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Scott P. Richert

Ascension Thursday Sunday?

By May 27, 2014

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A reader writes:

Why is Ascension Thursday a Holy Day of Obligation in some areas [of the United States] and not others?

This is a very good question. The simple, but confusing, answer is that Ascension is a Holy Day of Obligation everywhere in the United States. (See Holy Days of Obligation in the United States for the complete list.) It's just that, in most dioceses, the celebration is transferred from Thursday (40 days after Easter) to the following Sunday. Since Catholics are already obligated to attend Mass on Sunday, most people don't realize that Ascension is a Holy Day of Obligation--they think they're in church just for Sunday Mass.

The reader continues:

I know it is up to the diocese but WHY would it be a choice at all? I have many friends from other states, and I am the only one who is obligated to attend Mass on Thursday.

Now, we're getting to the heart of the matter. The reader is not quite correct: The decision is not left up to each diocese; rather, each ecclesiastical province in the United States is allowed to decide whether to transfer the celebration of the feast. (An ecclesiastical province is basically one large archdiocese and the dioceses that are historically associated with it. Generally, in the United States, there's one ecclesiastical province per state, with a few exceptions for historical reasons.) All of the ecclesiastical provinces in the United States have chosen to transfer the celebration except for Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and the state of Nebraska. With the exception of Nebraska, each of these is one of the oldest Catholic provinces in the United States, which may explain why they've chosen to stick with tradition.

But why is it a choice at all? The answer, whether we like it or not, is a combination of convenience and pastoral considerations. Attendance at Ascension Thursday Masses had been falling for years before the bishops of the United States, in accordance with canon law, petitioned the Vatican to allow the celebration to be transferred to the following Sunday. That meant that a lot of priests were celebrating extra Masses, while a lot of Catholics were violating a precept of the Church by not celebrating a Holy Day of Obligation.

Which takes us to the reader's final remark:

My feeling is that this is just one more reason for the Catholic Church failing in numbers. People have decided that if these rules can be changed they must not be important, and they ignore the other rules as well.

More on the Ascension:

May 22, 2007 at 3:21 pm
(1) Sandra says:

Interestingly enough, in predominantly Catholic Bavaria, Ascension Thursday is not only a Holy Day, but also a Holiday. Pretty much everything shuts down for the day. It is also the day that Father’s Day is celebrated.

May 23, 2007 at 12:17 pm
(2) Anne Ferry says:

Changing dates of Holy Days is very confusing and down-plays the importance of the event. I firmly believe Holy Days should NOT be changed.

May 23, 2007 at 7:18 pm
(3) Valerie Gebhardt says:

I feel that this is very hurtful to our Lord. We keep pushing His importance further and further away, and we have pushed Him more and more from our hearts with the sad excuse of our too busy lives. And we wonder why there is so much chaos in the world and such disorder. This is what happens when we live in a society that rejects God. I believe we as catholics should and must stand firm and constant in our faith without wavering. How many catholics now offend our good God by not even attending weekly Sunday Mass and receive Him in the most Holy Eucharist in a state of serious, mortal sin.

May 25, 2007 at 8:33 pm
(4) Fr. Kevin Laughery says:

I am in the midst of compiling an ordo for 2008. I am interested in knowing your source for the listing of provinces which do not transfer the Ascension.

I was just reading in The Tablet that Catholics in the UK are generally not happy about the transfer. They feel that Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox are properly keeping to tradition.

This reminds one of the effort of the World Council of Churches to arrive at a common date for Easter between East and West. Holding to common dates of feasts is always ecumenically friendly.

Maybe I am not sufficiently sensitive to this issue. (I was in seminary in Rome in the 1970s and 1980s and Italy had transferred the Ascension to Sunday back then.) But I am ecumenical officer of my diocese, and liturgical calendars are a hobby of mine, and I have to say there is a point in trying to keep to common dates for observances, especially from the ecumenical perspective. I must observe, however, that those who think that ambiguity about the calendar means that all rules and teachings are up for grabs had better acquaint themselves with the concept that there is a hierarchy of teachings in the Church: some being central (the Incarnation of the Son of God) and others more peripheral.

May 25, 2007 at 8:53 pm
(5) Ann says:

Christains have watered down our religion to be convenient to the point of effectively reducing its effectiveness. The Church must take responsibility to get the rules and teachings to people. The world gets its word out.

May 27, 2007 at 5:31 pm
(6) Scott P. Richert says:

Sandra, Anne and Ann, and Valerie have all raised an important point: Ascension is a very important day in the liturgical calendar of the Church. Not only is it a Holy Day of Obligation, but it is a solemnity, which is the highest rank that a feast can have. The reason is obvious: Christ’s Ascension not only is the capstone on His Resurrection, but it offers us proof that “the life of the world to come” will not be merely spiritual but physical as well. In other words, it offers us the truth about the wholeness of the human being, body and soul.

May 27, 2007 at 5:44 pm
(7) Scott P. Richert says:

Father, I found the listing of the provinces on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, though, sadly, I didn’t bookmark the page, and I’m having trouble finding it now.

I agree on the importance of keeping a common date for liturgical observances, and there’s no doubt that many Eastern Orthodox find the Catholic habit of transferring feasts to indicate, at best, a lackadaisical attitude toward the calendar.

