Vigil of Ascension – old and new

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.

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  1. William says:

    I live in a diocese that transfers the feast (Houston). At least, it always has. But I went to a different parish than I normally do (Annunciation) which celebrates both Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, and they said (along with the bulletin and the parish website) that it is a Holy Day of Obligation and that masses (both forms) on Thursday are of the Ascension.

    A brief glance at the archdiocese’s site and other parishes’ sites (including the co-cathedral) don’t indicate that this is a diocesan wide move. I can’t imagine that a single parish would be allowed to change this and oblige only those parishioners (presumably). Rather, I would think that the OF would be the mass of I’ll-wait-until-the-weekend-to-ascend-to-my-Father-Thursday whereas the EF would be the normal mass of the Ascension.

  2. veritas vincit says:

    Transferring the Ascension to the following Sunday, totally ignoring the Scriptural interval between the Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, never made any sense. The nominal gain of allowing more Catholics to be exposed to the Ascension liturgy by moving it to a Sunday, destroys the importance of that interval, preserved in the traditional nine days of a novena. Besides, why can’t the Church ask Catholics to attend Mass on a non-Sunday holy day? Doing so is part of what distinguishes us from the world around us.

    And that remains true regardless of whether you prefer the TLM, or are happy enough (as am I) with the Norvus Ordo Mass.

    Not to mention the disparity of observance between various parts of the country (but I’ve ranted enough here).

  3. Chrissin says:

    I am in Rome and wonder if Feast of the Ascension will be celebrated tomorrow at Santa Trinita? I looked on the website, went past, but can’t determine if there is a special Mass tomorrow & what time…? other than the regular schedule . Can anyone help?
    Thank you….

  4. carndt says:

    We only have a Communion service on Thursdays. Even tomorrow…..??

  5. Gab says:

    At the former N.O. parish I used to attend, there is no mention of the Ascension anywhere in this week’s bulletin. There’s the usual 10am Mass on Thursday and the usual Masses on Sunday. In contrast, the TLM parish I now attend has the word ‘Ascension’ repeatedly in the bulletin and there is a solemn Mass at 7pm on Thursday plus the 9 day novena is provided in both print and electronic format.

    In my experience, the NO parish near me never puts on anything extra for people who must work, so when it came to the Stations of the Cross during Lent on Fridays, for example, you could attend at 9am, no other time was offered for us workers. Rinse and repeat for any other feast or occasion.

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