Feast of the Ascension

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The Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ,[2] also called Ascension Day, Ascension Thursday, or sometimes Holy Thursday,[3][4] commemorates the Christian belief of the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. It is one of the ecumenical (i.e., universally celebrated) feasts of Christian churches, ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter, and Pentecost. Following the account of Acts 1:3 that the risen Jesus appeared for 40 days prior to his Ascension, Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter; although some Christian denominations have moved the observance to the following Sunday. In the Catholic Church in the United States, the day of observance varies by ecclesiastical province.

Feast of the Ascension
Obereschach Pfarrkirche Fresko Fugel Christi Himmelfahrt crop.jpg
Christi Himmelfahrt by Gebhard Fugel, c. 1893
Also calledAscension Day
Ascension Thursday
Holy Thursday
Observed byChristians
Significancecommemorates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven
ObservancesService of Worship / Mass
Date39 days after Easter
2020 date
  • May 21 (Western)
  • May 28 (Eastern)
2021 date
  • May 13[1] (Western)
  • June 10 (Eastern)
2022 date
  • May 26 (Western)
  • June 2 (Eastern)
2023 date
  • May 18 (Western)
  • May 25 (Eastern)
Related toEaster, Pentecost


The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Eusebius seems to hint at the celebration of it in the 4th century.[5] At the beginning of the 5th century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Aetheria speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ is traditionally regarded as having been born.[6] It may be that prior to the 5th century the event narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost. Some[who?] believe that the much-disputed forty-third decree of the Synod of Elvira (c. 300) condemning the practice of observing a feast on the fortieth day after Easter and neglecting to keep Pentecost on the fiftieth day, implies that the proper usage of the time was to commemorate the Ascension along with Pentecost[citation needed]. Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the 5th century.[citation needed]


The Latin terms used for the feast, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by his own powers, and it is from these terms that the holy day gets its name. In the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Communion, "Holy Thursday" is listed as another name for Ascension Day.[3][4][7] William Blake's poem "Holy Thursday" refers to Ascension Day; Thomas Pruen used the term to refer to Ascension Day in his Illustration of the Liturgy of the Church of England, published in 1820;[8][9] however use of the term "Holy Thursday" to mean Ascension Day is rare,[10] and the term is more generally applied by most Christian denominations to Maundy Thursday in Holy Week.

In Western Christianity, the earliest possible date is April 30 (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest possible date is June 3 (as in 1943 and 2038). In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of the Lord is ranked as a Solemnity and is a Holy Day of Obligation. In the Anglican Communion, Ascension Day is a Principal Feast.

The three days before Ascension Thursday are sometimes referred to as the Rogation days, and the previous Sunday—the Sixth Sunday of Easter (or the Fifth Sunday after Easter)—as Rogation Sunday.

Ascension has a vigil and, since the 15th century, an octave, which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost.[11]

In traditional Methodist usage, The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) provides the following Collect for Ascension Day, commonly called Holy Thursday:[12]

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour 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 abideth with his Church on earth, even unto the end of the world; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[12]

Sunday observanceEdit

Dates for Ascension Thursday & Sunday, 2000–2025
Year Western Eastern
2000 June 1 or 4 June 8
2001 May 24 or 27
2002 May 9 or 12 June 13
2003 May 29 or June 1 June 5
2004 May 20 or 23
2005 May 5 or 8 June 9
2006 May 25 or 28 June 1
2007 May 17 or 20
2008 May 1 or 4 June 5
2009 May 21 or 24 May 28
2010 May 13 or 16
2011 June 2 or 5
2012 May 17 or 20 May 24
2013 May 9 or 12 June 13
2014 May 29 or June 1
2015 May 14 or 17 May 21
2016 May 5 or 8 June 9
2017 May 25 or 28
2018 May 10 or 13 May 17
2019 May 30 or June 2 June 6
2020 May 21 or 24 May 28
2021 May 13 or 16 June 10
2022 May 26 or 29 June 2
2023 May 18 or 21 May 25
2024 May 9 or 12 June 13
2025 May 29 or June 1 May 29

