Please let us celebrate Ascension on Thursday again

A painting at St Peter and Paul Church in Mauren, Liechtenstein, depicts the Ascension (CNS photo from Crosiers)

If I have a special wish for this time next year it must be that we will all be able to celebrate Ascension Thursday on the Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and not on the Seventh Sunday, as at present.

The current arrangement, which has been with us for five years, has not been a great success. It is true that more people have been going to Mass for the Ascension, because it is now on a Sunday, but this comes at a cost, namely a tinkering with the Church’s year that breaks its rhythm, and that is something you really can’t do with time.

The restoration of the feast day to its true day (which seems to have near universal support) will mean that parish priests will have the opportunity to celebrate Mass in Catholic schools on that day, which will, if properly handled, give them an opportunity to evangelise.

Funnily enough, when Ascension and Corpus Christi were on their original days, I was working in a Catholic school, which like so many of our schools was staffed by non-Catholics, lapsed Catholics and, in many cases, anti-Catholics, and the moaning in the staff room about losing lessons on a Thursday morning so that the school could celebrate Mass was really something to behold.

But people who do not want to countenance Catholic worship ought not to get jobs in Catholic schools, ought they? Or is that me being simplistic?

My personal memories as a small child of Ascension Thursday were all good ones. On that day we got the whole day off school, and we went swimming – Ascension Thursday being regarded in Malta as the official start of the swimming season. In fact, rather than just having a lesson off to squeeze in Mass, it would be better for Catholic schools to make a whole day of it – to make the Ascension a proper feast.

The same applies to Corpus Christi. And if we get that day back, can we please think about processions? Their demise is deeply regretted by many. As a child, the one thing I remember with clarity is the Corpus Christi procession round the school grounds.

The trouble is, once the baton has been dropped, it is hard to pick it up again; and once a tradition has been broken, it is difficult to revive it. We have given up our holy days and the practices associated with them, but what have we gained in their place?

And while on this topic, can I make a plea for the Epiphany being restored to Twelfth Night? That tradition is ancient, and not to be lightly discarded. There is a Shakespeare play named after it too! It is a pretty good day, incidentally, to have your Christmas party.