The Ascension of Our Lord

"Forty days have now passed, dearest brothers, since the blessed and glorious Resurrection day of our Lord Jesus Christ... The divinely ordained number of forty sacred days, devoted to our practical formation, has been completed."

--Pope St. Leo, Sermon 1 on the Lord's Ascension

"The ascension of Christ is also our exaltation...in Christ we have pierced through to the very heights of heaven. Greater benefits have we obtained through the indescribable grace of Christ than we had lost through the malice of Satan."
--Loc. cit.

Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut, qui hodierna die Unigenitum tuum Redemptorem nostrum ad caelos ascendisse credimus; ipsi quoque mente in caelestibus habitemus. Per eundem DNIC...
--Collect for the Ascension

Today is the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after Easter Sunday, it is Ascension Thursday. Easter is coming to an end, and this day Christ rose bodily into heaven by his own power. The middle quote expresses the beauty of this day, and its importance to us. Our own nature was seated at the right hand of the God the Father on this day. Having faith in this, we have a basis for hope: the hope that we too, sharing in Christ's life, will join him in heaven around Our Father.

We are already looking forward to the next big liturgical day, Pentecost, which gets its own Octave. Today starts Ascensiontide, a transition between Easter and Pentecost, though I don't intend to say that that is all it is. Our preparation for Pentecost can be seen in today's antiphon for the Magnificat: "O King of glory, Lord of hosts, this day You ascended triumphantly above all heavens! Leave us not orphans, but send upon us the Promise of the Father, the Spirit of truth, alleluia."

The bookmarking quotes express the importance of celebrating the Ascension today, and not the Sunday after today. Jesus did not ascend on the first Sunday after the 40th day after Easter. Jesus ascended on the 40th day after Easter. Everyone acknowledges this. And yet, many bishops have seen fit to move the Ascension to the Sunday after today.

The reason for doing so is presented as the desire to be pastoral. It may be too difficult for the faithful to attend a Mass during the week. But, we have evening Masses. My parish has an evening Mass each Thursday. If people can come to ferial Masses, they can come to a Solemnity during the week. They can come in the morning, before work. They can come during their lunch break. They can come in the evening, after work.

There is no justification for doing away with some 1900 years of Catholics celebrating the Ascension 40 days after Easter. In most American dioceses, and the dioceses of England and Wales, (and I'm sure elsewhere as well) a homilist could not deliver the words of Pope St Leo, "Forty days have now passed...", without telling an outright lie. We all know the Ascension was forty days after Easter. In the fervor of the 60s, there was an emphasis on making Catholicism more "biblical". Somehow, in this instance, we've managed to eradicate the biblical-basis for our celebration of Ascension. For nearly 20 centuries the Catholic Church has celebrated the Ascension 40 days after Easter, in accordance with Sacred Scripture. Within the past 40 years, we've managed to sever the connection between Sacred Scripture and the date of our celebration of the Ascension.

The beautiful Collect for the Ascension in the EF further demonstrates the absurdity of moving the observance of the Ascension: "qui hodierna die Unigenitum tuum Redemptorem nostrum ad caelos ascendisse credimus". "We believe this day your Only-Begotten our Redeemer ascended into heaven." Transferring the Ascension is not in line with the beliefs expressed in this prayer. Transferring the Ascension indicates that the Ascension isn't really that important. We know the date it ought to be, on the basis of Sacred Scripture. But we're going to move it in spite of that. Lex orandi, lex credendi. If we pray in such a way that the Ascension is so unimportant that it is moved to a Sunday for the sake of sheer convenience, then we will come to believe that is it so unimportant.

Please pray that the bishops of all dioceses in which the Ascension is transferred may reconsider this stance. If you are in a diocese of England or Wales, please sign this petition asking that Ascension and other transferred HDOs be moved back to their proper dates.

Incidentally, I was struck by how little yesterday's collect was tied to the Ascension. It was the Vigil of the Ascension, but the collect was really quite generic. It acknowledged our dependence upon God, and asked that he direct our thoughts and our actions. It could have served for any vigil. Indeed, I am curious to see if this collect, or its basic formula, is used for all vigils. The EF really is a treasure trove!

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