My rant about Ascension Thursday Sunday

An excerpt from an article I wrote for The Wanderer, to which you may subscribe in print and in an online version:

We know with holy and Catholic Faith that what was not assumed, was not redeemed (St. Gregory of Nazianzus – +389/90).  Our humanity, body and soul, was taken by the Son into an unbreakable bond with His divinity. When Christ rose from the tomb, our humanity rose in Him. When He ascended to heaven, so also did we ascend.  In Christ, our humanity now sits at the Father’s right hand.  His presence there is our great promise and hope here.  It is already fulfilled, but not yet in its fullness.  That hope informs our trials in this life.

Be clear. Not only Christ’s humanity but our humanity ascended into heaven.  Preaching on 1 June 444 St. Leo I, “the Great” (+461) taught (my emphasis), “Truly it was a great and indescribable source of rejoicing when, in the sight of the heavenly multitudes, the nature of our human race ascended over the dignity of all heavenly creatures, to pass the angelic orders and to be raised beyond the heights of archangels. In its ascension it did not stop at any other height until this same nature was received at the seat of the eternal Father, to be associated on the throne of the glory of that One to whose nature it was joined in the Son.” 

Leo says in another sermon of 17 May 445, “This Faith, reinforced by the Ascension of the Lord and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, has not been terrified by chains, by prison, by exile, by hunger, by fire, by the mangling of wild beasts, nor by sharp suffering from the cruelty of persecutors.  Throughout the world, not only men but also women, not just immature boys but also tender virgins, have struggled on behalf of this Faith even to the shedding of their blood.  This Faith has cast out demons, driven away sicknesses, and raised the dead.” 

The liturgical celebration of Ascension by the Latin Church has become a little confused in recent years.  In the post-Conciliar calendar used with the Novus Ordo editions of the Missale Romanum for this Sunday we ought to be observing the 7th Sunday of Easter. Ascension Thursday was a few days back, appropriate on Thursday.   However, by the same logical that dislocated Epiphany from its proper place twelve days after Christmas (“Twelfth Night”), some years ago the Holy See allowed conferences of bishops to transfer the celebration of Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday.  I call this liturgical quirk “Ascension Thursday Sunday”. 

Those who are participating at Holy Mass with the 1962MR avoid this folderol.

Folks, I know the argument. The bishops hope to expose more people to the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord.  Because it is too hard to go to Mass also on Thursday, they moved the feast to Sunday.  Well… in most places they moved it to Sunday.  What is even more confusing is that it isn’t transferred in some dioceses.   In the 1983 Code of Canon Law c. 1246, Ascension Thursday is indicated as one of the few Holy Days of Obligation.  Again, I know the laudable reason for moving the feast.  However, perhaps it is the influence of reading so much St. Augustine over the years, but my present view of human nature suggests to me that when Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint: it just isn’t that important.  Maybe none of it is important. Thus, I am left with the opinion that the option to dislocate such an important and ancient feast is an arrogant novelty.    

The celebration of Ascension on a particular Thursday is rooted in Scripture and reflects the ancient practice of the Church in East and West alike. We read in Holy Scripture that nine days, not six, intervened between the Lord’s physical ascent to the Father’s right hand and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Ascension Thursday was fixed at the 40th day after Easter from about the end of the 4th century. In the Latin West, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) called it Quadragesima  (“fortieth”) Ascensionis. In the Greek East, St. Gregory of Nyssa spoke of it in 388.  That’s only a 16 century tradition.  Eastern Christians haven’t transferred Ascension. 

What must the Easterners think of us Latins? 

But let’s be more positive.  With the third, 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum we have once again a Mass for the Vigil of Ascension.  This wasn’t in the 1970 or 1975 editions. Moreover, there are now proper Masses for the days (nine? six?) after Ascension until Pentecost, most having alternative collects depending on whether or not in that region Ascension is transferred to Sunday.  As I mentioned last week, in the new printing of the 3rd edition there will also be an option for a longer celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost, in keeping with the ancient use similar to the Vigil of Easter, with various readings.  There is a parallel between Easter and Pentecost for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, which in the Latin Church were of old conferred in the same rite.

Drop to your knees and thank God for Pope Benedict and the provisions by which he liberated the use also of the pre-Conciliar liturgy through Summorum Pontificum.  Whether you prefer the older form of Mass or the newer, Pope Benedict is working to heal the rupture that took place after the Council in our worship of Almighty God.  The older use will exert a “gravitational pull” on the celebration of the newer forms and the whole Church will benefit.

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34 Responses to My rant about Ascension Thursday Sunday

  1. Ascension for us is Thursday, May 28. Many parishes do a Vesperal Liturgy on Wednesday evening (allowable, since Wednesday evening liturgically is the beginning of Thursday), although our parish is having Liturgy at 9 AM on Thursday.

