Vigil of Ascension Thursday

fullsize_vanni_ascensionHere is something I wrote a loooong time ago – 2006 – for an WDTPRS article in the print version of The Wanderer.  I had a column there for 11 years.

…(I)n some places the Feast of the Ascension, which falls always on a Thursday, has been transferred to this Sunday.  That would make it “Ascension Thursday Sunday”, I suppose.

In addition, the third edition of the Missale Romanum issued in 2002 now provides us with a Mass for the Vigil of Ascension, which wasn’t in previous editions of the Novus Ordo.  Moreover, the prayers for the new Vigil of Ascension are not the same as those found in the pre-Conciliar Missale for the Vigil.  Also, there are now proper Masses for the days after Ascension, most having alternative collects depending on whether or not in that region Ascension is transferred to Sunday. Since many people do not have access to the prayers for the Vigil of Ascension, let’s look at them this week.  First, here are the antiphons. Ant. ad introitum:  Regna terrae cantata Deo, psallite Domino, qui ascendit super caelum caeli; magnificentia et virtus eius in nubibus, alleluia. (Ps 67:33,35)  Ant. ad communionem: Christus, unam pro peccatis offerens hostiam, in sempiterum sedet in dextera Dei, alleluia.  (Cf. Heb 10:12)

Deus, cuius Filus hodie in caelos,
Apostolis astantibus, ascendit,
concede nobis, quaesumus,
ut secundum eius promissionem
et ille nobiscum semper in terris
et nos cum eo in caelo vivere mereamur.

This was modified from a prayer in ancient sacramentaries such as the Liber Sacramentorum when it was used on Ascension Thursday having its Station Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.  Here is some liturgical education for you.  The eucological formulas (the prayers), for the Ascension found in what is sometimes called the Leonine Sacramentary surviving in one 7th century manuscript in Verona (the Veronese Sacramentary) are the oldest prayers we have in the Roman liturgy!  The Missale Romanum and those ancient collections consist principally in prayers for Masses which in fancy liturgist talk are called “eucological formulas”.

You might not immediately recognize astantibus as being from asto or adsto, which that ascendant lexicon of Latin lemmata, the Lewis & Short Dictionary, says means, “to stand at or near a person or thing, to stand by”  The L&S will also inform you that asto has the synonym adsisto.

If you have ever heard the phrase “to assist (adsisto) at Holy Mass” this is the concept: you are present and actively participating.

Also, during the Roman Canon, the priest describes the people as circumstantes, “standing around”.  This doesn’t mean they there around the altar with their hands in the their pockets (though I admit I have seen that happen). Rather, they are there morally and spiritually “around” the altar, participating each according to their vocation and capacity.  So, circumstantes is used to identify the baptized who are present.

O God, whose Son today ascended
into the heavens as the Apostles were standing close by,
grant us, we beseech You,
that, according to His promise,
we may be worthy both that He lives with us on earth,
and that we live with Him in heaven.

The Apostles, who were adstantes, actively participating in the Lord’s Ascension before, during and after the actual moment if the Ascension, both listened to the Lord and watched the Lord.  Similarly, at Holy Mass we actively participate before, during and after the consecration, both by listening to the Lord speak through the texts and watching what the Lord does in the liturgical action.


O God, whose Son today ascended to the heavens
as the Apostles looked on,
grant, we pray, that, in accordance with his promise,
we may be worthy for him to live with us always on earth,
and we with him in heaven

When the Second Person took up our human nature into an indestructible bond with His divinity, indestructible, we were thereby destined to sit at God’s right hand, first in Christ and then on our own.  Christ makes us worthy, no one else.  Christ alone.  It’s all His.  And because it’s His, it’s ours.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Imrahil says:

    Also (and probably much more present in popular devotion), Rogation Wednesday.

  2. jaykay says:

    “Apostolis astanstibus…” reminds me of the Easter hymn “New praises be given…”, based on St. Bede, I believe. Ronald Knox’s translation is:

    “His glory still praising on thrice-holy ground
    the apostles stood gazing, his mother around;
    with hearts that beat faster, with eyes full of love,
    they watched while their Master ascended above.”

    And two men in white garments then appeared, saying: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into Heaven…”

  3. stephen c says:

    “Adstantes” – that is a nice compliment! That being said, I have heard lots of good sermons but I have never once heard a priest describe the Apostles as being – every one of them, with the obvious sad exception – as truly glorious as they were. Friends of Jesus (imagine what that really means!). Every single one a martyr – which is not actually all that easy of a thing to be, even for people who are not all that attached to this life. [John was not a martyr, the sense of bloody martyrdom.] Great writers and poets. Each one of them prayed for and converted numerous souls. But I have heard dozens, if not hundreds, of sermons about how one or more of the the apostles were “simple” and how “just like us, they did not understand what Jesus was really saying” and how they were “”thick-headed” or, worst of all, how Peter was a “coward” – not that anyone who reads the Bible with the least bit of gratitude for their long-ago bravery would ever sink so low as to call Peter a coward, if they thought about it; but it happens. . . Next time you see a city skyline remember there is probably not one person living in that city as brave on their bravest day as Peter was on his least brave day, after he answered the call of Jesus to follow him.

  4. Chick says:

    Instead of “Ascension Thursday Sunday”, I have a pastor who refers to this as Flight Delay Sunday.

  5. stephen c says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf you are of course correct that not all of the apostles were martyrs, because John was not martyred (but Jesus did predict his future sufferings – John 21:18). Well if I had heard a few more good sermons on the apostles I would not have made that mistake. When I read the Book of Revelation I generally am not consciously aware that the author actually survived seeing all that, even in an inspired way, but of course he did survive those visions, and died somewhere else later on, not, as far as we know, as a martyr. All the other apostles were martyrs, though – and Peter in particular was the first to court that fate – he could easily have been caught and killed when he spent the last hours of the night before the Crucifixion as near as he could get to where Jesus was being held and mistreated — and John certainly was as brave as a martyr when he showed up on Golgotha to be near Jesus and Mary when Jesus was being killed. I don’t really know many people brave enough to do that. Two or three, maybe, out of the hundreds or thousands of people I have met in this world. So I really do not like the typical “Peter was a coward just like us” sermon very much, but I said that already, and I will stop now.

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