Thursday past we celebrated the feast of the Ascension. Ascension Day commemorates the ascension of Christ into Heaven. The Ascension implies Jesus' humanity being taken into heaven. Observed generally by Catholics and Anglicans, Ascension Day, also known as the Feast of Ascension, occurs on the Thursday 40 days after Easter. Traditionally this ended the Easter season, however our revised liturgical calendar extends the Easter season to 50 days and now ends on the feast of Pentecost also known as Whitsunday.|
The History of Ascension Day
According to the accounts in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus appeared to many of his disciples during the 40 days following his resurrection. On the 40th day, he came again to the Apostles and led them out to the Mount of Olives where he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they were watching, he ascended into clouds. As they continued to watch, two angels appeared and declared to them that, just as he ascended, Jesus would return in glory.
Ascension Day Traditions
On the day of the feast, Mass is attended and the Paschal candle, which was lit on Easter Sunday, is extinguished. This now takes place at Pentecost. Another old custom associated with Ascension is a seven-day devotion, two additional days are kept by the priests, making a total of nine days (a novena). The novena allows for the preparation of Pentecost, which takes place the next day.
Churches around the world observe many Ascension Day traditions. There are outdoor processions with torches and banners. Some churches depict the Ascension of Christ by raising a statue of Jesus above the altar and lifting it through a special door in the roof. In an old Ascension Day tradition from England, parishioners carried a banner bearing the symbol of a lion at the head of the procession, and a second banner bearing the symbol of a dragon at the rear. This represented the victory of Christ over the devil.
For many Christians, Ascension Day's meaning provides a sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. It is a reminder of the Kingdom of God within their hearts, and of the ever-present Spirit of God, watching over and protecting them as they spread the light of Jesus' truth throughout the world.
Rev'd Fr. Colin Humes