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Ascension Day

2009 May 21
by Gordon Reid

ntympdetsmHappy Ascension! Not as common a greeting as Happy Christmas or Happy Easter, but why not?

Today’s feast is as important an event in the life of our Lord and the history of his Church as Christmas and Easter, for today is the day we celebrate the return of the Son to the bosom of the Father, a return  that somehow made possible the descent of the Holy Spirit to fill the Church with the life and dynamism of God. All three Persons of the Trinity are in action today, as indeed they always are, but in a way that lets our limited human understanding envision them as acting separately.

In the High Mass this evening, the great Paschal Candle, which was lit on Easter Eve as the symbol of the risen Christ, will be extinguished after the Gospel in which the Ascension is proclaimed. His visible work on earth is over; so the visible candle is removed from sight. 

In the modern Western rites, the Paschal Candle is not extinguished until Whitsunday, since that is when modern liturgists have decided Eastertide ends. But this is a foolish development which should be reversed as soon as possible, since the symbolism of snuffing out the Light of Christ on the very day when tongues of fire burned on the apostles seems inept and meaningless. Far better return to keeping the Glorious Forty Days as Eastertide to balance the Forty Days of Lent before Easter.

Pentecost begins a new season of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, which will last until the end of the Christian Year, as his holy presence will last in the Church till the end of time. Then we begin a new year of grace with Advent Sunday.

Today St Clement’s choir will sing the lovely Mass setting by Tomas Luis de Victoria “Ascendens Christus in altum”. At the Offertory they will sing “God is gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump. Alleluia!” and the trumpet pipes of the organ will echo the trumpet that sounded on the other side when Christ returned victorious  that first Ascension Day.

One Response leave one →
  1. Stephen permalink
    May 25, 2009

    Dear Canon Reid, I wonder if you’d be kind enough to clarify a point for me. As one who is blessed to be near a parish which offers the Traditional Latin Mass in accordance with Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio, I noticed that the Paschal Candle was extinguished right after the Gospel on Ascension Day. I agree with you that it makes much more sense to say the Easter Season ends at this time. Yet, prior to High Mass this morning (Sunday May 24th) we were blessed while Vidi Aquam was chanted as opposed to Asperges Me. I thought Vidi Aquam was only for Eastertide. I would really appreciate your help with this admittedly minor detail.

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