Monday, May 25, 2009

Ascension Thursday Sunday

The Diocese of Boise, which encompasses the entire state of Idaho, and is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Portland, is among those in which the feast of the Ascension is observed on the seventh Sunday of Easter. Yesterday, the priest who offered the Mass I attended for Ascension Thursday Sunday gave a homily in which, to the general acclaim of the congregation, he (a) held up to ridicule those who think the feast of the Ascension should be celebrated on its proper day; (b) gave the "excellent" reasons why the feast has been transferred to the Sunday following; (c) treated us to his theory on why some bishops will not transfer the feast.

Father told the story of a visitor from another diocese who called the parish office to ask about the Mass schedule for Ascension Thursday, and became indignant when told that we do not celebrate Ascension Thursday in this diocese, declaring that in her home diocese, the feast is celebrated on "the proper day." This was supposed to be funny. Father explained that the reason the feast was transferred was because so many people were not attending Mass on Ascension Thursday; and as it is an important feast, and it's good for people to celebrate the Ascension, it is better to transfer it to a day when people will attend Mass. He gave us the benefit of his opinion that the reason some bishops will not transfer the feast is so they can take up an extra collection. All of this was greeted with laughter and approval.

The feast was transferred about fifteen years ago, so I no longer have any independent recollection on this point, but just to begin with, I question the truth of the assertion that people were not attending Mass on Ascension Thursday. I have never heard the sound of crickets in the church on other holy days of obligation that fall on weekdays. Ash Wednesday and Easter Triduum services are always standing room only, even though these fall on weekdays and are not days of obligation. Furthermore, there are plenty of people going to Mass every day, whether they have to or not. The late Msgr. Donoghue's 7:00 a.m. daily Masses were nearly always packed to the rafters; and since St. John's Cathedral started offering First Saturday Masses at 8:30 a.m., so many people have been attending that this Mass had to be moved from the tiny day chapel up to the main Cathedral. In such circumstances, I don't see why people should suddenly stay away in droves on Ascension Thursday.

Even if it is true that people were skipping Ascension Thursday without a good reason, that would seem to have been the cue for priests and bishops to do something other than relieve the faithful of a requirement they were failing to take seriously. What mother dispenses her kids from the requirement that they go to school, just because they don't want to do it? Yet, on the admission from the pulpit of a priest who supports the transfer of the feast, this is exactly what has been done -- to the considerable discredit, it seems to me, of those responsible for obtaining the indult. Should priests and bishops not have viewed a widespread failure to attend Ascension Thursday Mass as a symptom of spiritual infirmity, and tried to incite their flocks to greater zeal, and rekindle the ardor that had cooled to the point of making people feel easy in their consciences about shirking a serious obligation? Is it not a sign of sloth on their part that they chose instead to lower their expectations to the point where they were already met?

Or perhaps it was sloth mixed with contempt for the Great Unwashed. Quite honestly, the explanation for the transfer of the feast is downright insulting. The message is that we, the laity, are incapable of being held to the minimal standard of having to observe a holy day of obligation during the week. This is one of the outstanding fruits of elitist snobbery within the hierarchy, brought to us precisely by those who claim to be champions of the teachings of Vatican II. Is catering to mediocrity really what the fathers of the Second Vatican Council had in mind when they sought to place greater emphasis on the dignity of the laity and their mission in the world? How did we ever get such a crop of bishops and priests who have so much contempt for the souls under their care?

The Novena between the Ascension and Pentecost is under way. The Holy Spirit came to lift us out of the mud and misery that we are of ourselves, without the help of grace. I vote we make the restoration of Ascension Thursday, and the lifting of ourselves out of mediocrity, one of our intentions.


  1. Well said!

    I am fortunate to belong to one of those parishes that celbrate Ascension Thursday on a Thursday (the FSSP) and in Canada it's not even a Holy Day of Obligation, though if one attends the Latin Mass, one is expected to conform to the traditional Holy Days of Obligation.

    Oh, there was no collection on Ascension Thursday, either. Your priest can go shoot himself in the foot now.

  2. The reason we've been told Ascension Thursday has been transferred to Sunday here in NV is because of the priest shortage.

    Now I do agree with the priest you had; you have to admit Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Masses/services are better attended than, say, Assumption, All Saints, or Immaculate Conception. I'm not saying that's a valid reason to transfer Ascension Thursday, but unlike you, I have heard the crickets.

    Our priest's sort of rationale: he says by "forty days," the Evangelists really meant "a period of time" that was more likely a few days tops. He did not provide his source.

    By your priest's logic, we should get rid of those other pesky feasts and solemnities, and then just have Christmas on the last Sunday of December! How's that?

  3. Cyg: who can say that's not in the hopper? Watch for it...

  4. In Toronto it was celebrated on Sunday the only reason i knew that Ascension was on Thursday was because it said so on the catholic Calendar. Thank Goddness one of our parish churches gives out catholic calendars with all the saints and feasts out at the start of the year.