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Monday, May 21, 2012
Understanding Ascensiontide: Ascension Thursday through Vigil of Pentecost

Of all the seasons that the Modern Novus Ordo Catholic Calendar has neglected to properly retain and celebrate, Ascensiontide has, like Epiphanytide, unfortunately fallen by the wayside.  But, for those Catholics committed to the Sacred Traditions of the past, Ascensiontide holds a special length of time.

So what exactly is Ascensiontide and what customs do traditional Catholics observe during this time?

Ascension Thursday

Taking place 40 days after Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates Our Lord's Glorious Ascension into Heaven. The Ascension has three principal parts: the departure of Jesus from earth, His going up into heaven, and taking His place at the right hand of the Father.  Let us not forget the importance of celebrating this feast on Thursday - as opposed to the following Sunday.  In so doing, the Faithful lose the significance and importance in the fortieth day after the Resurrection.  It was precisely on the fortieth day after our Lord's Resurrection that He ascended into Heaven.

Regarding the place from which Christ ascended, Sulpicius, bishop of Jerusalem, says, and the 'Gloss' also says, that when a church was built [on the Mount of Olives] later on, the spot where Christ had stood could never be covered with pavement; and more than that, the marble slabs placed there burst upwards into the faces of those who were laying them. He also says that footmarks in the dust there prove that the Lord had stood on that spot: the footprints are discernible and the ground still retains the depressions his feet had left.

Fisheaters further shares some of the great regional customs for this High Feast Day and Holy Day of Obligation:
Something else wonderful happens in Italy on the Feast of the Ascension and the days following: in Venice, there is a clock tower in the Piazza San Marco. This marvelous clock, made in A.D. 1499 (and recently restored) indicates not only the minutes and hours, but the days, months, Zodiacal signs, and phases of the Moon as well. At the top of the tower are two large figures known as the Moors ("Mori"), who signal the hour by striking a large bell. Underneath them is a large, golden lion -- the symbol of St. Mark, patron of Venice. Underneath this is a niche which holds a figure of Our Lady and her Son. Twice a year -- on the Feast of the Epiphany and during the festivities surrounding the Ascension (known as "la Festa della Sensa" in Venice) -- doors on either side of Our Lady open up, and out come the three Magi, led by an angel. The angel and Kings make their way around Our Lady and Jesus, the angel regaling them with his trumpet, and the Kings bowing and removing their crowns

Season of Ascensiontide

For this season of Ascensiontide, Catholics are welcomed and encouraged to immerse themselves in the devotions appropriate for the season.  For example, during this season there are special prayers for the time between Ascension and Pentecost.

In the pre-1962 calendar this was an 'octave', and remnants of the octave can be found in the Office as it now stands.  The appropriate texts for the minor hours (except for the collects) are set out in the psalter. For the collects, Lauds and Vespers however, you need to keep your ribbon on the page for the Ordinary of Ascensiontide. The key points to note are set out below.

At Lauds
  • the antiphons are as for Eastertide;
  • the chapter is Conresuscitavit..., MD 384*
  • the short responsory is Ascendit Deus, MD 384*
  • the hymn is Iesu, nostra redemptio, MD 384-5*
  • versicle Dominus in caelo, MD 385*
  • Benedictus antiphon (note that this is used each day except where displaced by a feast, Sunday etc), Ascendo, MD 386*
  • the collect for Friday is on MD 386, for Saturday is of the Little Office of Our Lady, for Sunday, of the Sunday, MD 391* (except in places where Our Lady Help of Christians or another feast is celebrated), for the week after, MD 386*
At Prime
  • the antiphon is as noted in the psalter, Alleluia
At Terce, Sext and None
  • the antiphon is alleluia, as noted in the psalter
  • note that the chapters and versicles are in the psalter for Ascensiontide (Tempore Ascensionis).
At Vespers
  • the (single) antiphon is alleluia, as for Eastertide;
  • the chapter is Conrescuscitavit, as for Lauds, MD 384*
  • the responsory is Ascendens, MD 388*
  • the hymn is Iesu, as for Lauds, 384-5*
  • the versicle is Ascendit, MD 388*
  • the antiphon for the Magnificat each day (unless displaced) is O Rex, MD 388*
  • the collects are as for Lauds. 
Via Saints will Arise 

Vigil of Pentecost and Octave of Pentecost

The Mass for Pentecost was formerly celebrated during the night and has since been anticipated.  It seems that the Vigil was modeled on that of Easter.  As on Holy Saturday, a vigil was kept during the night of Pentecost Sunday to prepare for the Sacrament of Baptism.  The Feast of Whitsun - the term Whitsunday is another name for Pentecost alluding to the white vestments of the neophytes - is as ancient as that of Easter.  The Saturday following the Octave of Pentecost officially begins the Season After Pentecost.

While the Novus Ordo calendar unfortunately only has 2 octaves, traditional Catholics will be familiar with the idea of multiple overlaping Octaves.  The practice of celebrating an Octave, while not only traced to the time spent by the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary awaiting the Paraclete, also has its origins in the Old Testament eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36) and the Dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:9). Very truly, Christ did not come to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it.

By the 8th century, Rome had developed liturgical octaves not only for Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, but also for the Epiphany and the feast of the dedication of a church.

After 1568, when Pope Pius V reduced the number of octaves (since by then they had grown considerably), the number of Octaves was still plentiful.  Octaves were classified into several types. Easter and Pentecost had "specially privileged" octaves, during which no other feast whatsoever could be celebrated. Christmas, Epiphany, and Corpus Christi had "privileged" octaves, during which certain highly ranked feasts might be celebrated. The octaves of other feasts allowed even more feasts to be celebrated.

To reduce the repetition of the same liturgy for several days, Pope Leo XIII and Pope St. Pius X made further distinctions, classifying octaves into three primary types: privileged octaves, common octaves, and simple octaves. Privileged octaves were arranged in a hierarchy of first, second, and third orders. For the first half of the 20th century, octaves were ranked in the following manner, which affected holding other celebrations within their timeframes:
  • Privileged Octaves
    • Privileged Octaves of the First Order
      • Octave of Easter
      • Octave of Pentecost
    • Privileged Octaves of the Second Order
      • Octave of Epiphany
      • Octave of Corpus Christi
    • Privileged Octaves of the Third Order
      • Octave of Christmas
      • Octave of the Ascension
      • Octave of the Sacred Heart
  • Common Octaves
    • Octave of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM
    • Octave of the Solemnity of St. Joseph
    • Octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
    • Octave of Saints Peter and Paul
    • Octave of All Saints
    • Octave of the Assumption of the BVM
  • Simple Octaves
    • Octave of St. Stephen
    • Octave of St. John the Apostle
    • Octave of the Holy Innocents
As one can notice, the Octave of the Pentecost ranked even higher than the Octave of Christmas!


del_button May 21, 2012 at 1:58 PM
Anonymous said...

One of the things that really irks me about the state of Catholicism in the United States is the continual moving of most holy days to the nearest Sunday. Yes, there is the benefit that more people will then hear the great readings and sermons that are preached about them, but it then reduces the times that people have, basically, any reason to come to church to those 52 Sundays (and Christmas) a year.

As a former church musician, this was especially annoying, because it gave us even *less* time to sing great songs.

del_button May 21, 2012 at 2:41 PM
Chris Whittle said...

Unfortuantly, most Novus Ordo parish transfer Ascension and Epiphany to Sunday when they aren't supposed to be transferred. However, the USA has an indult to move Corpus Christi to the following Sunday which dates back to the reign of Leo XIII.

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