The Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, Ascension Day was Thursday May 18 and is celebrated on the 40th day of Easter.
It was a public holiday in certain European countries including Austria, Finland, and Germany as well as Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, and Vanuatu, where Christianity (including Catholicism) is the main faith. It’s not a public holiday in T&T.
Although Ascension Day falls on a Thursday, it is a moveable feast, moved to Sunday. Fr Michael Cockburn in an interview with The Catholic News explained, “More people are at Mass on the weekend, so they transferred it to Sunday.”
The Ascension observance on Sunday is one week before Pentecost. Fr Cockburn explained, “Normally, it would be nine days intervening between the Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, out of that originated, in a way, the concept of novenas as nine days of prayer mirroring the apostles…but once it is transferred to the Sunday, it becomes like a week.”
Ascension Day is a day of obligation in England, Scotland, Wales, and parts of the United States.
Fr Cockburn said Ascension Day marks when Jesus completed His work on Earth. Prior to this event, “He spent 40 days with the apostles giving further instruction. The readings for Mass are very specific. They talk about Jesus saying farewell, ‘I am going away, I will not leave you orphaned, I will send the Holy Spirit’. All of that is leading up to Pentecost.”
He noted that 40 days has symbolism. Moses spent 40 days on Mt Sinai before returning with the Ten Commandments; Jesus spent 40 days in the desert preparing for His public ministry; 40 days after Christmas is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple.
Fr Cockburn said the prayer for the Ascension Mass speaks of where the head has gone, the body is to follow. “There is a lovely sort of theme of hope. One of the prayers talks about ‘He is our hope and our glory’…the idea of hope, we have a good guarantee that we should go up there [Heaven], too.”
He referred to the Gospel of Luke which states the apostles returned to Jerusalem filled with joy after the Ascension. “They know He has not
abandoned them and the sending of the Spirt means He is with them in a more intense way…more present to them…the fact that the Spirit has taken over means He is really present everywhere,” Fr Cockburn said. He added that Jesus is present in tabernacle and in the bread and wine. According to www.timeanddate.com, Ascension Day in Germany is observed by Protestant men having herrepartien, ‘outings’ and is sometimes called ‘Father’s Day’, while in Sweden people may go out into the woods in the wee hours of the morning to hear birds at sunrise. This is called gökotta— “early cuckoo morning”.
The website states, “In England, Ascension Day is associated with various water festivals ranging from Well Dressing in Derbyshire to the Planting of the ‘Penny Hedge’ at Whitby, a small town in Yorkshire.”
Stroud News and Journal online reported on the Ascension Day celebration, children from the Bisley Blue Coat Church of England Primary School, Gloucestershire, England, who dressed the village wells with flowers. It was a tradition for the past 160 years.
Christians in Wakefield, also in England were to gather at Sandal Castle to celebrate Ascension Day with hymns and prayers.