  2. maynardus says:

    Quoting himself, Father blogged:

    “my present view of human nature suggests to me that when Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint: it just isn’t that important. Maybe none of it is important. Thus, I am left with the opinion that the option to dislocate such an important and ancient feast is an arrogant novelty.”

    This is an excellent follow-on to the much-commented posting of Dr. Philip Blosser’s piece about “Revisiting the Novus Ordo”, and the same remark – it’s just not important – could be made about all that the liturgical changes conveyed to many people. I grew up in the 60′s and 70′s, and I recall two distinct impressions regarding the liturgical nonsense: one was how phony much of it was, like an adult trying to use slang phrases around teenagers to feign relevance. The second was that they – the priest, the directress of song, the other actors in the sanctuary – couldn’t possibly be taking this stuff seriously and if they didn’t why should I?

    It’s been said by many more astute observers than me, but it certainly seems that this whole campaign of liturgical re-formation was indeed characterized by a thorough de-masculinization of the Mass and the practice of the Faith. Seen in that light the decline in vocation and the absence of young men from Sunday Mass is a logical consequence.

  3. Fr. Thomas says:

    But, even in the EF, Ascension is moved to Sunday in those various diocese. Is it not?

  4. People should remember that there used to be dozens of Holy Days of Obligation each year. So even with Ascension on Thrusday, the burden is greatly, even radically reduced already.

  5. Arthur Connick says:

    In the EF, the feast of the Ascension is often celebrated as an External Solemnity on Sunday in dioceses that have transfered the feast in the OF. But it is also celebrated on the Thursday. The office for Sunday is not Ascension, but rather the Sunday after Ascension.

  6. LCB says:

    “when Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint: it just isn’t that important”

    When Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding *morality* people get the hint: it just isn’t that important.

  7. When this was being discussed at the bishops’ conference, +Basil Losten, Ukrainian Bishop of Losten, suggested following the example of the Byzantine Rite, where the tradition of octaves was still observed. The feast could remain on its day, while the faithful could benefit from the celebration on Sunday. Something along those lines. It sounded brilliant.

    Which is probably why he was (politely) ignored.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m getting back to writing the words for a hymn to a familiar tune. I’m calling it: “Hail Which Festival Day.”

  8. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Next time, please don’t be so cagey. There is no need to be afraid to tell us how you really feel.

    Best,
    C.

  9. In the EF, the feast of the Ascension is often celebrated as an External Solemnity on Sunday in dioceses that have transfered the feast in the OF.

    Which is what our community is doing, with the proviso that in the EF it’s the Mass of the Ascension that’s celebrated on the following Sunday, not the feast itself — an “external solemnity” being a celebration of the Mass of the feast day, not of the feast itself.

    We will not have an EF Mass on Ascension Thursday and I, for one, would prefer to enjoy the Mass of the Ascension on the following Thursday than not have it at all.

    On the other hand, I will be praying the Office of the Ascension on Ascension Thursday, since that is my choice alone.

  10. Mark says:

    A separate Vigil Mass?!?! But Father, Father, isnt a Vigil Mass just the mass of the day said the evening of the day before so that people can attend in blue-jeans??

    lol, I’m being sarcastic of course. But sloppy use of language by parishes which call the ANTICIPATED Mass a “vigil” really annoys me. As it is trying to usurp legitimacy for a totally untraditional practice by using a traditional-sounding term like “vigil”.

    When really, a Vigil was the whole liturgical day BEFORE the the feast, with a penitential character, with a Mass said after None. Whereas the anticipated Mass is supposed to be said after First Vespers of the Feast itself.

    But, there is no particular logic behind the Novus Ordo, so, as you say, who even cares anymore…

  11. Gloria says:

    Since Mass in the evening is permitted, there is not much excuse for missing Mass on Ascension Thursday. At our EF parish we always have a 7 p.m. High Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. The church is always full. There is a 7 a.m. Mass every week day and Saturday, as well. People who must go to work, really have pretty good choices for getting to Mass.

  12. “Whereas the anticipated Mass is supposed to be said after First Vespers of the Feast itself.”

    Which we call a Vesperal Liturgy (as opposed to the regular default Sunday morning Liturgy which follows Matins).

  13. This year I will be celebrating the EF on Ascension Thursday thus making it the first time in my priesthood I have been able to celebrate this solemnity on its proper day. (Of course, I will also be celebrating it on the following Sunday.) God bless Pope Benedict and the MP!

  14. Mark says:

    rightwingprof,

    is yours an Eastern parish?

