On Not Keeping Ascension Day

The title of this blog post is misleading. It is not so much that we are not keeping Ascension Day as that we are transferring the feast to Sunday, 20 May — and therein lies my sadness. Not keeping Ascension Day today means that we Catholics are out of step with the majority of other Christians in this country and, even more important in my view, are breaking the liturgical sequence of days, ignoring the number symbolism given by Scripture and Tradition. I am therefore on the horns of a dilemma. I bow to the decision of the bishops and will obediently celebrate the Ascension of the Lord on Sunday, but in my heart of hearts I know that today is the ‘real’ feast. While we sing today’s Divine Office according to the rubrics, the music of Ascensiontide is pulsing through my memory. I am that most unnatural of Benedictines, a liturgical crypto-rebel!

Does that matter? Perhaps not; but I think it does shed light on something we tend to ignore whenever we reform or change anything in the Church. We are creatures of habit; we like the familiar. It is hard to adapt to new ways of thinking and doing, even when they are improvements on what has gone before. That is why whenever anything needs to change, we ought to pray about it, to allow the grace of God into situations we may not recognize as needing grace. When we are ourselves involved in making changes, it is easy to forget how they will affect others, easy to be so convinced of the rightness of our views that we have no time or sympathy for those who think and feel differently.

I do not think I shall be lobbying the bishops to return Ascension Day to its proper date, nor shall I be absenting myself from the liturgy as though I knew better than others. Making a fuss is not my forte. I shall hold my peace and hope — oh how I hope! — that next year we may celebrate the feast when I believe it should be celebrated.


23 thoughts on “On Not Keeping Ascension Day”

  1. I thought the bishops had decided that some of the feasts which had been moved to Sunday were to go back to their original day, and Ascension was the main one. Did I dream it? I so agree about Ascension. I don’t mind about the other feasts but Ascension took place 40 days after Eater and it feels completely wrong to make it 43.

    • I recently wrote to Archbishop Vincent Nichols humbly urging him to consider moving the celebration of the Ascension back to it’s rightful place – 40 days after Easter and also asked him to encourage all Catholics in England and Wales to pray the Novena for Pentecost. I received a lovely reply and my letter has been forwarded for consideration by the appropriate committee in the Bishops’ Conference. So let’s pray between now and Pentecost that next year, Ascenision Day will be restored to its rightful place.

      • Thank you, Sr Catherine, for clarifying for me. And thank you, Christopher, for writing to Archbishop Nichols and sharing his response.

  2. this is no consolation but in france it is a public holiday and yet there are no Masses !
    When the young shrug their shoulders at the Church and its rules , it is easy to see why!

  3. I for one am delighted that the Anglican Church celebrates Feast Days, on the actual day. Although, I know that some incumbents, who have many churches to look after necessarily have to transfer it to the following Sunday.

    The Church Calender for the Anglican Church is substantially different from the Catholic one, but we share the major Feasts and Festivals. This is something which could unite a little more if we got our act together.

    But I will be thinking of you and your community and will be praying as I attend an Ascension Day Holy Communion, that future feasts will be celebrated by all denominations on the traditional feast days.

  4. I am an Atheist. but believe you should be celebrating The way you want on The day you believe to be right. Particularly find it odd that Church leaders would be able to change a millennia old date to ‘fit’ in better with The week. However, as State and Church should remain separate, there should be no national allowance such as a national holiday to allow this. If you want to celebrate it then book a day’s annual leave.

  5. Ascension Day – a half holiday at school giving an afternoon for an Ascension Day Outing. As my first school Ascension Day fell on my birthday, I was convinced the half day was in my honour.
    I am fortunate to be part of a community that still celebrates Ascension Day in a thoughtful way and with outings. This year 3 walks graded to suit all abilities. We also mark out the Rogation Days before Ascension Thursday by blessing our fields, gardens, farm animals and bee hives.
    On Sunday some of us will mark the occasion in church, but the old pattern of 3 days, 10 days, 40 days is maintained. A great British compromise perhaps, but one that keeps us in step with the majority of Christians.

  6. I’m keeping it to the full not because I am in any way Tridentine, God forbid, but in solidarity with my Anglican and Methodist friends among others !!!

  7. Nine years ago I was in Rome as part of an international group of Sacred Heart sisters, from 14 countries and all continents – including some very Catholic countries like Mexico, Chile, Spain, Belgium, where religious public holidays are common.

    Come the Ascension, and imagine my surprise at discovering that I was the only one who assumed we’d celebrate it on the Thursday – 40 days after Easter. Italy, our host country, had already “gone over”, as had the countries of all my sisters. A few weeks later, for the first time in my life, I celebrated Corpus Christi on a Sunday – and again, I was the only one for whom this was a novelty.

    So we can’t blame the English-Welsh bishops too much for this one – they probably felt they needed to keep in step with the others. Sadly, though, that means being out of step with the CofE, as well as that rich symbolism of numbers of days. What’s even sadder, is that this out of step-ness doesn’t seem to have featured much in the reasoning.

    But I blogged for the Ascension today – it’s one of the few areas where I’m a traddie!

  8. Yes, as UKViewer mentions, one of the virtues of the Anglican church is that we do celebrate Feast Days. Ascension Day is so important, when the Lord lifts his wounded hands over us and goes to prepare a place for us, that where he is, we may be also, and to enable the Holy Spirit, the Comforter to be ever with us, Christ himself in a whole new intimate way.

