Ascension of the Lord: Christians observe venerable feast 40 days after Easter

Priests with candles with painting of Jesus ascending in background

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, MAY 10 and SUNDAY, MAY 13: 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 will hold services on the Sunday following, and along with some regional Ecclesiastical provinces—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.


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. 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.

Note: In the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on May 17, in accordance with 40 days after Pascha (Easter).


Ascension of Jesus: Christians praise resurrected body of Mount Olivet

Painting of Jesus in the clouds, surrounded by light, with people in darkness below

Ascension of Jesus has been a popular art subject for centuries. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, MAY 29: Forty days past Easter (Christ’s resurrection), the Christian Church turns to an event of great prominence: the Ascension of Jesus. A teaching found in the New Testament, the ascension of Jesus is described as his resurrected body being taken up to Heaven.

Care to read the Bible passages? The event is described in Luke 24:50-53, plus Mark 16:19 and also Acts 1:9-11. (Learn more from the Global Catholic Network.)

If you go to Jerusalem today, your tour may take you to a spot on the Mount of Olives called the Chapel of the Ascension. Like almost everything in Jerusalem, the spot has a multi-layered history, involving everyone from Emperor Constantine’s mother St. Helena (who supposedly identified many sacred Christian locations in the 4th century) to various Muslim rulers and many Christian pilgrims. In fact, tradition holds that the famous Muslim conqueror Saladin helped to protect the sacred site. Wikipedia has an overview of this long and tangled history. The chief feature of the shrine today is a place where the faithful believe that Jesus’s last footprint on earth is still visible.


This week, ReadTheSpirit features a review—and a colorful preview video—of the large-screen film touring the world: Jerusalem.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)