  15. Dr. Eric says:

    The people who would normally attend on a Sunday to fulfill their obligation (any ol’ Sunday) would already attend an Ascension Thursday Mass to do the same. This is a red herring. It speaks of the laziness of the culture and the weakness of the bishops. My suggestion, let’s also transfer the Assumption, All Saints Day, the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas also to the closest Sunday. That way, NO ONE is “inconvenienced” and we all can just go to Mass on Sunday to hear the Mass of the Feast.

  16. Lirioroja says:

    Thank God I was born and raised in a diocese where this has never been an issue. Here the Ascension has always been on a Thursday. The first time I ever encountered it transferred to the following Sunday was when I was a student in Canada. I was so confused, especially since the parish I attended started a novena to the Holy Spirit (complete with Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction) on what should’ve been Ascension Thursday! When the readings didn’t align with my expectations, I was confused. At Mass that Sunday, when the readings again did not align with my expectations, I was REALLY confused. No one ever explained it to me because that’s how things have always been. I did my own research to find out what was going on. When I found out, my first thought was “Oh, now I get it.” My second thought was, “Geese, that’s really dumb. Why’d they do a stupid thing like that? I never had a problem getting to Mass on Ascension Thursday. What’s their excuse?”

    This year I’ll be celebrating the Ascension twice as I’ll be traveling that weekend to a diocese where the solemnity is transferred. I’ll read the reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter during my own prayer time.

  17. Lirioroja says:

    Dr. Eric, you are absolutely correct. The churches here are just as full on Holy Days of Obligation as they are on Sundays. And since most parishes around here have evening Masses and/or early morning Masses on HDO’s to accommodate working folk there’s no excuse to miss Mass. The bishops make the change expecting us to be lazy and we become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  18. Doubtful Thomas says:

    Dr. Eric: I would also recommend transferring Good Friday to the following Sunday.

  19. Jenny says:

    Mark,

    I believe that rightwingprof is Orthodox.
    Someone correct me if I am mistaken.

  20. Dr. Eric says:

    Thomas,

    Even though Good Friday is not a HDoO, I think it would be in keeping with the spirit of the USCCB. Sorry, this really makes me cranky. I wish our prelates would stop watering down the Faith.

    Jenny,

    From what I have read rightwingprof is Orthodox and more specifically, OCA.

  21. paul says:

    Since I come from the Boston archdiocese- one of the few things I am glad about is that the arcdiocese celebrates ascension thursday on thursday.

  22. Though the decision was made by most of the US bishops, I always have had to call foul on having ascension on a sunday, simply because scriptureally it makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. Scripture tells us Jesus ascended 40 days, that he was with the apostles 40 days. NOt days, 36 days. Big difference. Pentecost means 50 days (in a very rough translation) If ascension is on a sunday, then pentecost actually accurs 46 days after the resurection, which makes the meaning of the word, …well …meaningless.

    “But, even in the EF, Ascension is moved to Sunday in those various diocese. Is it not?”

    To respond, St Gregory and Augustine Oratory, where I go when I can get there, has the feast on Thursday.

    Sorry for my rant, but if you are going to teach the faith, teach it. Dont distort it to make it convenient for people. Its really sad when a pastor would rather a “butt be in a seat” then having a properly taught parish with good formation. We are all called to evangelize (According to Vatican II). How can we evangelize if we dont even know when to properly celebrate Holy Days that scripture clearly determines?

    How soon is it before we celebrate Immaculate Conception on a sunday? Or Good Friday On sunday before Easter? Better yet, why even have a triduum? More people would come if you cram all three days into one hour long “show”

    Some of you know I work for an evangelical church (Its good pay, and I consider it ecumenism in action, and a chance to learn) Probably half the people I work with are fallen away catholics. Why? Because despite the protestant nature of those churchs, they actually bother to learn what they are talking about, despite the validity of it, they have confidence.

    This is what we need. We need to start actually knowing our catechism, actually knowing our scripture, and most importantly how to bloody count. Then maybe their would be less divisions, less people leaving the church, less parish closings. Dont get me wrong, having been in the middle of a massive closure set 4 years back, I sympathize, but its more then urban sprawl.

    The faith should be taught unashamedly, and without reservation. If its not convenient to people, its not our place to make it convenient. If its the Holy Spirit’s will they will come to their own accomodation. It would be nice for Holy Days to actually be Holy days, rather then “sandwiched in”

    Sorry for the rant, just one of the soar areas with me

  23. Gail F says:

    “However, perhaps it is the influence of reading so much St. Augustine over the years, but my present view of human nature suggests to me that when Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint: it just isn’t that important. Maybe none of it is important. Thus, I am left with the opinion that the option to dislocate such an important and ancient feast is an arrogant novelty.”