But there are other reasons intrinsic to the calendar itself to resist the urge to transfer feasts. Ascension does not seem to have the same importance to Catholics today as it did in times past; and such things as the connection to the original novena, between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, have been lost because of the transfer.

There may, indeed, be sound pastoral reasons for transferring the celebration of the feast; but there’s no doubt that there’s also a trade-off in doing so.

May 29, 2007 at 1:20 am
(8) Shirley says:

Of course we should celebrate the Ascenion Thursday on the right day. However, it is a fact of modern life that you can not take time off work to go to church. People are travelling great distances and spending hours in traffic in some places, to get to work and home again.
I think one of the great mistakes of religeon is not to move with the times. We have become too cloaked in ceremony and religious observance and not in tune enough with the pain inflicted on people who can’t attend church on the ‘right’ day. Surely our God understands private worship in the heart, and wouldn’t allow the difference of three days to offend Him? Holy Days of Obligation are a man made doctrine. People are tired of being made to feel guilty about things they cannot feel any importance attached to.
If you are trying to work and feed your family, and taking Thursday off to go to the church at a time which your priest, bishop, whoever (not God!) has decided is a convenient time for them, would jeopardise your job, what do you think Jesus would say? I believe in my heart he would say “Feed Your Children, As I Feed Mine.”

May 29, 2007 at 12:28 pm
(9) Gina says:

I was very pleased that although our Diocese moved the “obligation” to Sunday, our Pastor (who is the only priest at our church) held Mass on Thursday for those that wanted to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist on the actual Feast Day.
I think one of my children said it best – “Mom, if they’re going to keep moving the Holy Days of Obligation to Sunday which is an obligation too, then why even have the “Holy Days.” I think they were making a point that we are not making the Holy Days special enough by combining them with another day/service. On a more simple scale, it’s like making all the kids celebrate their birthdays on the same day just so it can be more convenient for the ones throwing the party and the ones attending the party.
Just my personal opinion (and my family’s – which makes me very proud!)

May 29, 2007 at 1:13 pm
(10) Margo Algarra says:

I totally agree with Shirley! We aren’t taking anything away from our Blessed Lord by moving around a few man-made Holy Days! He wants us to be happy and productive and to take care of our families. Shirley is very right when she says today’s world is very hard driving and taking off to go church is a very difficult thing to do. If we have a good prayer life and love our neighbor, not going to church during the week is not going to offend our Lord. I teach my religous ed kids that the most important command He gave us is to love one another as He loved us – these words or similar -came from His mouth. Don’t foget another wise verse, “Where ever two or more are gathered in My Name, there also I will be. When we get home, we pray with our family at the table. What if you live alone? You and your guardian angel make two! Please remember, Jesus ( God and the Holy Spirit, our Triune Savior) loves us. Our scripture on Sunday calls to mind all the important parts of our celebration – Pentecost, Ascension, Baptism, etc. and I feel He is not worried about His faithful ever forgetting! Please, just remember the most important command – LOVE one another!

May 29, 2007 at 2:42 pm
(11) Scott P. Richert says:

The comments by Shirley and Margo illustrate the pastoral concerns that led to the Vatican’s decision to allow bishops’ conferences to petition to transfer the celebration of the Ascension to the Sunday after Ascension Thursday.

But they also illustrate some of the concerns that others have raised. Are Holy Days of Obligation really just “a man made doctrine”? They are, in all cases, feasts that celebrate central events in the life of our Lord and the Church. The Church has made their celebration a precept (a rule, not a doctrine) for that very reason.

It’s certainly true that men and women work very hard today–just as they did in times past. Sandra, in the first comment, brought up the celebration of Ascension Thursday in Bavaria. Imagine, in years past, when most of the population of Bavaria were farmers. Ascension Thursday often fell right in the middle of planting season. Yet peasants would still take the day off to celebrate the feast, and not merely attend Mass.

Getting off of work during the day is hard for most people, but today, most parishes offer a vigil Mass the night before a Holy Day of Obligation, and many offer a Mass the night of the Holy Day. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities to fulfill one’s obligation.

Two related remarks, the first from Shirley:

People are tired of being made to feel guilty about things they cannot feel any importance attached to.

And the second from Margo:

Please, just remember the most important command – LOVE one another!

The Church, as mentioned above, attaches great importance to the celebration of these Holy Days, so much so that She has made their celebration a precept. And the reason that She has done so is because their celebration is worship of the God Who created us, loves us, and saved us. Which reminds us that Christ, in Matthew 22:38-40, did not place “love one another” as the most important commandment:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

May 29, 2007 at 9:10 pm
(12) Dennis says:

I believe that most Catholics view Holy Days of Obligation as just that, obligations. For the average Catholic they may know the very basics of the days but they hold little meaning to them otherwise. Now that statement may not hold true for many posting on this site but for the average joe sitting in the congregation who merely goes through the motions of the faith he/she was taught it does. Sadly, many people of many faiths don’t understand enough of the religion they believe in to be legitimately functional in a celebration. To fully join in any celebration you need to know what the celebration is about. Yet these are the very types that the Church is bending to in order to make life easier. They need to read Isaiah to remind themselves what God thinks of offerings done out of obligation and ritual.

