40 days after Easter; or maybe 43
40 Days after Easter
Today you are celebrating the Ascension. Or, you are not. In the United States, if you live in most dioceses east of the Mississippi River, you are celebrating Ascension at its traditional time: 40 days after Easter. If you live largely west of the Mississippi River, you are celebrating Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter.
In 1998, the US bishops approved a resolution, confirmed by the Vatican, to move Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday, replacing the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The push to do so came largely from bishops in the western United States, where the distance between church communities was great.
I did not like the change then, though since I was serving in an Ecclesiastical province that chose to leave Ascension on a Thursday, there was really no change. The importance of maintaining the biblical number 40 as a count for the days after Easter, and the nine days between Ascension Thursday and Easter Sunday (the basis for the novena, or nine days) seemed compelling reasons enough for leaving things alone.
At the same time the issue of travel in the western United States especially was one that probably should have been considered, and so the move to Sunday, for pastoral reasons, was one solution to this challenges of distance.
Regardless of the actual time the Ascension is celebrated, it remains an important feast to celebrate. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven really matters. Why>
It is the completion of Jesus’ earthly mission. In Jesus ascending to the Father, the earthly mission of salvation Jesus came to complete has, indeed, been completed.
We know Jesus for who he really is. Jesus returns to the Father, and His identity as the divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is made clear. He is at the right hand of the Father. Where he has gone, we long to follow.
We are now sharers in the mission. It is at the Ascension that we are given the mission to go to all the world, teach and baptize. The paschal mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, made complete on Easter Sunday is now shared by us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. So with the Ascension of Jesus, we are now empowered to go forth in the name of Jesus to share the Good News.
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