May 21, 2017

Ascension Sunday or Ascension Thursday?

This week we have published two homilies simultaneously for the seventh Sunday in Easter. While some dioceses celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on Thursday, others do so on the Sunday following. Father Alexander Lucie-Smith, a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald, wrote a thought provoking article "Celebrating the Ascension on a Sunday is a sad sign of creeping secularisation in the Church" (2012), stating:
I have been away on retreat, staying in a strictly enclosed Benedictine monastery. On arrival I asked what was happening on the Thursday, and this is what I was told: 'Here we celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, by special permission. Celebrating it on Sunday would mean that the novena between Ascension and Pentecost would make no sense.'
Fr. Lucie-Smith acknowledges not considering this aspect of novena prayer before. He continues, "Given that Ascension is on a Thursday and the feast of Pentecost the Sunday after next, that means that there is a nine day gap between the two, and this nine day gap, traditionally the time when the Church waits in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit, is the reason we keep novenas."

The ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia have retained the celebration of the Ascension on the proper Thursday, while all other provinces have transferred this solemnity to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28. If moved Thursday is observed as an Easter Weekday.

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