It should come as no surprise though. Look how two legs of Christ’s journey here on Earth are treated. At Christmas let it be forbidden that the right and proper toys aren’t under the tree. At Easter it’s the time for new spring clothes, candy and Easter Egg hunts. And let’s not forget about how well planned the family meal must be. Now, don’t get me wrong. Family gatherings and celebrations over these feasts are important. Popular and personal traditions are fun and memorable. But how many can honestly say that Christ is the topic of conversation at any point of the day other than at church and the blessing of their meal? I don’t mean when a small child asks about it. I mean adult conversation. I’ve heard of some very beautiful traditions done to pay honor to Christ from some in my parish. I have my own. It’s not make the day a solemn somber vigil. Rather these things are done as a personal reminder to all in the family outside the Mass. It brings the feeling of security to the family that Christ is not contained in the walls of the church we visit but He is here within our homes and lives as well. The Trinity should be paid honor and homage at the beginning and at the end of each Feast day. In between have all the fun and celebrating you can take. Even Jesus loved a good party (Wedding Feast at Cana for ex.)

I mentioned above that Christmas and Easter were two of the legs of Christ’s journey here. The third is the Ascension. Jesus was born fully human and fully Divine. That concept takes on a very profound meaning. To be fully human is to be composed of body, soul and spirit. Jesus did in fact have a human spirit and soul. Too often it is erroneously assumed that Jesus’ Divine nature was His soul. That would be God possessing a human body. Jesus was fully both and both natures fully attuned to one another. This is essential to our salvation and fulfillment in God. Jesus showed us the way to be born into this world, resist temptation as we walk through its sinful paths and always hold God as our reason for being. It is in His human nature that we are showed how to live our lives. It is in His human and Divine natures that we can be assured that we can indeed be one with God when we are ready.

Jesus was born to fulfill the Father’s promise. He began His Ministry to show us the way to live for the Father. He died as the sacrifice for our sins to the Father. He rose from the dead to free the souls that belonged to the Father from the grip death held on them. Finally He ascended back to the Father having fulfilled all that He had come here for. These are the legs of Jesus Christ’s journey here on Earth. I hope you will see how one leg was no less important than the others. They were all necessarry to make our salvation possible. Will it be upsetting to anyone’s schedule to make the time for God?

As a final note, when someone asks me what I do for a living I say I’m a Christian or I live for God. Then if they stare at me as if I have two heads for too long, then I tell them what I do for a paycheck. It’s that sort of priority that one needs to set straight for one’s life. I have a sucessful career but I know a career only lasts about 30 or 40 years. Eternity lasts a lot longer.
Take care

May 30, 2007 at 1:25 pm
(13) Fr. Kevin Laughery says:

Today on entering my tribunal office I found a copy of the latest newsletter of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. It gave the listing of the provinces that don’t transfer Ascension. I’m still puzzled as to why the list says “the state of Nebraska” rather than “Province of Omaha.”

May 30, 2007 at 6:59 pm
(14) Scott P. Richert says:

Ah–I can’t help you there, Father. The list that I found had it that way. I can offer a guess, but it’s only a guess–namely, that the province of Omaha does encompass the entire state of Nebraska, and is confined to the state, unlike the provinces of Boston and Hartford.

But that’s not a satisfactory answer, since the same situation applies to the provinces of Philadelphia, New York, and Newark.

April 28, 2008 at 5:50 pm
(15) john Christoforo says:

I think the whole idea is ridiculous and weakens the ultimate authority of the Church.
How can you ,on one occasion, not allow a holyday that falls on a Saturday to constitute a vigil mass to satisfy the Sunday obligation, and now completely change the date of a holyday to another day in the week?

April 28, 2008 at 5:58 pm
(16) Scott P. Richert says:

I prefer to celebrate holydays on the actual day (and, in fact, since I attend a traditional Latin Mass, our celebration of Ascension will be on Thursday).

But I’m not sure, John, that I’m following your argument. The fact that the Church can transfer the date of the celebration of a feast would seem to be an exercise of Her authority, not an undermining of it.

May 1, 2008 at 9:28 am
(17) JAMES ROWSON says:


May 1, 2008 at 9:41 am
(18) Scott P. Richert says:

Mr. Rowson, I’m certainly sympathetic to your argument, and, as I noted above, the oratory that my family and I attend celebrates Ascension on Ascension Thursday.

As for the question of Holy Days of Obligation and mortal sin, the Sisters of St. Joseph taught you right, and that teaching hasn’t changed. Check out my article on the Precepts of the Church, in which I explain that we are still required to assist at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation under pain of mortal sin, and my article Is Ascension a Holy Day of Obligation? In the latter, I explain that Ascension is always a Holy Day of Obligation, even when the celebration is transferred (with approval from the Vatican) to Sunday. Many people simply don’t think of it as a Holy Day when it is transferred to Sunday, because we’re already required to attend Mass on Sunday.

May 1, 2008 at 2:02 pm
(19) Pete says:

Shirley and Margo and others who think like them,

I know it’s not very brotherly, but my emotional knee-jerk reaction was to think you are spiritual idiots; but then I realized you are products of the watered-down Catholicism that some in our clergy are trying to push on us. I’ve been in the trenches, so to speak, and seen how it all plays out.

