Liturgical confusion about Holy Days of Obligation abounds since the United States bishop decided to shuffle the cards and provide various options for the celebration of certain Holy Days of obligation. Last weekend, I was at the New Jersey shore and was pastorally reminded by my local pastor (Camden Diocese) that Ascension Thursday was approaching, and indeed was a Holy Day of obligation. When, I got home on Sunday, my local pastor (Wilmington Diocese) dutifully reminded me that Thursday was no longer a Holy Day of obligation and the observance of the solemnity was transferred to the following Sunday. Well, ok.

Then today, I spend a good part of my day at appointments in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I even had lunch with an old seminary friend that is now a pastor in the City of Brotherly love. He had to rush back to his parish for the celebration of the May procession.Maybe he is just as confused. At least he knew it was still May! He didn’t have a scheduled Mass in anticipation of the stealthy Holy Day. His parish simply observed the traditional day in keeping with the policy of his archdiocese.What a jumble. What a mess. If someone like me, with an educational background in the nuances of Catholic liturgy seems confused, what are all the other confused Catholics thinking out there? I guess they are thinking…is it, or is it not a Holy Day of obligation. Well…to the best of my knowledge it is a Holy Day of obligation in the ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and the State of Nebraska. If your outside of those ecclesiastical Provinces Ascension Thursday is now Ascension Sunday and you are not obligated to attend Mass on what used to be Ascension Thursday, which is now celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Easter…or more commonly Ascension Sunday.
 More complex is the elaborate understanding of how to celebrate this Solemnity if you live in one ecclesiastical Province, work in another and might even travel to a third ecclesiastical Province. You could be in mortal sin, grave error or completely “Get out of purgatory free”, wherever your feet, car or other mode of transportation might take you. My suggestion is simply, go to Mass, not out of obligation and fear of mortal sin…just go to Mass because you want to. I guess all of this confusion leads to other practical considerations as well. From a pastoral perspective, they have lost the revenue of a collection. On the other hand, they have actually saved from incurring expenses for the utilities by not deviating from the normal daily schedule. While in some cases the actual routine of interparochial communications could be terribly disturbed if your particular diocese celebrated Ascension Thursday, while another ecclesiastical Province waited to celebrate Our Lord’s return to the Father on the seventh Sunday of Easter…now commonly referred to as Ascension Sunday! Even more confusion is the heavenly reception of all of the prayers and petitions and the proper prayers of the Masses celebrated on each day. Our heavenly Father thankfully is patient and understanding of our confusing confusion…and he listens to our prayers anyway.
 Our liturgical calendar and the abilities of each province of bishops to determine which solemnity can/is observed is really out of control. Personally, the entire ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the United States should follow the same liturgical calendar. Following the same calendar of liturgical observations signifies a sense of religious unity and continuity that fosters a good understanding of the event we are celebrating. Consistency throughout the Church has always been one of the great hallmarks of our universal Catholicism. Regardless of where you were in the world, you could count on the Roman Calendar to signal the proper day, color and degree of solemnity observed in a Catholic Church. Were the bishops really thinking that choice of days on which to observe the traditional Ascension Thursday would make people celebrate it with more fervor on the Seventh Sunday of Easter? What is it about the concept of Thursday did the mitered ones not understand? Where is the concept of forty-days and even more complicated how does one explain our traditional observance of Pentecost as fifty days after Easter?
While I appreciate and understand the liturgical applications of “Divine time” in terms of the elongation of the celebration of Easter…Tom, Dick and Harry do not(or to be inclusively correct, Mary, Jane and Beth)! So after lunch (within the borders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) I hustled back home to the Diocese of Wilmington.Which by the way is within the ecclesiastical Province of Baltimore, which observes Ascension Thursday on what was formerly the Seventh Sunday of Easter, which is now commonly know as Ascension Sunday. Wow, what a mouthful! I decided to stay firmly put until Friday, which to the best of my knowledge has not been transferred to any other day. Not only would I not incur mortal sin for missing Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation but could observe the celebration of an Easter weekday without any obligation nor danger of obligatory entrapment.
The bottom line is simply this…buy an Ordo!Don’t leave home without one! The next time we can anticipate this same degree of observations confusion is somewhere in our eschatological future.Most likely the confusion will occur on Jan.1 which hails under a multitude of titles from World day of Peace to the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God to even New Years day for the secular purists. There is a consolation however, August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is still exactly on Wednesday, August 15. It hasn’t yet been transferred to a different day of observation. Maybe we should just take Thursday out of our references to Ascension Thursday and make it Ascension Day. This way we can celebrate it any old time!
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