« Asbury, Francis Ascension, Feast of the Ascension of Paul »

Ascension, Feast of the

ASCENSION, FEAST OF THE: In Acts i, 3 the fortieth day after the resurrection is designated as that of Christ’s ascension. The Epistle of Barnabas (xv), on the other hand, grounds the observance of Sunday on its having been the day marked by both the resurrection and the ascension. If this is to be reconciled with the Acts, it can only be by the assumption that Luke counts four weeks as four decades, just as later ecclesiastical usage numbers the Sundays before Lent in this loose way as Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima; but the “forty days” of the Acts sounds too definite for this hypothesis to be accepted. The Christian Church has observed this commemoration on the Thursday of the sixth week after Easter since it has been observed at all, which could only be after the festivals of Easter and Pentecost were firmly established. Origen does not know the festival (Contra Celsum, viii, 23). It is mentioned, however, in the Apostolic Constitutions (v, 19, viii, 13); and Chrysostom has a homily for it, besides referring to it in another place. Socrates (Hist. eccl., vii, 26) mentions, under the year 390, that the people celebrated it as an established custom in a suburb of Constantinople. In the West its observance has been thought to be attested by an obscure canon of the Council of Elvira (306); in any case, Augustine knows it as an old one (Epist. liv. ad Januarium). Its celebration was specially solemn. The paschal candle, lighted at Easter to symbolize the resurrection of the Light of the World, is extinguished after the Gospel in the high mass of that day throughout the Roman Catholic Church, signifying the departure of Christ from earth. The Lutheran Reformation in Germany retained the feast as Scriptural; and it is observed as one of the principal festivals in the Anglican communion.

(Georg Rietschel.)

Perhaps the earliest reference to the feast extant is that of the Peregrinatio Etheriæ (c. 380), which states that a feast of the Ascension was celebrated in Jerusalem toward the close of the fourth century, coinciding with the festival of Pentecost and observed on the same day. The feast marks the close of the paschal season and is a holyday of obligation in the Roman Catholic Church. In the Latin liturgy the term “ascension” is used exclusively of our Lord. J. T. C.

Bibliography: A. Baillet, Les Vies des saints, avec l’histoire des fêtes mobiles, Paris, 1701; F. Probst, Brevier und Breviergebet, § 93, Tübingen, 1868; DCA, i. 145-147; N. Nilles, Kalendarium manuale utriusque ecclesiæ, ii, 364, Innsbruck, 1881.

« Asbury, Francis Ascension, Feast of the Ascension of Paul »





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