They have taken my Ascension and I do not know where they have put it.

A few years ago Anthony Ruff posted on the merits of transferring the feast of the Ascension from the traditional fortieth day after Easter to the following Sunday. While I can see the logic of transferring it to a Sunday (and also the practical issue that many parishes face of people simply not turning up on Thursday), I honestly prefer the symbolic sanctification of time by following the biblical chronology. Also, I am against the tendency to remove all holy days, transferring them to Sunday or simply eliminating the “obligation” to attend Mass.

Different Churches have marked different holy days from time immemorial, think of Egeria’s fourth century account of her visit to the Holy Land and the various liturgical commemorations that took place on weekdays.

I am in favor of different areas having different calendars and can see little advantage in having a single invariable liturgical ordo for the whole world. It is natural that different nations celebrate things in different ways and times.  However, occasionally things don’t run perfectly.

I presently live in Ireland, but having spent most of my adult life in the US, I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ and I visit there most every year. This year I will be flying to the States on Friday. This means that on Thursday I will celebrate Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter here in ireland, while those living in the Archdiocese of Newark will celebrate Ascension Thursday. Then next Sunday, I will celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter in Newark, while in Ireland they are celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension.

I am not a particular fan of “private” Masses and am planning to take part in public liturgies in both places (although I will probably un-rubrically celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours for Ascension Thursday in Ireland on Thursday). So basically, I will simply miss the observance this year. On another occasion, I missed the Feast of the Epiphany (Ireland still celebrates it on January 6, while it is transferred to a Sunday in the US), but on that occasion, there was a group traveling with me. I used the option of celebrating an Epiphany-themed Mass from the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I also once traveled from Guam to Hawaii, going over the International Date Line. That meant living a Friday in Lent two days in a row, and being a true Irishman I have little taste for fish!

I am sure that I will survive the spiritual turmoil, but I would be interested to know whether other PrayTell readers have had similar experiences, or whether anyone has any good suggestions to promote a spiritual answer to the issue.


  1. I had a similar experience a few years back. On retreat at a monastery in California, I showed up before dawn for the Office of Readings, automatically marking my book for Ascension and so confused when it wasn’t. I finally figured out (it was early!) that the diocese had transferred the Feast to Sunday and we were on Thursday of the 6th Week of Easter. By Sunday I was back in Philadelphia where it was the 7th Sunday of Easter. It left me feeling out of kilter for a few days, more than likely accentuated because I was pretty immersed in the monastic Office on retreat.

    I timed the date line adventure better, living an Ordinary Sunday twice. I said Night Prayer on the plane back from Tokyo, woke up in Hawaii, where I said Sunday Morning Prayer again. But lots of fish on that trip.

    These are problems canonists and liturgists of earlier centuries never envisioned!

  2. Just think of it like this. If Ascension is transferred to Sunday, we have Jesus around for a few more days.

  3. Many years ago I too missed out on Ascension due to travel between Canada and USA.
    In changing the celebration to a Sunday, I wish it had been done in coordination with other local Christian churches as far as possible.
    The dating of Easter is another field where disputes are (mostly) in the past; Orthodox and other communions have their own traditions and calendars for Easter and Christmas/ Epiphany.
    For the dating of Easter, the Spring equinox is fixed canonically at 21 March, whatever the actual equinox date. Because of time zones and the Date Line, that actual date would be difficult to standardise. If we had gone by the actual Spring equinox this year on 20 March, Easter would have been a month earlier.

  4. Calendars are never-ending sources of wonderment and nerdiness.

    Prior to the new General Roman Calendar, St Jane Frances de Chantal had been commemorated on 21 August. In the revised Calendar she was moved to 12 December (the day before her death in 1641). Although the new Calendar did not theoretically take effect until 1 January 1970, the new Ordo Lectionum Missae came into force on the 1st Sunday of Advent 1969, which meant that in 1969 her feast was celebrated twice, once in August and again in December. When John Paul II in 2001 added Our Lady of Guadalupe to the General Roman Calendar on 12 December, he bumped poor Jane Frances de Chantal back to August, this time to the 12th….