Some of those with influence in the American Catholic Church look around and see a shortage of priests, religious, and parishioners. Panic ensues. “They must be attending the new Holy Rock Church down the street. You know the one with the digital billboard and huge rock waterfall? What’ve they got that we don’t have? Oooohh Aaaahhh! A live band, laser-light show, and some killer preachin’! Word! Those preachers look cooool. I mean, they even have cool clothes, earrings, and tats! Wow, look at all the kids swaying to the rocking jam session and crying with their hands up-stretched towards the sky. We need some of THAT in our Church.” (never mind the fact that those crying kids leave their church as soon as the novelty act gets old, they get old, or both)

So, our shepherds come up with a plan. “The world’s sucking our flock away. All these modern pressures, divorces, jobs, busy schedules… it’s all really just too much. How can we compete? All we’ve got to offer is some ancient, druuid looking rituals performed by a bunch of old guys in robes, and the Communion. It might have worked to get the ill-educated peasants out of the fields, but c’mon. I mean, between soccer games, bills, and CSI, these people don’t have time to squeeze in ANOTHER weekday mass. Isn’t that being a little “authoritative”, like we’re running things? Besides, do we REALLY want our priests distributing Communion to half-empty churches? It’s 2008. C’mon, let’s get with it!”

Knodding heads. “Yeah yeah!! Here here!!”

“See guys, if we switch Holy Thursday, we get a two-fer. The lambs don’t have to put themselves out during the week, our preists have one less Mass to interrupt their ministries, and everyone’s smiling and feeling good as they leave Mass on Sunday a little early to get dibs on the Knights of Columbus free donuts.”

More knodding and high-fiving. “They’ll love us!” “We’ll be heros!” “Hey, they DID fill the Holy Day of obligation, so what’s the diff?” “Holy THURsday on a regular SUNday…Who would have thought it possible?!” “Su-weet”

“Wait a sec, fellas. Aren’t we forgetting one person in this equation?”

“Who’s that?”

“What about Jesus? You know, our Lord and Savior? Isn’t it pretty important to keep Holy Thursday on a Thursday coinsidering it’s a high feast honoring HIM? Isn’t it a good thing for the people to have to make exceptions for the Lord of the Universe–the One God who gave them life, sustains their every breath, and saved them from eternal death by dying on the Cross–instead of Christ and His real Bride, the Church, having to make exceptions for the people? Isn’t that a little like Moses having to allow divorce because of the people’s arrogance and hard-hearts? Isn’t the point for people to celebrate a foreshadowing of their own whole body ascenscion? Shouldn’t this be a HUGE point of Catholic teaching and one of the biggest CELEBRATIONS? Don’t we all have a duty to reject this world in favor of Christ’s Kingdom? I mean, aren’t we sending out a message that Church law, Holy days, sacred rites, etc. are just man-made laws from the old days that can change with the current zeitgeist? Doesn’t that leave room for notions of Church Doctrine being relative to the times we live in? I mean, what’s next? Are you gonna tell me that we should remove the Tabernacles from the center of the church because it’s too much trouble and wierd to genuflect and worship some mysterious “box”? Maybe we should stop having folks abstain from Friday meat because it’s too hard on modern families? Or maybe we should make fasting a little easier on folks so that they don’t experience any discomfort and lose the point and grace of fasting? Or completely strip away any remnants of Latin from the liturgy? C’mon guys, I mean, next you’ll be telling me that our top seminaries are teaching crazy things like Jesus is not really present in the Host, there is no such thing as the devil or evil, and most of the Old Testament is just elegant stories?! Ha, we might as well stop worrying about using proper reverance when accepting our Savior, use glass and ceramic dishes while consecrating the Body and Blood of our Lord, and try to use Doritos, cookies, and crumbly bread as matter for consecration!!!”

“Um, Bob?”


“That’s already going on around America.”

My point is, the Church shouldn’t have to cater to modernity, the “people”, or pressure from internal, secular-accomdating forces. We might live in a country of “We the People”, but Catholics are “We, the Body of Christ”. American Catholics aren’t leaving the Church because of its rigorous, man-made, laws and unfair, unmodern perspective. They’re leaving because the leaders are taking away any reason they should stay. They’re leaving because secular factions throughout the 20th century tried to strip the altars of everything sacred, mysterious, awesome, and holy. Because Catholic theologians are more interested in ecumenical dialogue and sharing with Protestants and every other religion than in ministering to the world and sharing the ONLY truth.

I agree. Why would I worship or take time out of my busy weekday night to yawn through a boring homily, listen to off-key bongo drums, watch undisciplined kids squirm,scream, and crunch on Cheerios, all just to stare at some wafer and wonder what I can make for a quick dinner?

HOWEVER, if our priests truly believed in the reality of Christ present in the Holy Eucharist and showed it in word and action, if our clergy and altar servers handled the Host like the most Precious Gold in the Universe; if we restored the mystery of the tabernacle in the front and center of all wo worship, the silence and hushed whisper of church as a sacred place, the silent wonder of children and the occasional loving rap on the back of the head for the mischievious child who forgets where they are, the example of parents who love and respect the King in their presence, homilies that focus on the reality of the Eucharist as the source of God’s love and Confession as a needed means for His Divine Mercy, the reality of Christ’s death, Resurrection, AND Ascension, and the possibility of our own damnation or ascension, perhaps…perhaps Catholics wouldn’t think it too much of an imposition or burden to say “No” to the demands of the world for one Thursday night in may out of love and passion for our Savior. WHo knows? Maybe we’d even look FORWARD to Mass and Communion on Sundays and try to make it to daily Mass to be fed by our Lord on a more consistent basis.