    Today, at Arundel, the day is celebrated with an actual Feast in St Nicholas’ Church (Anglo-Catholic) after the Eucharist. It’s a joyous occasion.

    Crypto-rebel, I like it! I also admire that you strive to keep the peace.

    I hope you won’t mind this link to my poem about today.


    Blessings 🙂

  9. The discussion on the timing of feast days aside, this post was a wonderful example of Benedictine obedience – in all its openmindedness, respect, acceptance, critical spirit and ultimate grounding in God. Wisdom for Rebels…

  10. I don’t think it’s possible to actually move an anniversary day, although moving the celebration of the anniversary, in this case Ascension Day, is nowadays quite common. For those of us in regular employment, it is more practical to celebrate Ascension on the nearest Sunday.

    I would be glad to celebrate the Ascension today; the church I worship at has an Ascension Communion Service this morning and they will celebrate it on Sunday too, for the majority of the congregation who can’t get there on a work day.

    As for myself; I will remember Ascension today and offer a prayer about it but I will celebrate it with my church on Sunday.

  11. This is kind of off-topic or at least at a tangent to the topic!

    Today was the first time I’ve ever marked Ascension day – we had a short lunch time Communion service at our church at which I led the ‘liturgy of the word’ section. (Though I accidentally missed something out of the Order of Service, so may have inadvertently made it a non-authorised service…)

    I’m becoming more and more convinced, as a ‘low church’ Evangelical that my tradition should be celebrating the Church calender as there is truth and indeed transforming power to be found in structuring Church life around the ancient structures and rhythms of our faith.

  12. I absolutely agree with Nick, above (having experienced the Evangelical tradition way back.) Never underestimate ritual and observance – there is indeed ‘transforming power’ in it. I have always been a committed, if struggling, Christian, but it truly changed my life, my perception, and my understanding of God to migrate to Anglo-Catholicism with all its rich tradition and structure. Strangely, evangelism then becomes an automatic work of the Holy Spirit within the individual, rather than an approach to worship.

    At least, that is what I have experienced and observed in others.

    Before the industrial/agricultural revolution of the late eighteenth century, which started to separate people from God’s creation, the church calendar was very much bound up with the rhythm of the seasons which served to illustrate it and make it live. Most of the population is unavoidably stranded from that, too.

  13. Here in Canada we will be celebrating Ascension Day on Sunday. Christmas is a public holiday as is the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. Easter always falls on a Sunday, so we are able to attend masses on the “day of”. Easy enough for those of us who are retired, those who are not working, and religious, to celebrate Ascension Day on the actual day, but for people who work, try telling your employer you need the morning off for a Holy Day of Obligation. Quite simply, celebrated as a weekend mass, more Catholics are able to participate. I agree with the theory of celebrating on the day of, but in practice this can become an unnecessary burden. Are we more committed to our counting and rhythm or to worship and celebrating as a community?

  14. As an addendum, some numbers to illustrate the case that the bishops seem to be making. Our parish has five weekend Masses, typically attendance for each of those is in the 800 persons range. On a weekday evening Mass, one sees much less than half that.. For a great many working folk , weekday, and even evening celebrations can be hard to get to… I agree that a feast day is best on the proscribed day, but I can also see the point of making for greater accessibility….

  15. Whilst I know that fewer people will go to Mass on a mid-week Holy Day, on the Ascension, Jesus established the first and only novena for the Church. The apostles were sent to wait until Pentecost, giving nine days of prayer. I do not think it is essential to make it a Holy Day of obligation but the Ascension should be celebrated 40 days after Easter and those able to attend Mass can do so. Incidentally, I don’t thing there should be an ‘obligatory’ days when Mass must be attended – if we love God, we would keep his commandment to keep the Sabbath holy by attending Mass anyway!

  16. Hear hear – ditto for Epiphany. I think if weekday attendance is regarded as being a burden the obligation for other feasts should be taken away (e.g. SS Peter and Paul). People know instinctively the important occasions: for instance, many people attend Mass on Ash Wednesday or go to the Good Friday liturgy, neither of which are obligatory; I am sure that people would make an effort for Ascension Day.

    • What kind of effort do you envision? Our church seats 900, we have 3,500 – 4,000 attending over the weekend spread out over several masses. How many Ascension Day masses on the one weekday would the priest have to celebrate to get us all in? As a working person you’d have to take the entire day off because you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get a parking spot at the mass of your choice. Also, if only one mass was held, say in the evening, you get home at 6:30 p.m., mass is at 7:00, no feeding the children because you have to rush to make it to church on time, no breaking the pre-communion fast, so when all is said and done, you end up serving supper at 9 p.m., fine for the adults, but the kids have their homework still to do and school next day. This is what we have run up against with All Soul’s and All Saint’s Day “on the day of” evening masses.

  17. It’s also a shame that whenever a weekday feast is transferred to a Sunday the liturgy proper to that Sunday, in this case the seventh Sunday of Easter, doesn’t get celebrated at all.

  18. Now, thinking on this.. would leaving Ascension on the Thursday, but declaring the Sunday following an external feast day by indult work, or would that still cause as much gnashing of teeth?

Comments are closed.