi procession round the school grounds.

The trouble is, once the baton has been dropped, it is hard to pick it up again; and once a tradition has been broken, it is difficult to revive it. We have given up our holy days and the practices associated with them, but what have we gained in their place?

And while on this topic, can I make a plea for the Epiphany being restored to Twelfth Night? That tradition is ancient, and not to be lightly discarded. There is a Shakespeare play named after it too! It is a pretty good day, incidentally, to have your Christmas party.

  • SS1

    Hear, hear!

  • Peter James-Smith

    Today is Ascension Day in SA.  Used to be a Public Holiday but not now….just a Day of Obligation….The third Mass is at 7,00pm preceded by Solemn Vespers wit the Schola Cantorum who then sing the Mass.

  • Birgitta

    Isn’t it rather peculiar…here in Protestant Sweden we still celebrate both Ascension and Epiphany on their proper days! Something to be thankful for, obviously. :)

  • P Ellisbrown

    Please,please restore the Feasts to their proper place in the Church year. I hate Epiphany not being on Twelfth Night,too.

  • Thoughtful Pug

    I’m currently reading ‘The stripping of the altars’ (Duffey). It’s
    interesting that when Cromwell tried to prevent various feast days of
    the church being announced and celebrated a large number of clergy
    defied him for some considerable time. To his great consternation

    2nd time around and Its actually our Bishops who have stopped us celebrating them on their due days.

    Not drawing any parallels between an ambitious reformer
    (who supported the eradication of traditional religious practices and
    their replacement with the blandness expounded in the 10 articals of
    faith) and the Bishops Conference of England and Wales of course.


    *Ahem* Can we have them back please?

  • Ratbag

    Yes, we NEED those days back again in their proper places on the calendar. PLEASE? PRETTY PLEASE?

    The value of those Holy Days of Obligation are beyond any price. Corpus Christi, Epiphany… and please consider the Feast of the Immaculate Conception amongst them in England and Wales.

  • Douglas Pearson

    The Bishop’s need to stop treating Catholics as if we aren’t capable of living up to the beauty of our rich history and traditions… if they ever hope for us to actually do so. As a father I know that my children will only grow into adults by being required to fulfill the responsibilities of their maturing state in life. I think most of us in the US have one none Sunday holy day of obligation and two fast days per year. Latin rite Catholicism has become a religion of pansies compared to almost all of the Eastern rite Churches, the Orthodox, and certainly compared to the Church a short 60 years ago.

    Our bishops are really not good fathers, they might be good administrators or politicians in some cases, but a bishop that is a good father is very rare in our Church today. A good father challenges his children to grow and takes the needed steps to see that they do.

    Try and remember the last time you heard a homily from a bishop or read a statement from the USCCB that made you actually change the way you live.

    The situation in the Church will not change until our bishops change.

  • Spiro Spero

    We Yanks are happy with our liberal-thinking bishops.  By moving the Ascension to Sun., there’s neither sin nor significance anymore in overlooking the day.  Now we’re anxiously awaiting their applying such accomodating logic to a few of the particularly pesky Commandments.

  • Sheldon Dsouza

    I really do not understand the fuss about restoring the Feasts of the Ascension, Corpus Christi and Epiphany back to their “original” days. If you see the Roman Missal, the church has not changed anything. It has only given leverage to the dioceses across the world to celebrate the feasts either on the “original” days or on the following Sunday. By changing the days the Church nor its people will not be holier. Give importance to the Feast and not the day.

  • AC Pereira Menaut

    Prof. Pereira-Menaut from Santiago de Compostela.

    You are right.  In Spain, we stopped celebrating Ascension and Corpus on Thursdays for the sake of economic efficiency, to the final effect that those days finally became ordinary Sundays, and Catholic people hardly distinguish them.  It is like taking away the milestones.

    Fortunately, in Santiago de Compostela it is still an important local feast, so that it has survived!


  • Thoughtful Pug

    Its about identity and practice.

    I see your point about the importance of the feast. I respect what you are saying.

