Feast of the Ascension


In recent years it has been fashionable for the USCCB to transfer feasts to the next Sunday. The thinking behind this should be obvious, we don’t want people to feel guilty because they don’t bother to come to Mass, so we will move the feast to Sunday so people can still celebrate it without guilt.

The truth is, the only people so busy they can’t feasibly get to Mass on Holy Days during the week are those who are excused from the obligation anyway, such as doctors, law enforcement and firefighters, or those disabled or without transportation. Everyone else has the ability. The Churches could offer Mass in the evening or early in the morning, and it is not such a sacrifice that it can’t be done. The issue is, Mass attendance has dropped off sharply since Vatican II, and gets worse, thus Holy Days only sharpen the reality of the problem.

But we know that people can go, and if the Ascension Mass remained on Thursday in the Novus Ordo, or its obligation remained in the Traditional Mass which retains the feast on Thursday, people could go without difficulty. The Novus Ordo makes it superbly easy, since they have the vigil Mass the night before (which in my opinion is a mistake to offer carte blanche, because it is an occasion for abuse and degradation of Sunday, but that is for another day, the point is, they make it extremely easy). How do we know that everyone can go?


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The elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power in presence of His disciples the fortieth day after His Resurrection. It is narrated in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

 Although the place of the Ascension is not distinctly stated, it would appear from the Acts that it was Mount Olivet. Since after the Ascension the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day’s journey. Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension and Christian piety has memorialized the event by erecting over the site a basilica. St. Helena built the first memorial, which was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt in the eighth century, to be destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the crusaders. This the Moslems also destroyed, leaving only the octagonal structure which encloses the stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ, that is now used as an oratory.

 Not only is the fact of the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, in John 6:63, Christ asks the Jews: “If then you shall see the son of Man ascend up where He was before?” and 20:17, He says to Mary Magdalen: “Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God.” Again, in Ephesians 4:8-10, and in Timothy 3:16, the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact.

 The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension must be interpreted according to usage. To say that He was taken up or that He ascended, does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words “sitteth on the right hand of God” mean that this is His actual posture. In disappearing from their view “He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the scripture phrase.


Publication information

Written by John J. Wynne. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York