THURSDAY, MAY 9 & SUNDAY, MAY 12: Head to the hills today—if you’re a Christian, that is—because today is the Feast of the Ascension, celebrating Christ’s raising up into Heaven. In many areas, it’s common to climb nearby hills or mountains to commemorate Jesus ascending from what is traditionally described as the Mount of Olives. The feast is the Ascension (or Ascensio in Latin) to indicate to Christians Christ was raised up by His own powers.
Although the feast officially falls on May 9—and June 13, in the Eastern Church—most countries have received permission from the Vatican to move the feast’s observance to Sunday. (Wikipedia has details.) Australia, Ireland, Canada, England and most of the United States are just a few of the countries that will commemorate the Feast of the Ascension on Sunday, although a few U.S. cities—including Boston, New York and Philadelphia—retain the Thursday observance.
The Feast of the Ascension remains, quite possibly, one of the oldest commemorations of the Church. Although there is no documentary evidence of the feast prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine mentions it to be of Apostolic origin, and experts believe it may have instead been observed in combination with Easter or Pentecost.
Regardless, various customs have arisen through the centuries for this holiday, ranging from torch processions outside of churches to the elevation of a Christ figure through an opening in the church roof. In England, parishioners would often parade a banner with a lion at the front and a dragon at the back, symbolizing Christ’s triumph over the devil. Johann Sebastian Bach composed multiple cantatas for today’s services. (Learn more customs from FishEaters.)
POPE FRANCIS ON THE ASCENSION
Pope Francis recently preached about the Feast of the Ascension, in a declaration of “The courage to do great things, the humility to appreciate the little things.” Though observing the Feast of St. Mark at the time, Pope Francis spoke of the passage in the Gospel of Mark that describes the Ascension of Jesus. The homily focused on Jesus, prior to the Ascension, sending the apostles forth to preach the Gospel “to the end of the world.” (Read more from Radio Vatican.) Pope Francis urged today’s Christians, in a likewise manner, should continue this vocation.