Confusing the Little Things Obscures the Big: Ascension Thursday

Icon of the Ascension
In Acts 1:3 we read that Our Lord ascended to Heaven forty days after His Glorious Resurrection. The importance of this Feast is punctuated by Fr. Hardon:

It is very important to be convinced that Christ’s Ascension into heaven was an historical fact. As early as the beginning of the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven letters on his way to martyrdom in Rome. In these letters, he is at great pains to defend the historical facts of the events in Christ’s life, including His Ascension into heaven. The importance of Christ’s physical Ascension lies in the fact that He is now in heaven as the same identical Jesus who rose from the dead and for forty days appeared to his disciples. Equally important is the fact that this same Jesus who ascended into heaven is really on earth in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

There is a lot of great things to contemplate therein (source article), but I’d like to focus on just one detail: Why did Our Lord pick 40 days? I don’t really know the entire answer. I do know that it is the same amount of days He spent in the desert, and that we spend in Great Lent every year. There’s a symmetry there. It’s almost as if Jesus was telling us something by that symmetry. The meaning of which appears to be both literal and literary. Searching these questions is where real contemplative prayer has space to grow. Much like partitioning space it the yard for a garden, this “little thing” has a profound effect of partitioning space wherein one may contemplate Jesus and why He Is, and consequently grow the roses, vegetables, and herbs of spiritual life.

These “Little Things” are interrelated like adjacent garden spaces

The point is that Our Lord did it 40 days later by His choice. It so happens that His choice to do this ties in nicely with another choice: that of the Holy Spirit to arrive nine days later. Why nine days? Again, I don’t know, but this space in the garden of nine days, when added to the forty between Easter and Ascension make 49 days, or seven times seven, seven weeks. See how those spaces are like a garden that fits nicely together and has a nice beauty to it?

The clear sections of this garden reveal shapes and details that the designer intended to reveal.

The clear sections of this garden reveal shapes and details that the designer intended to reveal.

There’s stuff to think about there that moves the mind and imagination to seek God in His design.

Now, today, in many places it isn’t Ascension Thursday. Rather, by exercise of the authority they possess rightly, many Bishops move the feast to Sunday. Again, they have the authority to do so. But what does it mean?

Unintended Consequences

Continuing with our garden metaphor, there is some aspect of moving the feast of the Ascension to Sunday that is like allowing the mint into the rose bed – before you know it, the whole garden looks like mint. Similarly, there’s consequences to the little things that raise significant questions.

Should Pentecost be moved to nine days after Ascension Sunday? After all, nine days form a novena, and the first novena was that spent between the Apostles and the Blessed Mother praying for the Holy Spirit to come.

Should scripture be changed to say Jesus rose 43 days later? (!) this question is the implication of moving the feast. After all, it logically follows that if the Church is literal, then today is the day we celebrate what literally happened: Jesus ascended into Heaven.

For the past forty days, we used to sing extra alleluias. That got changed, and it’s not clear why, so there’s some sort of human gardening happening that is frustrating the design and the little things God built into His garden. Moving the garden partitions around certainly causes odd patterns that can have implications, for instance, if the meaning of these changes is taken literally, you can reach absurdity, as I noted in my tongue and cheek piece that April had no first Saturday.

But there’s a bigger question underneath all these changes: Since the little things are being turned under like a garden tilled to soil, and since those little things show the beauty of today being the day we are supposed to celebrate that day Our Lord selected to ascend to Heaven, are we being told that Sunday is the only day of the week to be with God in the Sacraments?

What do you think? If it is so important to move a feast whose date has literal mathematic certainty of being a Thursday to instead be on Sunday, a day of the week with no literal connection other being a Sunday, what does it mean?

Are the big things of faith being forsaken by so many because these little things are being tilled underground? I think so. I’m not certain that I’d rank this change as one of the things that killed the Church in America, but I’d be open to being persuaded otherwise.

After all, if you have no mind of the little things, you cannot get to see the big. Or, stated another way, if the big things of literal meaning are obscured, then all the little details of beauty are lost. The entire field becomes overgrown with no distinction sort of like my box garden in the back yard that has clover. There’s nothing important there, just a bland box of weeds. Is that what our Catholic faith has become?

This article, Confusing the Little Things Obscures the Big: Ascension Thursday is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.
  • Cindy Paslawski says:

    Is it possible the movement of Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday is a cover-up? The catechesis required to make a liturgical year mean something to today’s Catholics must be overwhelming. So instead of teaching, it is better to move the holyday, tell the people it is so they can hear the readings of the liturgy (which they would have heard had they come to Mass on the holyday). The same with the Saturday and Monday non obligatory holydays. Don’t oblige because the people don’t understand, could get confused. And now priests don’t have to run to church(es) to provide Holy Mass in the middle of the week. Do you see the big slide here? Of course, the holyday envelope in the packet is overlooked and not used: short of funds this week! The only plus to this is people won’t be going up to receive Communion on Sunday in sin for missing the holyday. Because the catechesis to convert people to using the Sacrament of Penance when they miss Mass would be off the charts. So let’s not teach, let’s find another way around what it means to be Catholic…

  • 40 days from Incarnation to Presentation in the Temple…40 days from Resurrection to Ascension…it is the mirror of His Presentation to Heaven?

  • Sorry, I went back to read the whole article and yes, I agree…I feel the Ascension is on Thursday and that it’s really disgraceful to move these Solemn Feasts for the convenience of people’s ‘Sunday Box’.

  • […] Confusing the Little Things Obscures the Big: Ascension ThursdayUS Bishops Seem to Say It’s OK to be Too Busy for God […]

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