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.

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Monday Morning Blues

It is amazing how many people suffer from ‘Monday morning blues’. In the monastery one day follows another without the ‘week-end’ as such intervening — the liturgical calendar is the all-important demarcator of days and seasons. This Monday, however, is different. With Ash Wednesday only a couple of days away, if we have not yet thought through how we are going to make a fresh start during Lent, this is the day to do it. Inevitably, one starts with the negatives: where do I need to pull my monastic socks up? It can all seem a bit dispiriting.

The advice St Benedict gives for making a good Lent is remarkably straightforward, and I’ll be going through some of it in a later post, but here I want to draw attention to just one element. He says of our Lenten observance that whatever we do should be done ‘with the joy of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘looking forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing’ (cf RB 49. 6, 7). Joy and longing are not necessarily the first things we associate with Lent, but Benedict’s words remind me, at least, that ‘Monday morning blues’ can be  a trifle self-indulgent — or as Kirkegaard remarked, ‘The trouble with Christians is that they don’t look redeemed.’ Another challenge to meet!

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