Ascension Thursday and Holy Days of Obligation

On May 30, the whole worldwide Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. The account of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is found in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20.

Scripture scholars tell us that there are two great “faces” to the celebration. First, the mission of the apostles is transformed from being learners to being teachers. Jesus gave them the mission: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”

Second, there is a reminder for all the followers of Jesus in every age, that we are also responsible for carrying on the message of the Gospel through our words and deeds. Our mission is to prepare the world for the coming reign of God.

Certainly, the message of the Ascension is significant, but is the Ascension a “holy day of obligation”? Well, it depends on where you live. In 1991 the bishops of the United States established that Ascension Thursday was one of the six days of Obligation to be observed throughout the entire country.

Then in 1999, because of some differences of opinion, it was decided that the bishops of every ecclesiastical province of the country could make a decision about Ascension Thursday for their own people. (An ecclesiastical province is a group of dioceses. There are 33 ecclesiastical provinces in the United States).

So now, in 2019, Thursday, May 30 is a Holy Day of Obligation if you live in the six ecclesiastical provinces of the Northeast, or in Nebraska. The Northeast provinces cover eight states on the Atlantic Coast, from Maine to Pennsylvania, and Nebraska is the ninth. In the remaining forty-one states, the celebration of the Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

Whether the obligation is yours or not, the meaning and message of the Ascension are worthy of our attention and prayer.

~ Sister Elissa Rinere, CP