Summer Memories

When I was an Anglican vicar on the Isle of Wight in England I was in charge of two ancient churches: Brading and Yaverland. To please as many people as possible I kept the worship at Brading more ‘middle of the road’ and then at Yaverland we were ‘higher’.

Therefore, I kept the extra weekday feast days at Yaverland, and it was to Yaverland we went to celebrate Ascension Thursday, with incense and hymns from the New English hymnal and a fine little pipe organ and Victorian ecclesiastical finery.

Here’s what was good about it: First of all, it felt special because it was a great celebration Mass on a weekday evening. Because it was special we had a nice picnic lunch together after the Mass. There’s nothing quite so nice as an English summer evenin for an event like this. Furthermore, there was something special about the people who took the trouble to come to Mass on a Thursday evening. I don’t like to categorize but they were, well, the committed ones. They were the ones who really cared and really wanted to be there. As a result, the worship was especially fine. The singing was more fervent, the attention to Mass was more intent, the participation was better and the level of shared feeling at the Mass was higher than usual. In every way, by celebrating Ascension on a Thursday evening the event was made special and wonderful.

Yes, yes, I know every Sunday is special and wonderful….but to plop Ascension (and the same is true of Epiphany and other feasts that are now transferred) into the next Sunday is to say that you don’t really think it’s special at all. The other problem with this is that the whole thing is conceived by a sort of Catholic legalism. The argument goes like this, “It’s a mortal sin to miss a Holy Day of Obligation. We can’t say it is not a Holy Day of Obligation because it is and has been. So let’s make sure they don’t commit a mortal sin by changing the Holy Day of Obligation to a Sunday.” It’s that weird kind of double think that used to be called Jesuitical (except I don’t want to malign the Jesuits because I know one or two really good Jesuits)

Couldn’t we be sort of Jesuitical in the same way but backwards and have the Mass of the Day, but have Ascension hymns, a sermon for Ascension and all the trimmings? We could invite people to the ‘Not the Ascension Day Mass’ and tell them that it is not a Holy Day of Obligation and that they don’t need to be there, but that the people who don’t want to celebrate Ascension on that day would be very welcome to attend…

I’m not really suggesting this by the way…in case anyone suspcts me of being a secret dissident, or thinks I should scuttle back to the Anglican Church if I liked it so much.

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  • Fr., do not scoot back to the Anglican Church! I am in Germany now and Ascension Thursday is still a day of Obligation. On Thursday if you can imagine that. Mass today was amazing. The Church was packed, there was incense, and the Church choir pulled out the trimmings, including singing the creed in latin! So it is just us Americans who are so lazy…keep fighting for the return to keeping Thursday a Holy Day!

  • Good idea, Fr. Dwight. Let’s cut the horse manure – keep the true day of a Feast/Solemnity – but not make it a Holy Day – with Mass attendance on a Sunday in my diocese at 30% people obviously don’t think Sunday is a Holy Day – let’s re-sanctify the week and convert society, not let society convert us!

  • I agree with you Owl, when you say we should work at sanctifying society, not let society profane the Church, but am confused when you say Ascension Thursday shouldn’t be a Holy Day. Of course it should. We may not want people to commit mortal sins, but really, if they can’t spare an hour for God on the odd weekday, don’t you have to wonder if maybe they don’t have deeper problems in their relationship with the Lord?

  • John, I think the problem is with the reasoning behind moving the Feast Days to a Sunday. Obviously, for a real Catholic, the obligation is meaningful – my point is that, in moving the day, we have lost the profound sense of liturgical time. Better to keep the day and educate the faithful about the obligation to worship, rather than lose the day – when people couldn’t care less whether it was an obligation or not.

  • The interesting thing about the various blog rants and comments that I read over the past few days about Ascension Day is that not one of them supports the move of weekday Feasts to Sunday. What I don’t understand is why priests who feel as strongly as some of them obviously do, don’t just go ahead and celebrate on the day. To avoid any suggestion of disobedience to the bishop, the following Sunday can also be kept as, say, the Sunday after Ascension Day with all the appropriate Propers. I’d be surprised if bishops would raise so much as an eyebrow. If a push came to a shove, I’d be fascinated to know the basis for any disciplinary charges except one of ‘offence against blind obedience.’

  • The Mass is a public, not a private act. To celebrate Mass when we are not supposed to would not just be disobedience to the proper authority, it would look like the priest didn’t know what he was doing, mess up relations with other parishes and confuse the faithful (is it a day of obligation or not father? They’re celebrating it on Thursday over at St Jude’s)_

  • But there is nothing stopping one celebrating a votive Mass of the Ascension, if there is not a big feast day in the way. That’s what I did, with the readings of the Thursday.

  • How very sad. I suspected and feared such a riposte. So the bishops can make any d**** fool change they want to traditional observances dating back – according to St Augustine – to apostolic times and lemming-like they follow. It’s one thing to argue in favour of adherence to the Magisterium of the Church, another entirely another to follow the bishops’ prevailing liberal administrative agenda. BTW I think ‘the faithful’ (that dreadful clerically patronising label) are a good deal more savvy than you make out and are not so easily fooled. Your blog’s lay commentators, for instance, seem to be a pretty robust lot.

  • Fr Justin’s solution is a very clever one. Luckily here Thursday was the Ascension and that’s that. However, I sympathise with this, as there are other Feasts which have been transferred, and I find it upsetting.I like having an extra (but not the main reason) to go to Church during the week. It reintroduces the notion of sanctity into what is sometimes a kind of unholy working week.

  • bernadette

    Your suggestion, Fr Dwight, is basically what happened here in the UK anyway yesterday. Everyone who found out where Ascension Thursday was being properly celebrated was there and those who didn`t, weren’t. NO-one felt disobedient to the Bishops or to Rome, but felt able to celebrate Asension Thursday, well.. on the Thursday when Jesus Ascended. Simple really. We now have Corpus Christi coming up on Sunday June 10th ( and surely the Eucharist was instituted on Holy THURSDAY at the Last Supper ..?.. this is sowing confusion among people). Somehow, sad though it is to have another special weekday Mass removed, I can live with that one being moved to Sunday. Ascension Thursday being moved, though, was a mistake.

  • bernadette

    BTW. what IS that painting at the top of this post ? Did Our Lord slide horizontally into heaven ? I`m sure it was head first.

  • i think the painting is by Salvador Dali and shows the ascension from the earth looking up.

  • Anonymous

    Re the painting…who’s the chick?why does it look like Jesus has rheumatoid arthritis?kentuckyliz