Ascension Thursday Sunday, 2008

May 4, 2008

OTTAWA — Canadian Catholics are once again marking the annual festival of Ascension Thursday Sunday. This feast, which most Catholics celebrate on Ascension Thursday, forty days after Easter, derives its name from the fact that in Canada it is postponed until the following Sunday — today. To find out why this normally forward-looking nation has fallen so conspicuously behind the times in this way, we interviewed a member of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.


What is Ascension Thursday?

The opening of the Acts of the Apostles records that forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father. This feast commemorates this important event. In the old days, it was celebrated on the Thursday that comes forty days after Easter — hence, Ascension Thursday.

Yet in Canada it is not celebrated on that day?

No, in Canada it is moved to the following Sunday, forty-three days after Easter.

Some people say that having the festival forty days after Easter is more appropriate, since it matches the time interval given in the Bible.

We are not literalists. In any case, there are many complicated social and historical factors that obscure the meaning of the text. Also note that the Bible says that following the Ascension the disciples retired to an upper room to pray for ten days, until Pentecost. Ten days is a long time to pray! It is better for us, when the interval is only seven days.

Why was Ascension Thursday moved to Ascension Thursday Sunday?

After Vatican II, our mission has been to encourage conscious and active participation in the life of the Church, rather than cultural Catholicism. Consequently, we are doing what we can to eradicate Catholic culture.

Part of this initiative is to make the Catholic feast days disappear.  We took Ascension Thursday, and several other Holy Days of Obligation, such as Epiphany and Corpus Christi, when Catholics would normally be obliged to attend Mass on a weekday, and we moved them to the following Sunday. Now the faithful don’t need to worry about these complex details of the Church calendar. If they attend church on Sunday, they automatically attend on the Holy Days.

Are there any Holy Days of Obligation that are not on Sunday?

Yes, there are still two. They are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day is a Holy Day for Catholics?

Some very devout people call it the “Feast of Mary, Mother of God”, but since it always falls on January 1, just like New Year’s Day, the name doesn’t really matter.

Do most Catholics know that they should attend Mass on New Year’s Day?

I don’t think so.

Does any other country have fewer Holy Days for Catholics?

No. We are very progressive in that regard.

Why do the Bishops believe that reducing the number of Holy Days is a good idea?

Attending Mass on Holy Days of Obligation was inconvenient for people. Sometimes they would have to cancel their gym workout, or even postpone dinner in the evening, in order to go to church. Also, it marked Catholics off as being different from others, as though they were a peculiar people, or a people set apart. Why should the Church have its own calendar, when the secular calendar works perfectly well?

Also, in our fast-paced society, where so many things demand our attention, paying attention to God, the Church, and so on, can be burdensome. We want to make being a Catholic as easy as possible, so that people don’t have to think about it. We just don’t want to be a bother.

Don’t you think that if you ask less, you will get less?

Yes, but since you’re asking less, it’s still good enough.

4 Responses to “Ascension Thursday Sunday, 2008”

  1. Janet Says:

    I just don’t know what one can say about this! At least they are honest, in their way.


  2. Rufus McCain Says:

    This reminds me of one of Kierkegaard’s journal entries about Luther:

    “So Luther’s veering was wrong; it was not a question of slackening the Christian demands, but of tightening them.

    “That is why I have always wondered whether God really was on the Lutheran side, for wherever God is present progress will be recognizable by mounting demands, by the cause becoming harder. On the other hand, the human way is always recognizable by matters being made easier; and that is called progress.

    “So what was wrong in the Middle Ages were not convents and asceticism; what was wrong was that worldliness actually achieved supremacy when monks were made to parade as extra-ordinary Christians.

    “No, first be an ascetic, which means gymnastics; then bear witness to the Truth, which quite simply means being a Christian — and good night, you millions, trillions and quadrillions.

    “Luther should have veered that way, or he should have made it clear that by the turn he took the Christian claim was cut down even further owing to the prevailing, ever more rampant, wretchedness of the human race.”

    [The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, NY: Philosophical Library, 1960, p. 170-1]

  3. cburrell Says:

    This gives me yet another reason — if I needed one — to love Kierkegaard. I wouldn’t glory in the damnation of the masses as he seems to, but in the matter of whether easier is better, he is right.

  4. […] invention: Ascension Thursday Sunday.  For some background on this festival, you may wish to read this post from last year.  In the meantime, let’s mark the day with a little music.  I remember […]

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