one of the
the Ascension of Our Lord
a movable feast
symbolism to look for in the icon:
- Christ's blessing with His right hand
- The scroll, a symbol of teaching, in Christ's left hand
- the Lord in Heaven is the source of blessing, Christ is the source of knowledge. Christ will continue to be the source of the Church's teaching and messa. He is blessing and guiding those to whom He has entrusted his work
- the Theotokos is in the center of the icon, directly below her Son, in a place of prominance
- the Theotokos is calm, while the disciples are talking, moving about, pointing - together, they represent the Church
- Although he was not present at the Ascension, St. Paul is shown to the left of the Theotokos because he became one of the Apostles & greatest missionaries of the Church
- The icon expresses the sovereignty of Christ over His Church; He is its Head, its guide, its source of inspiration and teaching; it receives its commission and ministry from Him, and fulfils it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Blessing of Fruits and Beans
Procession with torches and banners
Extinguishing the Paschal Candle
(Also With Descending Devil)
Birds Flying Homeward
Lion Conquering a Dragon
Elijah's Fiery Chariot
Old Testament Typology
Foreshadowing the Ascension
Elijah's Fiery Chariot
The Translation of Enoch
The Catholic Catechism summarizes three important theological aspects of the Ascension concisely:
- Christ's Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus' humanity into God's heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3).
- Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father's glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever.
- Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit (665-667).
History & Theology of the feast
Along with the resurrection, the ascension functioned as a proof of Jesus' claim that he was the Messiah. The Ascension is also the event whereby humanity was taken into heaven. Finally, the ascension was also the "final blow" so-to-speak against Satan's power, and thus the lion (Jesus) conquering the dragon (Satan) is a symbol of the ascension. Early Christian art and iconography portrayed the ascension frequently, showing its importance to the early Church.
Evidence from John Chrysostom, Egeria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Church historian Socrates, suggest that Ascension Day probably originated in the 4th century AD. However, Augustine says the festival is apostolic. Often the feast was celebrated with a procession, symbolizing Christ's journey to the Mount of Olives. The Paschal Candle (lighted at the Easter Vigil) is sometimes extinguished on Ascension Day. It is often celebrated as an octave, the proper preface and Ascension collect being used until the Saturday before Pentecost. In many Roman Catholic dioceses, the Ascension is celebrated on the 7th Sunday of Easter, which is the Sunday following the traditional date. Likely, this is done to make it easier for the faithful to fulfill their obligation to attend Mass on this day, but it removes the connection with the biblical chronology.
The Church’s celebration of the ascension, as all such festal celebrations, is not merely the remembrance of an event in Christ’s life. Indeed, the ascension itself is not to be understood as though it were simply the supernatural event of a man floating up and away into the skies. The holy scripture stresses Christ’s physical departure and His glorification with God the Father, together with the great joy which His disciples had as they received the promise of the Holy Spirit Who was to come to assure the Lord’s presence with them, enabling them to be His witnesses to the ends of earth (Lk 24.48–53; Acts 1.8–11; Mt 28.20; Mk 16.16–14).
In the Church the believers in Christ celebrate these very same realities with the conviction that it is for them and for all men that Christ’s departure from this world has taken place. The Lord leaves in order to be glorified with God the Father and to glorify us with himself. He goes in order to “prepare a place” for and to take us also into the blessedness of God’s presence. He goes to open the way for all flesh into the “heavenly sanctuary . . . the Holy Place not made by hands” (see Hebrews 8–10). He goes in order send the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father to bear witness to Him and His gospel in the world, making Him powerfully present in the lives of disciples.
Ascension Opening Prayer
Let us pray
[on this day of Ascension
as we watch and wait for Jesus' return]
Father in heaven,
our minds were prepared
for the coming of your kingdom
when you took Christ beyond our sight
so that we might seek him in glory.
May we follow where he has led
and find our hope in his glory,
for he is Lord forever. Amen
New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal
Ascension Vespers Prayer
O King of Glory,
Lord of Hosts,
Who didst this day ascend in triumph
above all the heavens!
Leave us not orphans,
but send upon us the Spirit of Truth,
promised by the Father. Alleluia!
The Liturgical Year: Book 9
Every feast has its food traditions and Ascension Day is no exception. Some of them could be incorporated into your picnic lunch or supper. In keeping with the day's theme of upward flight, it is traditional to eat fowl: pigeon, partridge, pheasant, and even crow have been known to make it into the menu. Unless you are a hunter, Cornish game hen or duck from the market will be more readily available, and definitely more palatable than crow. German chefs make pastries in the shape of birds. For dessert, how about cloud-like puffs of white meringues, or a pie topped with meringue?
Ascension Day has always been a day on which first fruits were blessed and eaten.