    1. That’s one of the easiest questions that medieval theologians wasted no more than a second on: angels are definitionally incorporeal, so there’s no issue of corporeal space. Only moderns imagine that’s a question that wasted time…. Medieval Catholic theologians also would have been ready for speculative theology about plural worlds….

  5. I’m also in favor of celebrating on the original days–at least the big feasts like Epiphany and Ascension. But the Church doesn’t deserve to place the moniker “obligatory” on them as long as institutions, especially parishes, are unwilling to celebrate in full festivity with meals, parties, games, and activities both fun and spiritual. Holy days that have mostly vanished from general consciousness have done so because the Church puts little to no imagination into their observance.

    I remember one diocese where the bishop, ill-advisedly I thought, made December 8th a holiday for schools and all church employees. The sentiment was great, even though I’d still be serving at two Masses. But hardly any parish children were at Mass that day. The bottom line: the Church just isn’t smart or savvy enough to have holy days of obligation, with one exception.

    1. Even that exception is, in liturgical terms, fading in places in favor of its very much non-holiday vigil (on which many Catholics – not just parish staff – still very much have to work).

    2. Todd — love the idea of the other celebrations on those big days. I am sad when I see parishes not celebrating even their parish feast day.

  6. First it was on Thursday.
    It had always been Thursday.
    Then the Bishops said it should be Sunday.
    Now they have said it’s Thursday again.
    No wonder ordinary people are confused.
    They think they can move Jesus around like that?


    1. It’s actually even more complicated than Alan says.

      The Bishops of E&W undertook an extensive pastoral consultation in the early 1980s. As a result, what they wanted to do was keep it on Thursday but remove the obligation. Rome would not allow them to do that, so the compromise solution was moving it to the Sunday. The same with Epiphany.

      Now, in response to representations, both feasts have been moved back to their original days (but Corpus Christi, which was also part of this exercise, remains transferred to the Sunday). And the obligation remains on both days.

      1. “As a result, what they wanted to do was keep it on Thursday but remove the obligation. Rome would not allow them to do that”

        It’s hard not to conclude that Rome didn’t care if people showed up for not. They just wanted to condemn the ones who didn’t.

  7. Ascension is the one holyday I wish had been left on the Thursday, because of the 9-day Pentecost novena it naturally produced. But moving it to Sunday means more Catholics celebrate it liturgically. I am wondering — what have other Christian liturgical calendars (Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.) done with the Solemnity?

    1. In the USA, those churches (for Lutherans, I only checked the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod calendars; for Presbyterians, I only checked the Presbyterian Church in USA calendar) appear to retain Ascension Day on Thursday, not transferred to displace the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The United Methodist Church calendar appears to allow for transfer of the observance to the following Sunday. I am not aware that any of liturgical calendars of the Orthodox or Oriental Churches contemplate transfer.

    2. Our (Episcopal) diocese celebrates Ascension (and Epiphany) on the actual day. In addition to our regular daily morning prayer we’re replacing our normal Thursday 5:30 low Mass with a solemn high Mass, followed by a cookout in our garden. We find that we have many people who come from other parishes on these holy days because they do not have weekday services, or who appreciate our style of worship but can’t attend on Sundays because of committments at their own parishes. We’ll be doing the same three weeks from today for Corpus Christi, with the addition of a candlelight procession with the MBS around the outside of the church building. We used to transfer Corpus Christi to the Sunday following Trinity, but with our new rector, have returned to celebrating this feast on the actual day as well.

      1. Likewise at the Church of the Ascension, Chicago, where it’ll be a Big Deal tonight as it should be, and other Anglo-Catholic parishes where lots of visitors are welcomed for this feast. We keep Corpus Christi on the Sunday, though. 🙂

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