No Shirley and Margo. You’re not idiots. You’re the unfortunate victims of shepherds that have seen their flocks scrambling to get outside the gate, and out of misplaced compassion for their immediate gratification, they are opening the gate wider and wider. The only thing is they forgot the wolf waiting on the outside. Unfortunately, they’re killing us with kindness. There’s a huge difference between being the Light to a world in darkness and blowing out your Light so those in the dark don’t feel bad.

May 19, 2009 at 11:46 am
(20) Jodi says:

Leave Holy Days alone; it gives other faiths another reason to take a shot @ Catholics “changing rules” for convenience. If people choose not to attend, it is on them, not those who choose to go & celebrate this very important day in our Church.

May 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm
(21) Jackie Doherty says:

I agree with Jodi!

The Holy Days are meant to be!

Catholicism is a very obligatory religion if followed correctly.
It is also the toughrst Religion to follow, our pastor said so!
I am glad to go to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation.

If the Holy Day falls, say on a Monday or Friday, then its up to the diocese to deterime if the regular Holy Day will be observed or not.

God Bless you all!

May 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm
(22) Debbie says:

Jesus, the Mass & the Eucharist should always take precedence with foremost strictest adherence to Church Law and NOT be bent to suit some local whim. Jesus is pushed aside constantly in my Church. Push the mass aside because we need to use the sanctuary for band practice. Put Jesus in some out building and worship Him out there because we need to have a rehearsal in the main building. Push Divine Mercy Sunday out of our Church so a Boy Scout troop can present awards to themselves. Absolutely true, every word of it. Did you see the multiple-personality conflicting message the Church sent at Notre Dame? No wonder the Church is a mess. I had a hard time locating what is correct in my local parish & am still not sure. Nothing was printed in our bulletin except special attention for Veterans on 5/24/, my church calendar lists it as today 4/21 as the Holy Day of Obligation, so I called my Church. They said it was Sunday the 24th. What source is correct? My pastor is always misprinting/or not printing/or changing at the last minute especially “Holy Days of Obligation”. It absolutely infuriates me that, especially here in the US, the rules bend quite a bit, and are not strictly adhered to. Our Church is a mess and I am a very upset Catholic with each event that the Lord is stripped away in His own Church and in His own teachings. How little He is reverenced here. When did the Catholic Church in the US become an ala carte menu of selective teachings and truths? And more appalling, why do the Bishops turn a deaf eye and ear? Where are the true shepherds following Jesus and protecting the flocks here? Something is seriously wrong when the small sheep are bent out of shape at their shepherds for not properly “taking care of us, the flock.” We have to scramble and fend for ourselves out here to stay alive.

Each Bishop in each diocese needs to seriously take a look at the reality of what is really happening under their own noses. And whoever is above them needs to be looking just as intently at them, and so forth all the way up the ladder to Heaven.

May 23, 2009 at 1:13 am
(23) Susan says:

It is very difficult to know if a “Holy Day of Obligation” is still a “Holy Day of Obligation” where I live. It was never a problem to know as our previous pastors have always announced it at Sunday Mass ahead of time and included it in the Sunday bulletin. But when we got a new pastor a number of years back, he didn’t follow that tradition. One Assumption on Autgust 15, I only found out about it still being a holy day because I searched the internet. I found out at the last minute that time yes it still was “Holy Day of Obligation” so I was able to find a time to attend Mass although it was very inconvenient as I had to work and my parish only offered two or three Mass times and no vigil Mass the night before. I found it hard to understand how the huge parish of 6,000 could possibly accommodate the parishioners’ attendance with just two or three Masses on a weekday. I sent an e-mail to the pastor asking for holy days of obligation to be announced once again to aid parishioners in knowing about them but never received any response. Because many of us work and children have school, I think all “Holy Days of Obligation” should be announced ahead of time and enough Mass times should be available for parishioners to attend. I actually like when the holy days are transferred to Sunday as in this country, holy days are not holidays in most cases so attending limited Mass times is a difficult task. I truly wish Holy Days would become holidays like in some other countries. For example, today was actually a school holiday for children living in our school district in observence of Cesar Chavez. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could give the Holy Spirit as much respect as we give Cesar Chavez?

Susan in California

November 17, 2009 at 1:14 am
(24) Adrian Gallagher says:

It is a Mortal Sin not to attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation.

Say two people died on the Friday after Ascension Thurday and neither had attended Mass on the Thursday. According to what’s said above if one lived in a ecclesiastical province that had moved the celebration to the Sunday they’d be OK, but if the other live in a ecclesiastical province that hadn’t moved the celebration they’d be guilty of a Mortal Sin.

Do you think God takes into account where people live before determining if they should go to Heaven or Hell?

November 17, 2009 at 6:11 am
(25) Scott P. Richert says:

Do you think God takes into account where people live before determining if they should go to Heaven or Hell?

Do you think God takes into account any accidental characteristics in judging souls? Will the man who is not a father be judged differently (or at least, on the basis of different criteria) from the man who is a father? Single man versus unmarried man? Poor man versus rich? (“To him whom much has been given, much will be demanded.”)

Mr. Gallagher’s question is a common one, but the answer that he seems to have in mind is by no means obviously the right one.

November 19, 2009 at 6:23 pm
(26) Adrian Gallagher says:

Mr. Gallagher’s question is a common one, but the answer that he seems to have in mind is by no means obviously the right one.

