May 5th, 2016 – Ascension Thursday
Although in many places throughout the United States and the world the Ascension is transferred from Thursday to Sunday, the Biblical evidence clearly indicates that our Lord did ascend to heaven on a Thursday, precisely forty days after his resurrection on Easter Sunday. The possibility of transferring Ascension Thursday to Sunday is yet another striking example of the “banality” of this “fabrication” which we call the Novus Ordo, to use the language of our dear “Father Benedict” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).
“One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth. The most blatant example of this is the reform of the Calendar: those responsible simply did not realize how much the various annual feasts had influenced Christian people's relation to time […] they ignored a fundamental law of religious life.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 81-82 (published by Ignatius Press).
“The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has distanced itself even more from its origin. The result has not been a reanimation, but devastation. In place of the liturgy, fruit of a continual development, they have placed a fabricated liturgy. They have deserted a vital process of growth and becoming in order to substitute a fabrication. They did not want to continue the development, the organic maturing of something living through the centuries, and they replaced it, in the manner of technical production, by a fabrication, a banal product of the moment.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in Revue Theologisches, Vol. 20, Feb. 1990, pgs. 103-104)
Why is it important to know that Jesus ascended into heaven on a Thursday? What is the significance of this fact?
To [the Apostles] also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
Forty Days from Easter Sunday is Ascension Thursday
Forty Days from Easter Sunday is Ascension Thursday
The first and most obvious reason why Jesus chose to ascend on a Thursday is this: Forty days after Easter Sunday is a Thursday. The number forty has great significance in Scripture, and thus the Lord desired to remain with his disciples precisely forty days.
To mention a few examples of the number forty in the Bible:
The Great Flood – rain for forty days and forty nights
Moses received the Law – after prayer and fasting for forty days and forty nights
The Israelite spies in the Promised Land – reconnoitered the land for forty days
Wandering in the Wilderness – for forty years
Elijah’s fast while traveling to Mt Horeb – forty days and forty nights
Jesus’ fast in the desert – for forty days
In the Biblical mindset, forty symbolizes a certain earthly completeness. There are “four corners” to the earth, and ten is a sign of perfection. Therefore, forty (ten times four) is a sign of the fullness of earthly time and existence. From this it is clear enough why Jesus remained with his disciples for forty days: He shows that the time of his earthly life has come to completion, and now an heavenly life alone is fitting for the One who has entirely overcome sin and death.
Forty Days Conquers the Forty Hours
St Thomas Aquinas gives another reason: As the Lord was dead for about forty hours (from 3 PM on Friday to perhaps just after 6 AM on Sunday), so it was fitting that he should remain alive with his disciples for forty days.
“Upon which the gloss says that ‘because He was dead for forty hours, during forty days He established the fact of His being alive again.’” (Summa Theologica III, q.57, a.1, ad 4)
It is worth noting that this recollection of the forty hours of our Lord’s death is also the inspiration for the Forty Hours Eucharistic Devotions which are perhaps the source for the modern practice of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. These forty hours spent in solemn adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament are an act of reparation and of love for the forty hours our Savior was dead and his sacred body lay lifeless in the tomb.
Thursday is the Day of the Eucharist
To these reasons, we add another: Thursday is the day in which Christ gave us the Eucharist. The Ascension is a movement in the life of the Church from the visible and tangible presence of Christ in his proper species to the real, true and substantial (but hidden) presence of Christ in his sacramental species. The Ascension is an invitation for the Catholic to find the selfsame Lord Jesus who walked upon the shores of the Sea of Galilee, now present in a new way in the Sacramental Life of the Church.
How striking it is the Jesus ascends on a Thursday! Removing his sensible presence from our sight, we are left with the most wonderful, mystical, and real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. When the Ascension is commemorated on Thursday, the Catholic heart cannot help but recognize this invitation to adore and receive Christ in the Eucharist!
[Then again, if the USCCB has moved Corpus Christi to Sunday as well, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that all of this is lost on most Catholics in the USA]