THIS WEEK IS WEIRD FOR CATHOLICS IN THE USA
Saint Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:3, 9 – also Deuteronomy 8:2
Brothers and Sisters,
I am sure that all of us are familiar enough with celebrating a birthday near the actual anniversary but not on the exact date. Growing up with parents who worked for the government, I became familiar with what the Federal government called “observed” holidays – which referred to events commemorated not-necessarily on the actual anniversary of the event. For example, when the Independence Day lands on a weekend, the Federal employees observe the holiday on another date, such as the Friday beforehand or the Monday afterwards.
More commonly, we have events like Thanksgiving Day. In this case, the actual date of the first thanksgiving feast is not relevant; we set aside the Fourth Thursday of each November to celebrate (or “observe” it), regardless of when the actual first event took place. Unlike Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day does not have the same date each calendar year – Christmas is always 25 December; whereas the date of Thanksgiving in 2020 was 26 November, and now Thanksgiving will be on 25 November in 2021.
Much less known is what the Church in the United States will see in the coming week: the celebration of an event that will be observed on, get this, two different days.
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is going to be celebrated, well . . . soon. Here’s how complex this is:
- Easter, like Thanksgiving Day, does not have a set date for its celebration. Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of November; Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the vernal equinox (that is, the first day of Spring). Are you with me so far?
- Ascension is always the fortieth day of Easter (that is, Easter Sunday, plus thirty-nine days)
- in 2020: Thursday, 21 May
- in 2021: Thursday, 13 May
- <—— so why does Father Ploof have Ascension of the Lord listed as on Sunday, 16 May (not forty but a full forty-three days after Easter Sunday)?!?
As I said, it’s complicated. Most of the world will indeed celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, 13 May – forty days after the Resurrection (see: Acts of the Apostles 1:3-9). It so-to-speak should be on that day (13 May). Many bishops of the United States, however, have worried that it is difficult to get people to Mass on Thursdays in the Spring. In response to this concern, the Vatican (that is the Pope’s offices in Rome) have allowed each Diocese in the United States to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord on either the proper day (forty days after Easter) or on the first Sunday following the fortieth day of Easter.
I certainly wish that we knew the actual dates of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension. Given, however, that the Holy Faith was illegal for 300 years, I can’t fault the early Christians for focusing on survival over anniversary dates.
God be near,
Father Jeremy, pastor
CATHOLIC 101: WHY DOESN’T EASTER HAVE A FIXED DATE?
Christmas is always 25 December but Easter does not have a fixed date each year; Easter was on 12 April 2020 but also on 04 April 2021. The reason for these seemingly different ways of dating the Christian-historical events is practicality. The Faith was both illegal and spread across a number of languages and nationalities when it began. The various countries where the early Christians lived did not have the same calendars nor did they even measure time the same way. To unite Christians in celebrating both Christmas and Easter, they counted on the Spring equinox – the first day of Spring. Around the Vernal Equinox, the Christians would celebrate Annunciation – the conception of the Lord; nine months later, (Winter Solstice), came Christmas. Similarly, for Easter the Christians said: on the Vernal Equinox, wait for the next full Moon, and THEN – on the following Sunday – now celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. Again, they were venerably practical: no internet or smartphones, they found a way to be united with each other, even though it was illegal.