Feast of the Ascension: Christians look to Mount of Olives 40 days after Easter

Jesus glowing, in white, standing on grass with disciples on ground bowing and gesturing

An artist’s image of Waiting for the Word, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 14: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian Church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. On this date—or, as some Roman Catholic churches have obtained Vatican permission to hold services on the Sunday following—Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

MOUNT OF OLIVES: THE STORY OF THE ASCENSION

On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” (Find readings for the feast and more from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.) Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. (Wikipedia has details.) In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop. (Find more ideas from FishEaters.)

Note: In the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on May 21, in accordance with 40 days after Pascha (Easter).

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