    Preach it, Father! That is so true. At least, it has been for me. As someone returning to the church after many years, I was confused about when I was supposed to go. I have Jewish friends that get off work and school to attend the Jewish High Holidays — it’s pretty clear that they are supposed to go to temple. But it seemed pretty clear to me that these Catholic holidays were optional. After a while I discovered that they were called “holy days of obligation,” but I figured that was just an old-fashioned term from when they WERE obligatory, because no one ever told me to go… And human nature being what it is, I still find it difficult to go. I know that I am supposed to, and I want to. But going on some of these days makes me feel like some sort of super zealot, making a point to make other people feel bad. I know it shouldn’t, but it DOES.

    To Maynardus: I love this — “I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, and I recall two distinct impressions regarding the liturgical nonsense: one was how phony much of it was, like an adult trying to use slang phrases around teenagers to feign relevance. The second was that they – the priest, the directress of song, the other actors in the sanctuary – couldn’t possibly be taking this stuff seriously and if they didn’t why should I?” It’s like those stupid banners that are supposed to look like kids made them, except that kids DIDN’T make them. People are actually paid to make them and pretend that they have no skills. What happened to doing our best for the Lord? People stick these things up in the church and then go home, where they would never buy anything that looked so cheap and tacky. Only the best for home.

  24. carl says:

    In regards to Paul’s comment…so individual dioceses can make this decision? I was under the impression bishops conferences had to make the decision collectively. I’ll be writing my bishop and auxiliary to see if we can fix it here.

  25. kd says:

    Ascension Thursday falls on May 21, 2009, and it will be celebrated on that day in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and the state of Nebraska. http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/f/2009_Ascension.htm

  26. ssoldie says:

    I am privaliged enough to drive 45 min to go to the ‘Gregorian Rite’ Mass on Ascension Thursday May 21,2009, 9:00 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Flensburg, Mn. God bless Pope Benedict XVI.

  27. JL says:

    You’d probably enjoy the Ascension hymn from the “Diocese of Wenchoster”:

    http://www.dioceseofwenchoster.co.uk/hymnal/hymnstore/HM&A212.htm

    Pretty much sums it up–and a great tune, too.

  28. Long-Skirts says:

    …AND THE
    PURSUIT

    Ascension Thursday’s Sunday.
    Corpus Christi got the boot.

    And this year, since it’s Saturday,
    All Saints’ Day will be moot.

    ‘Cause Saturday’s by Sunday.
    And Monday just won’t scoot

    And two days in a row for God
    That’s yielding too much fruit.

    So if we play our cards right,
    Let money trump all suits,

    We’ll end all militant Sundays
    Obliging happy pursuits.

  29. Daniel Hill says:

    Can’t the mass of Ascension be said in the OF on the Thursday even if the feast is transferred to the Sunday as well. Surely they cannot stop that, and didn’t Hoyos say something about this in England not to long ago?

  30. pelerin says:

    In Britain it does seem to be Ascension Thursday/Sunday as in England the Feast falls on Sunday but I see from my diary (Catholic) that in Scotland which is part of Britain the feast is still on the Thursday.

    A few miles across the channel in France Ascension Day is still Thursday possibly because it has long been a public holiday and there would probably be demos. if it were abolished! So south of me it is on Thursday and north of the border it is on Thursday but here it will be Sunday.

    I shall be lucky this year in being able to celebrate the feast day on both days as our Priest will be celebrating it on Thursday in the EF followed by the Novus Ordo on the Sunday. But I do find it strange that in what is termed the Universal Church, various Feasts are now on different days depending on where you happen to be at the time.

  31. Tom says:

    Doubting Thomss,

    Good Friday has already been moved to the preciding Sunday, or hadn’t you noticed.

  32. Doubtful Thomas says:

    Tom: I suggested the Sunday following Good Friday, not preceding.

  33. ssoldie says:

    Forty days after the Ressurrection, Our Lord Jesus Christ, attended by Angels, ascended into heaven,in the sight of His most Holy Mother. His Apostles and disciples, to the great wonder of them all. He entered into possession of the Kingdom of heaven which He had gained by his sufferings, and St Paul declares that GOD “hath made us sit to gether in the heavenly places, through Christ Jesus.” There where the Head has gone the body is called to follow!” Read the ‘Collect, Secret and Postcommunion, (old T.L.M.) a most glorious day to keep ‘Holy’. Gregorian Mass ,was at 9:00 Thursday May 21, at Flensburg, Mn and was vey well attended,and the singing by the choir was beautiful.

  34. Frank H. says:

    I vote that we next transfer Ash Wednesday to, say, Saturday.