Ascension Day Definition and Summary
The Feast of the Ascension commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. Thus Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter, on the 6th Thursday of Easter. In some parts of the world, the solemnity is celebrated on the Sunday after the traditional date.
Basic Facts About the Ascension Feast
Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation
Time of Year: 40 days after Easter Day, on the 6th Thursday of Easter
Duration: One Day; Sometimes observed on 7 Easter; Has an octave
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Jesus’ Ascension into heaven
Alternate Names: Analepsis, Episozomene
Scriptural References: Acts 1:6-11
Forty Days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Acts of the Apostles records Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The Ascension is an important Christian feast attesting and celebrating the reality of the God-Man Jesus Christ’s returning to the Father, to return again in the future parousia. The Ascension is the final component of the paschal mystery, which consists also of Jesus’ Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Burial, Descent Among the Dead, and Resurrection. Along with the Resurrection, the Ascension functioned as a proof of Jesus’ claim that he was the Messiah. The Ascension is also the event whereby humanity was taken into heaven. Finally, the Ascension was also the “final blow” so-to-speak against Satan’s power, and thus the lion (Jesus) conquering the dragon (Satan) is a symbol of the Ascension. Early Christian art and iconography portrayed the Ascension frequently, showing its importance to the early Church.
The Catholic Catechism summarizes three important theological aspects (with which most Christian churches agree) of the Ascension concisely:
Christ’s Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3).
Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever.
Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit (665-667).
Traditions, Symbols, & Typology
Blessing of Fruits and Beans
Procession with torches and banners
Extinguishing the Paschal Candle
Ascending Christ (Also With Descending Devil)
Birds Flying Homeward
Lion Conquering a Dragon
Elijah’s Fiery Chariot
In the course of a year, the Church celebrates the unfolding of the mystery of Christ, beginning with Advent, anticipating his first coming, and reaching a high point at Easter, the feast of feasts, celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Through the Church Year, which includes the seasonal, daily, and yearly cycles of Christian time, we commemorate, and participate in, events in the lives of Jesus and his followers, through sanctified time. Thus, we experience in symbol what Jesus and his followers did in reality. We do this through daily prayer (The Liturgy of the Hours), worship, the Eucharist, the sacraments, art, changing colors, canticles, psalms, antiphons, symbols, and other means.
The Church Year, including all liturgical celebrations and times of prayer, is one of the most meaningful dimensions of the Catholic faith. Many Christians of all traditions feel drawn to this system of holy time, and prefer to orient their lives around the Christian calendar instead of the secular calendar. Postmodern men and women feel especially drawn to many elements of Sanctified Time: mystery, connection to the past, and a multitude of religious symbols and experiential elements. Thus the Church Year is a postmodern Catholic evangelism tool, and a means of spiritual growth for all who use it.
Let us pray
[on this day of Ascension
as we watch and wait for Jesus’ return] Father in heaven,
our minds were prepared
for the coming of your kingdom
when you took Christ beyond our sight
so that we might seek him in glory.
May we follow where he has led
and find our hope in his glory,
for he is Lord forever. Amen
New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal
Prayer to Christ Ascended Into Heaven
O Lord Jesus,
I adore You,
Son of Mary,
my Savior and my Brother,
for You are God.
I follow You in my thoughts,
O first fruits of our race,
as I hope one day by Your grace
to follow You in my person
into heavenly glory.
In the meantime,
do let me neglect the earthly task
that You have given me.
Let me labor diligently
all my life
with a greater appreciation for the present.
Let me realize
that only by accomplishing
true human fulfillment
can I attain Divine fulfillment
and ascend to You at the completion of my work.
New Saint Joseph People’s Prayer Book