19 And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sits on the right hand of God. 20 But they going forth preached every where: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed. (Mk. 16:19-20)
50 And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them and was carried up to heaven. 52 And they adoring went back into Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen. (Lk. 24:50-52)
2 until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up — 3 to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:2-3)
|Ascension of Christ (Dali)|
Church Services for Ascention
This year (and, if I'm not mistaken, every year) in the United States, Roman Catholics celebrate Ascension Thursday on Sunday because the US Conference of Catholic Bishops - USCCB - has moved the Solemnity to Sunday. Normally, this feast day is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that Catholics treat it as we would (read: should) every Sunday, by attending Mass and refraining from work and unnecessary activities that detract the day's holy nature. Why is the celebration moved? I have heard the explanation that Holy Days of Obligation are often moved to Sunday in the US to consolidate two days of obligatory Mass into one. Thus, the faithful are not obliged to attend Mass more than once that week. Since it's a big no-no (cardinal sin) to miss Mass, it's important that the Church is clear that you aren't required to attend on Thursday. There are, of course, days that you are required to attend church outside of Sunday (most seem centered around Christmas and Easter), but it seems that for many of these feasts, the USCCB makes an effort to move the obligation and make it easier for parishioners to meet the expectation.
Attending when you don't have to
I was blessed to be able to attend a daily Mass on Thursday, and I do mean blessed. My return to work has allowed me that little freedom. It is a true pleasure to go to Mass during the week! I've spent nearly 3 year struggling through Sunday Mass with little one(s), unable to focus on anything other than keeping them still and quiet. Often, I wondered why I was even there - I didn't hear the homily, I didn't remember the readings, and my hurried prayer to confess sins seemed (though I was assured otherwise) insufficient to allow me communion. It was knowing that my family's presence was still of great benefit to us that kept me in the pew each Sunday - all the way through the recession (I think it's important to thank the host of a dinner party and not just bolt out as soon as dessert is over).
As time progressed, I saw fruit from "muscling through" each week. My older child has grown accustomed to the quiet discipline (or at least semi-discipline) that Mass requires, and I believe that her weekly exposure to the experience is credited, at least in part, for the obvious influence of Christ in her life. At only 3 years old, she talks about Jesus multiple times of day without being prompted, is greatly comforted by prayer, and can recognize Christ, Mary, and St. Michael in paintings. It's also helpful for me to remember that the trials of going through church are refining for my character and soul, since being a mother is my greatest calling, even my vocation from God.
|Traditional Ascension Icon|
It's a very popular idea that we should "get something out of going to church." The notion of "being fed" by the content of a worship service is a wonderful one, but I earnestly believe it is not a deal breaker. Yes, we should be fed (Jn 21:15), but we do not worship for us. We worship for Him. If you are going to a Sanctuary to receive, there is a real element of selflessness missing from your relationship with God.
I say all this to point out that I went to church, even when the entire time was spend bouncing from pew to cry room to parking lot, tending crying infants or fetching my little pony from three rows up or worrying about the incessant ruckus. I'm glad I went. But man, it's nice to go to daily Mass while my sweet, wonderful, boisterous babies are in daycare.
The real blessing of worship
So often, I take these little things for granted. It's easy to do - very human, very natural. Thank God that he reminds me of the value of those small blessings in subtle ways. I know that, this week, I was not obliged to go to Mass on Thursday, but wow - it was really a pleasure to go anyway.
- "All About Ascension Day," ChurchYear.net, http://www.churchyear.net/ascension.html.
- "Home," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, http://www.usccb.org/.
- "Feast of the Ascension," Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01767b.htm.