Ascension Day is also known by the names of the Feast of the Ascension or the Holy Thursday or the Ascension Thursday. It is a day that commemorates the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven.
It is one of the feasts that is celebrated universally by all Churches. Some Roman Catholic Churches also refer to this day by the name of Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
It is celebrated traditionally on a Thursday on the fortieth day of Easter as per the count given in Acts 1:3. However, some Roman Catholic Churches move the observance to the following Sunday.
- Ascension Day is being celebrated since times immemorial. However documental evidence of the observance of the Feast of the Ascension is available only since the beginning of the 5th century. However it may so have happened, that, prior to the 5th century, the day or the feast was observed in conjunction with either the feast of Easter or that of Pentecost.
- According to Saint Augustine, the origin of the observance of Ascension Day is Apostolic. This is because of the fact that frequent mentions of the event are found in the Constitution of the Apostles. In the manner of his speech it is believed that the observance was prevalent even long before his time.
- Mentions are also found in the writings of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory of Nyssa.
- From the accounts in the Pilgrimage of Aetheria we come to know that the vigil of this feast and the feast itself were observed in the Church that was built over the grotto in Bethlehem where Christ is believed to have been born.
- Certain customs have been connected with the Ascension Day like the blessing of beans and grapes. This is typically done after the Canon of the Mass which marks Commemoration of the Dead. Blessing of the first fruit or a candle too is in vogue in some places.
- It is also the custom for the deacon or the sub deacon to wear the traditional headgear called the miter for the occasion.
- Some Churches organize for a triumphal procession with torches and banners around the Church to celebrate Christ’s entry to the Heaven.
- Extinguishing the paschal candle is also done in some churches after the prayer service.
- Some Churches reproduce vividly the scene of Ascension of Christ. This is done by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar. For the purpose there is kept an opening in the roof of the Church above the altar. Some Churches add to this ascension by making a figure representation of devil descend – this is kind of establishing the prevalence of the good over the evil.
- In the ancient times it was often the custom for the churches to “beat the bounds” to mark the boundaries of the parish. Parishioners marked the boundary stones by writing on them traditionally with a chalk and then hitting on them with sticks.
Public Life in the United States:
In the United States, this day is not considered to be a federal holiday, as such businesses and organizations operate according to their regular schedule. The same is applicable in case of public transportation that runs as per schedule on this day. Schools and other educational institutions also operate following the normal course of routine. Some Church Schools may have special prayers or blessing services organized to mark the day.
Observances in the United States:
In United States, it is often a custom for different Churches to come together and celebrate Ascension Day by means of Prayer and Special Services. Church observances also include some time for self reflection. “Church Crawl” is another interesting feature of celebrating Ascension Day where people get together to travel from one church to another and experience the different types of prayer services that are held in the various churches. Combines Cathedral Choirs too are often featured that offer special Eucharist that were written solemnly for the purpose. The Church services are often followed by socializing. Some Churches observe a tradition whereby the Paschal candle is extinguished and removed after the Gospel on Ascension Day is read.
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