So what is the answer, and why?

November 19, 2009 at 6:50 pm
(27) Scott P. Richert says:

Mr. Gallagher, I’m sorry if my answer was not sufficiently clear. We are judged on who we are, and that includes the accidental circumstances of our lives.

May 31, 2011 at 1:15 pm
(28) Susan says:

Interesting discussion. Where I live our parish celebrates Ascension on Thursday, with a vigil on Wed. evening and 2 Masses on Thursday. Between the three most people can fit in attendance. As for me, I am happy it is still on Thursday. I look at a Holy day as another opportunity to be in church. I am looking forward to it! When I was growing up in the 60′s and 70′s, everything in church practice kept changing and I eventually left the church, more like just drifted away because you never really knew what mattered and what didn’t. At least that’s how it seemed to me. After more than 20 years away from the Catholic Church my husband and I returned, had our marriage blessed in the Church and have been active members since. I have to say it is wonderful to be back and as an adult I am able to look at things from a different perspective than when I was growing up. I am all for traditional practices and hope that our church will soon have a Latin Mass. Anyway, my opinion is to keep Holy Days on their original days and not include them with Sundays. And as for who should conform to what, I think that Catholics should conform our lives to the teachings and practices of the Church, not that the Church should conform itself to popular culture in an attempt increase attendance. Such things simply weaken the Curch and leave everyone unsatisfied, if not confused.

May 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm
(29) Radiating says:

Too bad the Bishops didn’t take the “hint” given with the falloff of Catholics attending Ascension Thursday Mass. Maybe if the priests would teach about the IMPORTANCE of the Holy Day, and vivify it with enthusiasm, more Catholics would catch the fire necessary to have, in order to attend Holy Mass on an odd day of the week. This is an example of tearing down the unity of worship in America. If all Catholics were inspired by their pastors about the goodness of the Holy Days, there would be no problem getting the people to attend. Funny, the east coast with a greater population has no problem keeping the “inconvenient” tradition.

May 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm
(30) Scott P. Richert says:

You won’t get an argument from me—we attend the Traditional Latin Mass, so we celebrate Ascension on Thursday, even here in the ecclesiastical province of Chicago. Ultimately, it does come down to proper instruction, though in the five years I spent on the East Coast, I saw fewer people at Mass on Ascension Thursday than I did on an average Sunday. So even in places where the feast has not been transferred, additional instruction would be useful.

June 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm
(31) Stephen Hoyt says:

EWTN is the biggest televisor of masses in the whole United States and the world has chosen to divert the Ascension to Sunday. Cable systems all across United States carry EWTN that means the every diocese should make it Sunday. its is ridiculous and makes more and more people confused to ETWN on cable I get say Ascension is Sunday and the Dioceses of Rochester NY I live in say its Thursday

June 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm
(32) Scott P. Richert says:

Stephen, surely you jest? Every ecclesiastical province in the United States should have to move the celebration of the Ascension to Sunday, because EWTN is based in an ecclesiastical province in which Ascension is celebrated on a Sunday?

Should all of the dioceses in any country outside the United States transfer the celebration of Ascension as well, even though most countries still celebrate Ascension on Ascension Thursday? After all, EWTN is available through the Internet. Your argument, it seems to me, is equally valid there.

June 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm
(33) V says:

The holy-days are there to remind us of what God did for us, every year, every day, until the Kingdom comes. This way we literally and metaphorically live the scripture.

To fail to see the importance of the ASCENSION beggars belief. How many people have to be falling asleep in the pews or even fail to understand the most basic outline of Christian theology to think… “Eh, Jesus went up to Heaven. Big deal.” Really? Maybe it’s compassion fatigue after having been overstimulated during Easter. Nope, can’t be… in previous eras, that just wasn’t so. And historically… it was a festival that lasted for WEEKS. People really knew how to party back then.

So… to be honest, having traveled a bit, I can say that most parishes do a decent job during gospel reading and homily to explain the outlines of what’s going on, and get a vague notion of how it might be relevant to us trudging through this vale of tears…

So… that leaves one fact: (Quoting Chesterton)

“There is no such thing as an uninteresting subject, only uninterested people.”

I suppose it’s possible that through my wanderings I have been blessed with reasonably clear spoken homilists and articulate readings of scripture.

Ironically, my biggest problem was finding out that Ascension Thursday was, even historically on this date… until someone mentioned it to me at a prayer group that fell on Thursday. There was a bit of an argument (these were folks who get together WEEKLY for holy hour) and the attitude prevailed that there was no holiday even historically last Thursday. Nice.

They should continue with the masses said on Thursday even to a run of empty pews. Even if they don’t restore the Holy Day, they should at least make a bigger deal about it’s existence.

This recent convert’s two cents…

June 5, 2011 at 10:14 pm
(34) Scott P. Richert says:

Even if they don’t restore the Holy Day, they should at least make a bigger deal about it’s existence.

This, it seems to me, is the best argument for not transferring the celebration of any holy day of obligation. Far too many Catholics see little or no difference between any two particular Sundays in the liturgical year (Easter and Pentecost perhaps being the two exceptions). Feasts that are transferred to Sunday often simply get lost.

Yes, the readings for Ascension are used when the celebration is transferred to Sunday; yes, most priests will discuss the Ascension in their homilies. But that doesn’t mean that the folks in the pews are necessarily listening any more attentively than on any other given Sunday. And yet Ascension is not simply any old Sunday; it is the completion of Easter, the sure sign of life everlasting.

