Once again Ascension Thursday Sunday is upon us. Despite the Ascension of the Lord occurring exactly 40 days after the Resurrection many U.S. bishops insist on transferring it to the 7th Sunday of Easter, the Sunday before Pentecost – 43 days after we celebrate the Resurrection. In the U.S. only those dioceses located within the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia celebrate the Ascension Thursday instead of Ascension Sunday.
It is not a question of if it is permissible to transfer the Ascension to the following Sunday – the Code of Canon Law gives this authority to the Episcopal Conference with the approval of the Holy See (Code of Canon Law 1246) – rather the question is why would the bishops wish to do this? Does anyone truly benefit spiritually from having one less Mass to attend on a weekday once a year?
But, even though most U.S. dioceses will not be celebrating the Ascension today those parishes offering the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, permission for which was affirmed for all priests of the Roman Rite in Pope Benedicts XVI’s Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, will be celebrating the Ascension today, regardless of what the rest of the diocese is doing. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has confirmed that this is permitted.
So ends my annual rant on Ascension Thursday Sunday.
There is a rubric after the Gospel in the 1962 Roman Missal, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, that reads as follows:
After the Gospel of the High Mass, the Paschal Candle, figure of the risen Christ, is extinguished; it is removed after Mass.
So, immediately after we hear of Christ’s Ascension into heaven:
“…And the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God…” (Mark 16:14-20)
the Easter Candle, the symbol of Christ’s presence which has been in the Sanctuary since he arose from the dead at the Easter Vigil, is extinguished. This beautiful little ceremony is, of course, used in those parishes using the 1962 Roman Missal. But, it works a bit differently with the 1970 Roman Missal, the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, in use in most parishes:
The paschal candle has its proper place either by the ambo or by the altar and should be lit at least in all the more solemn liturgical celebrations of the season until Pentecost Sunday, whether at Mass, or at Morning and Evening Prayer. After the Easter season the candle should be kept with honor in the baptistry, so that in the celebration of Baptism the candles of the baptized may be lit from them. In the celebration of funerals, the paschal candle should be placed near the coffin to indicate that the death of a Christian is his own passover. The paschal candle should not otherwise be lit nor placed in the sanctuary outside the Easter season.
Congregation for Divine Worship, Pascahele Solemnitatis 99
The Easter Candle remains in use until Pentecost, the end of the Season of Easter rather than the Ascension when Christ is no longer with us. Unfortunately, I think that we really lost some amazing symbolism with the loss of that rubric.