The Italians brought beans and grapes to church. These were blessed after the Memento of the Dead with the words,
Bless, O Lord, these new fruits of the vine which Thou hast brought to maturity by the dew of heaven, by plentiful rains and by tranquil and favorable weather. Thou hast given us this fruit for our use that we may receive it with thanks in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Armenians celebrated the advent of springtime and the Ascension by making a big pan of Dolmas. This is a special dish which uses the new leaves of the grape vine, stuffed with a delicious filling. These Dolmas were the same as those used during the Armenian carnival as a treat before Lent. It seems that the first leaf to sprout in the spring, or after a drought, or after a flood, is the grape.
To the Germans the feast of the Ascension spells picnic, too…In the beautiful Mansfeld Lake district, villagers gather in congenial groups to drink a toast to their benefactress Countess Elizabeth. It seems that Elizabeth cut their taxes and tithes centuries before and the wonder of it has never left their memories. Now see how easily our legislators could win undying fame and gratitude. The toast is always pledged to Elizabeth on this day and the traditional liquid required is "Ascension Beer."
Traditions & Customs
While Luke places the Ascension in Bethany, the tradition "on the ground" stops short of Bethany, on top of the Mount of Olives. A stone inside the domed chapel there has traces of the footprints of Jesus before he ascended. Although most modern Christians have long since foresworn the literal concept of a "three-storied universe," the notion of Ascension nevertheless directs us upwards, symbolically. After all, no matter where one locates heaven, the biblical account still records that the last time the disciples saw the Risen Lord, he was going up. So, for us, as well as for ancient Christians, this is the consummate "mountaintop experience" and, consequently, traditions associated with keeping this feast take us both out and up.
Traditionally, the Paschal Candle was extinguished following the reading of the Gospel on Ascension Day. The gentle ascent and disappearance of the smoke from the smoldering wick was a poignant symbol of the departure of the Risen Lord from the earth.
One custom was the lifting up of a statue or picture of Christ. In some places, this was quite elaborate, with ropes or chains rigged to elevate the image. In some places, it disappeared behind a veil or into a representation of clouds, while in others it went through a hole in the ceiling. After the image vanished, the congregation would be showered with rose petals and other flowers, symbolizing the gifts which the ascended Christ gives to his Church: When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people....that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.... (Ephesians 4:7,11)
In Germany, it was the custom for the priest to lift high a crucifix after the reading of the Ascension Gospel. It makes visible the symbolic link between the Cross and the Ascension which is implicit in Jesus' words when he says, And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32) On the Cross, Jesus is glorified. When he ascends, he ascends to reign in glory.
A unique English Ascension Day custom is found in Derbyshire. The custom is known as well-dressing and it involves decorating certain local wells with elaborate mosaic pictures, created with flower petals and other natural materials pressed into clay. Traditionally, the pictures were of a religious nature, though the modern observance of the custom has branched out into non-religious themes, as well. The custom cannot be said to have any thematic link with the feast itself. Indeed, it may be older than Christianity in Britain, but it has been observed on Ascension Day at least from the Middle Ages. The connection may have to do with a severe drought, during which certain wells continued to flow. Grateful people from the district came together on Ascension Day to give thanks for the thirst-quenching waters, and thus an ancient custom took on a Christian association, and became a part of the annual observance of the feast.
Ascension Day has always been a day for processions, following the example of Jesus who led the disciples out of Jerusalem and up the Mount of Olives. In the Middle Ages, these processions went out into the streets of the town, and everyone took part. In England a banner depicting a lion trampling the devil under his foot was often carried at the head of the procession, symbolizing the triumph of the ascended Christ over the evil one. In the course of the medieval processions in larger towns and cathedral cities, there were stops along the way to view pageants. These medieval pageants, enacted during processions on several of the greater feasts, were designed to teach the unlettered faithful about the feast and were the basis for the more elaborate cycles of mystery plays that became a centerpiece of the feast of Corpus Christi.
As with the Rogation processions, the liturgical processions of Ascension Day had their non-liturgical aspects. In time, the liturgical procession evolved into a holiday hike, with hills and mountaintops as their destination. This is the logical focus for a family observance of the feast. After attending the Ascension Day Eucharist, or on the weekend following, take a picnic lunch or supper and hike to the top of the highest hill or mountain around. If hiking is not possible for some reason, drive, but go up to the heights.
Take time to notice the clouds, if there are any that day (and hope that they are not pouring rain!) There is an old tradition that the clouds on Ascension Day take the form of lambs, in honor of the Lamb of God. See what shapes you can find among the clouds. You could also make your own clouds with incense or if you light a fire to cook on.
At the beginning of the trip, read Luke 24:50-52 and say this prayer:
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
On the way, sing or say Psalm 47, which proclaims: God is gone up with a merry noise. When you reach the top of the hill, read the story of the Ascension in Acts 1:6-11 and say this prayer:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
In our family, we process to the highest point in the county, carrying our banners, crosses and fans, singing . When we reach the hilltop, we take the prayer book and candle out of our portable Ascension Prayer Kit and while Dad reads the prayers, the icon of Christ ascends, pulled up by throwing the rope over a tree branch. We then celebrate the feast with a picnic and a lovely view.