To lose sight of that is to begin to lose sight of Christianity as a whole.

May 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm
(35) Bob Widhelm says:

I am a ”cradle Nebraskan” as well as a ”cradle Catholic” and of an age that I was in the US Navy when the priests first faced the congregation. It all changed and I am proud that ”ALL OF NEBRASKA” is singled out as observing Ascension Thursday on Thursday May 17, 2012.

Nothing is stopping everyone from showing up for morning Mass on Thursday and showing your Bishop how wrong he was. We tend to express our opinions in words so now start protesting in actions.


God bless us all all & remember God is happy if we just think about him once a day. If we protested and attended Holy Mass it would be like giving Him a BIG HUG.


May 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm
(36) Paul Fox says:

I definitely think this is a “cop out” and demeans this very important Holy Day!!!!!

May 15, 2012 at 5:24 pm
(37) Elizabeth Cecilia says:

I think more people need to go to church, and make “Holy Days”
a day they ‘Have’ to go to church. I was born on Holy Thursday and,
it is a very important day. Don’t transfer it. Sunday is another day.

May 15, 2012 at 7:12 pm
(38) John Hughes says:

For several reasons I can understand the transfer of Asseccation from Thursday to Sunday
1. Most Catholics work for a living

2. We are now living in a society where fewer Catholics are willing to to Mass on Thursday, (sign of the time unfot tunately) also fewer Priests.

3. Due to very poor education on this issue most Catholics are not even aware of the fact that The Assencation is a Holy Day of obligation.

it is truly a sorry state of affairs the way society is going these days.

May 16, 2012 at 2:59 am
(39) Stephanie says:

I do feel it makes a big difference, we should be going to church on Thursday! It’s time that we all do the same thing.

May 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm
(40) Justin Reany says:

I am not a “Traditionalist Catholic” but I am a Traditional catholic and cannot rap my brain around why our bishops are moved more by convenience than the ancient traditions of the Faith. So numbers at Ascension Thursday Mass have been going down for years. Last time I checked, Sunday attendance isn’t sky-rocketing either! Should we transfer Sunday obligation to Friday for convenience sake? Last time I checked, our Lord Acsended 40 days after the Resurrection. Millions upon millions of Catholics for centuries have found the ability to get off their behinds and get to Mass. Pastors should look at it from a truly pastoral perspective: (1) It’s good for the faithful to go to one more Mass a week, (2) You get two opportunities in one week to preach the truth to the faithful that most likely go only once, (3) You get one more opportunity to collect revenue (that is probably the most convincing for our priests – sad to say!), (4) it is the ancient tradition of the Church and there is no spiritually convincing argument why it should be transferred to Sunday. If the Bishops continue down this road they are going to dishearten the true Catholiccs that like the Church and confirm the tepid in not putting forth the effort to grow in faith. That’s just my opinion.

May 16, 2012 at 6:56 pm
(41) Beth says:

We are a small missionary church in Oregon. The priest has chosen to say Mass on Ascension Thursday at 7AM. We will be lucky if one person shows up. Other churches in Oregon will celebrate on Sunday.
Are we really one, holy, catholic and apostalic.
Are we really on the right path?

May 17, 2012 at 1:18 am
(42) Raymond Atkinson says:

sension on its’ correct day. This is just another example of warering down our faith and traditions.

May 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm
(43) Rebecca says:

It is very sad but true that less people are attending mass on Sunday let alone Holy Days of Obligation due to the lack of morals and ethics in our religious weakened society. In order to compensate for this, we need to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord on a Sunday but we should also celebrate it on the original day which is Ascension Thursday. We should add to it, not take away!

May 18, 2012 at 12:34 am
(44) Gabriel says:

People are just to busy for Jesus. Here Christ sacrificed His entire life for humanity, yet people are too busy to sacrifice 1 hour on a Thursday. Unfortunately these days people give more of their time to television than to God..

May 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm
(45) Maureen says:

Your article today re: Holy day of Obligations didn’t anwer my questions.
Still don’t understand why not attending a Holy Day of Obligation shoud be cosidered a mortal sin. Wouldn’t it just be better if the importance of the day (e.g., Ascension) were taught, perhaps on the Sunday before the actual day?

I won’t ask you my questions again as I don’t want pat answers. Telling me the Church knows what is good for me doesn’t cut it.

May 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm
(46) Scott P. Richert says:

“Telling me the Church knows what is good for me doesn’t cut it.”

You mention that you read Why Does the Catholic Church Have So Many Man-Made Rules? but that’s certainly not what I said in the piece. In fact, I specifically said that we’re bound to get frustrated when “those who should know . . . —that is, the priests of our parishes—respond with something like ‘Because the Church says so.’”

I then went on to write about why the Church requires us to worship God on Sundays (and, by extension, Holy Days of Obligation):

Man was made to worship God; it’s in our very nature to do so. Christians, from the beginning, have set aside Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, for that worship. When we substitute our own will for this most basic aspect of our humanity, we don’t simply fail to do what we ought; we take a step backward and obscure the image of God in our souls.

Or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains (para. 2041):

The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor . . .

To fail to do the “very necessary minimum” places our souls in peril. That is why the Church binds us under the pain of mortal sin, in order to make it clear to us how dangerous it is to place our own wills above what we owe to God.

