Thursday, Catholics will again come to grips with the Great Ascension Thursday Switcheroo. Like Epiphany, the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday (in most of the United States including local Dioceses). Unlike Epiphany, the Ascension is a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States. Therefore, there is often a cause for confusion for the faithful:
- do we still have the obligation to assist at Mass on Thursday?
- can the Feast of the Ascension be celebrated on Thursday?
- does the traditional calendar still apply to the traditional Mass?
Well, I will try to help.
First, Sundays are always obligatory, so Ascension “Sunday” is of course a day of obligation. As lamentable and illogical as moving Ascension Thursday to Sunday remains, however, the decision of the Bishops’ conference to do so does remove the obligation to assist at Mass on Thursday. So a Catholic does not sin by failing to assist at Mass on that day, regardless of the form of Mass one chooses.
On the other hand, in response to a dubium submitted by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales in 2008, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei clarified that the traditional Missal presupposes the traditional calendar. [(update) Universae Ecclesiae further confirmed this fact]. In other words, the Vatican confirms that it is perfectly legitimate that the Mass of Ascension Thursday actually be the Mass of Ascension Thursday. And further the PCED stated that it was “appropriate” that the Feast of the Ascension also be celebrated on the transferred Sunday.
The PCED’s confirmation of the legitimacy of the nearly two millenia-old tradition of celebrating our Lord’s Ascension on that Thursday does not surprise. What is noteworthy is that although the PCED finds it appropriate to also celebrate it on Sunday, it does not require it.
All of which I relate to clarify the situation for readers. That being said, why not go Thursday to a Church that celebrates the Feast on its proper day?