    However by moving them to the nearest Sunday we loose something of our individuality and more importantly our discipline. Essentially we have moved them for our convenience and not for any theological  reason. Time sensitive occasions such as Epiphany and the Ascension were placed where they were for a reason. To attend them was both to take part in the litergy but also to ‘live out’ ones faith during the week. By moving them to Sunday when we would be attending anyway we loose both an opportunity to give witness to our faith by attending during the week and also we loose an opportunity to train and develop our own spiritual discipline.

    Things like Holy Days of Obligation, The Friday Penance and other similar practice both set us apart from ‘watered down’ Christianity where a person could be tempted to do the minimum possible – essentially be a career christian and warm the pew for a few years – without ever really trying to live out their faith. Reading James 2:10-26 on faith and works and considering that in the light of how many people would be prepared to actually put themselves out and go on a day other than their usual one, indeed want to go on that day, is an interesting concept. Your whole life is in effect your ‘works’.

    Along this line these things also give us a chance to develop ‘Spiritual Discipline’ in putting and remembering God in front of all other things. There is an huge temptation, especially in the modern world, to relegate God to Sundays and a few prayers during the weekday – it is often done without even noticing – and these type of things ensure that we keep him at the forfront of our minds more.

    Anything that gives us an opportinuty to witness our faith by our actions (witness, not specifically evangelise) and / or to ‘discipline ourselves’ (1 Peter) is a good thing. Conversely anything that reduces the amount of commitment needed is probably not a good thing. Christianity is actually a lifestyle in itself not an adjunct to a persons current lifestyle. Ultimatly its a narrow path and if it doesn’t feel like you are on it then your probably aren’t.

    Just a thought – I fully accept that I could be wrong and that not everyone will agree with me on this.



  • Common Sense

    What if you could tell your spouse (presuming you have one) that you would no longer celebrate your anniversary on its date, but whatever date ‘works out with your schedule’? Do you think that would be a good way to hold your spouse in high regard and show him/her true affection?

    What statement does it say about our Faith if our outward actions are regulated or eliminated for the conveinances of ‘our schedules’?

    Making the sacrifice to observe a feast day is a small one – but a sacrifice non the less. It’s importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

  • Ratbag

    I love the analogy of the ‘anniversary date’ with regards to the importance of Holy Days of Obligation.

    It is spot on.

    If we have been stood up, jilted, devalued and not esteemed we have every right to feel hurt and upset.

    So, how does Christ feel when the same is done to him at Mass every week?

    Yes, exactly!

  • Tim

    I think that these feast days will be restored to their proper place. The Bishops know that the change has not been successful. It makes absolutely no sense.
    By coincidence I had some upsetting news at the doctor’s on Thursday morning  and felt pretty upset.  I have friends at the local high Anglican church where they were celebrating Ascension day on its proper day with a sung liturgy so I went there to think and  pray.  Maybe not ideal but at least I was marking the day at the same time the Pope does wtih whom we are meant to be in communion and on the same day as generations before me.

  • Paul

    I understand the logic of celebrating the holy days on Sundays but doesn’t this just help to reinforce the view that Church is something we just do on Sundays?  The option to move the feasts to Sundays has been there for a long time but in a diocese where there are at least two monasteries with their own Ordo we have a situation where some parishes celebrate on Sundays and others on the Thursdays.  Let’s be a united family celebrating all of our major feast days at the same time.

  • Nina

    I could not agree more–and I find it so bewildering that so many of us Orthodox (and I would imagine Catholics too) kick and scream about having to “endure” the imposition of the most sacred traditions of our Churches!  For us in the East, last Pentecost a week ago comes to mind.  Usually full on Sunday, the temple was practically empty.  One wonders how many parishioners did not want to have to be present for the “kneeling service” which happens only on Pentecost and is lengthy, even  for Orthodox!  There is so much rebellion among the respective cradle faithful–but converts to Catholicism or Orthodoxy show the devotion that the Fathers enjoin on us as “essential to salvation”.  They are there every Holy Day, they are there for Saturday vespers, they go to confession, they honor the authority of Hierchs or Magesterium.  We must remember, as Kathryn Marshall once remarked along side her husband, The Rev. Peter Marshall, that:  “God has no grandchildren”…or I would say it:  “God could raise “cradle christian of whatever name from these stones.  Please God, give us back reverence for thy house.