“I won’t ask you my questions again as I don’t want pat answers.”

What, Maureen, would you consider to be an answer that isn’t “pat”? I don’t mean that as a provocation; I’m just wondering what kind of justification you would find convincing.

May 20, 2012 at 11:57 pm
(47) Efua says:

One of the saddest consequences of transferring the Ascension Thursday obligation to Sunday, is that we lose the connection to the first novena that was crowned with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. The Holy Spirit Novena is supposed to start on Friday, the day after the Lord’s ascension. Hmmm … I wonder who benefits when most people forget to pray the Novena to the Holy Spirit because Ascension Thursday is not observed? It is certainly not the church! It is remarkable, that every easing of obligation, every watering down of practice that was supposed to encourage more participation of the faithful, has had exactly the opposite effect. Bishops, please take note!

May 21, 2012 at 12:02 am
(48) Efua says:

Would you be willing to help organize a movement to bring Ascension observance back to Thursday? You would have many supporters.

May 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm
(49) Clara Schoppe says:

I went to Ascension Thursday Mass in my own parish in the Diocese of Burlington, VT.

I was surprised, when I visited my sister in another diocese, and went to Sunday Mass with her, that her parish was celebrating the Feast of the Ascension on that Sunday.

My own parish CELEBRATED the Feast of the Ascension on Ascension Thursday, and everyone went out of their way to make sure Mass took precedence over the normal activities of that day (eg skipping practice to get to Mass).

Then my parish CELEBRATED the Seventh Sunday of Easter. I think my home parish got it right.

July 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm
(50) paulette says:

Yes, I believe that changing the Holy Days of Obligation does downplay their importance. In Catholic School we were taught that these days were written in stone. We were to attend Mass on those days, and those days only—-no substitutions. We were also taught that to miss Mass on these days or on any Sunday (without a good reason) was a Mortal sin, and most Catholics know the penalty for Mortal sin.
However, now it seems that each region of the U.S. Catholic Churches differ according to convenience. Since when has convenience become a good excuse? If something is no longer a Mortal sin, it was never a Mortal sin to begin with.

May 7, 2013 at 3:14 pm
(51) Mary Carroll says:

I believe Holy Days should be properly observed on the day they naturally fall, be that Sunday or any other day of the week. Unfortunately, my work schedule precludes my attendance Masses observed in the evening. I had to “fight” to get Sunday mornings available!

May 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm
(52) Carol Woosley says:

What puzzles me is that the Assumption of Mary is not transferred to Sunday, yet the Ascension, a Solemnity of Our Lord, described in the Bible, is often transferred. I imagine this pains Mary as much as it does Our Lord.
I wonder if those who don’t bother to observe Ascension Day on Thursday might also be found sleeping when Our Lord returns in judgement? Let all of us who care, pray the novena beginning next Friday for the Holy Spirit to reignite the fire of love, for God and our fellow man.

May 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm
(53) Michael says:

Sometimes the more you tamper with something to make it more appealing to a greater audience all that happens is you cheapen the brand.

May 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm
(54) Jan says:

A holiday of obligation is a holiday of obligation. Period….

May 7, 2013 at 9:26 pm
(55) Bobby says:

I firmly believe that Ascension Thursday should be celebrated on Thursday 40 days after Jesus Resurrection. At our Parish the evening Mass on Ascension Thursday our church is almost filled and several Choir members are also there to help lead the singing.If,people attend Holy Thursday,Good Friday,and Christmas Midnight Mass no matter what day of the week it falls then why should Ascension Thursday be changed to Sunday.

May 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm
(56) Bill Bailey says:

We should Celebrate The feast day on Thursday, Ascension Thursday, and our Priests should Lovingly give his Congregation the reasons for making the Sacrifice, such a small Sacrifice, to gain Eternal Life!

May 8, 2013 at 1:00 am
(57) Maria Zuniga says:

The dates of Holy Days of Obligation should not be changed. Changing the dates down-play the importance of what we celebrate. I think we should celebrate Ascension Thursday on Thursday.

May 8, 2013 at 4:56 am
(58) Veronica says:

why is it that human beings likes comfort more than any other thing, what will take someone to week up in the morning prepare and went for mass and comes back. I must confess that in Nigeria here we are trying because if you to our daily morning masses you will not believe that is not Sunday mass.

May 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm
(59) Yomisma says:

My husband is traveling today from Philadelphia, where we live, to California. He is gong on a business trip. I told him that he does not need to go to mass tomorrow because is not a Holy Day of Obligation in California. A group of friends told me that he is bound to his archdioces… What should he do?

May 9, 2013 at 6:12 am
(60) Joseph says:

I believe changing Ascenseion Thursday to a Sunday bypassing tradition is not good for the church. Much of the Catholic Church is just that tradition. What about priests getting married? What about other traditions/rules that if not hard to follow just change them against the traditions of the church. It makes the Ascension appear to be less important than the other holidays that were not changed.

May 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm
(61) SaleBoat says:

I believe all of this changing of how Mass is celebrated and changing of dates is being directed straight from hell. Return to being a beacon of LIGHT in the world Holy Church!

May 9, 2013 at 6:01 pm
(62) Emmertt McMahon says:

I have yet to see anyplace in our Bible, the Old or New Testament that God asked – “And what day of the human calendar does it make it more convenient for the Human Being?”

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