Roman Catholic parishes in a number of countries that do not observe the feast as a public holiday have obtained permission from the Vatican to move observance of the Feast of the Ascension from the traditional Thursday to the following Sunday, the Sunday before Pentecost. Similarly, The United Methodist Church allows the traditional celebration on Holy Thursday to be moved to Sunday.[13] This is in keeping with a trend to move Holy Days of Obligation from weekdays to Sunday, to encourage more Christians to observe feasts considered important.[14][15] The decision to move a feast is made by the bishops of an ecclesiastical province, i.e. an archbishop and the neighbouring bishops. The switch to Sunday was made in 1992 by the church in Australia;[16] before 1996 in parts of Europe;[17] in 1997 in Ireland;[18] before 1998 in Canada and parts of the western United States;[14] in many other parts in the United States from 1999;[14] and in England and Wales from 2007 to 2017, but in 2018 reinstated to Thursday.[19] The U.S. ecclesiastical provinces which retain Thursday observance in 2009 are Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia.[20] When celebrated on Sunday, the earliest possible date is May 3, and the latest is June 6.

Eastern and Oriental OrthodoxEdit

In the Eastern Church this feast is known in Greek as Analepsis, the "taking up", and also as the Episozomene, the "salvation from on high", denoting that by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption.[citation needed] Ascension is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox liturgical year.

Liturgy during the Feast of the Ascension in a Mumbai Syrian Orthodox Church


The feast is always observed with an All-night vigil. The day before is the Apodosis (leave-taking) of Easter (i.e., the last day of the Feast of Easter). Before the Vigil, the Paschal hours are said for the last time and the Paschal greeting is exchanged.[citation needed]

The Paroemia (Old Testament readings) at Vespers on the eve of the Feast are Isaiah 2:2–3; Isaiah 62:10–63:3, 63:7–9; and Zechariah 14:1–4, 14:8–11.[citation needed] A Lity is celebrated. The troparion of the day is sung, which says:[citation needed]

O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
Granting joy to Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That You are the Son of God,
The Redeemer of the world!

During the Polyeleos at Matins, the Epitaphios, which was placed on the altar on Holy Saturday (either at Matins or the Midnight Office, depending on local custom) is taken from the altar and carried in procession around the church. It is then put in the place reserved for it. The Gospel is Mark 16:9–20. The kontakion is sung, which announces:[citation needed]

When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.

The megalynarion and irmos from Ode IX of the Canon (also sung at liturgy) is:

Magnify, O my soul, Christ the Giver of Life,
Who has ascended from earth to heaven!
We magnify you, the Mother of God,
Who beyond reason and understanding
gave birth in time to the Timeless One.

At the Divine Liturgy, special antiphons are sung in place of Psalms 102 and 145 and the Beatitudes. The Epistle is Acts 1:1–12, and the Gospel is Luke 24:36–53.[citation needed]


Ascension Thursday also commemorates the Holy Georgian Martyrs of Persia (17th–18th centuries).[citation needed]

Ascension has an Afterfeast of eight days. The Sunday after Ascension is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea.[citation needed] This council formulated the Nicene Creed up to the words, "He (Jesus) ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end."[This quote needs a citation] The Afterfeast ends on the following Friday, the Friday before Pentecost. The next day is appropriately a Saturday of the Dead (general commemoration of all faithful departed).

The Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different method of calculating the date of Easter, so the Eastern Orthodox commemoration of Ascension will usually be after the western observance (either one week, or four weeks, or five weeks later; but occasionally on the same day). The earliest possible date for the feast is May 13 (of the western calendar), and the latest possible date is June 16. Some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, however, observe Ascension on the same date as the Western Churches.[21]


The feast has been associated with specific hymns and other church music. The oldest hymn in German related to the feast is the Leise "Christ fuhr gen Himmel", first published in 1480. Johann Sebastian Bach composed several cantatas and the Ascension Oratorio to be performed in church services on the feast day. He first performed Wer da gläubet und getauft wird, BWV 37, on 18 May 1724, Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, BWV 128, on 10 May 1725, Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen, BWV 43, on 30 May 1726 and the oratorio, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11, on 19 May 1735.

Many Messianic Psalms are used at the feast of Ascension including Psalm 24, Psalm 47 and Psalm 68.

Settings of God is gone up have been composed by William Croft, Arthur Hutchings and Gerald Finzi (words by Edward Taylor).[22] Phillip Moore's anthem The Ascension sets words based on Psalm 24 verses 7-10.[23] Other settings suitable for the occasion include William Matthias's Lift up your heads.

The RSCM has produced an extensive list of music (including hymns, anthems and organ music) suitable for Ascension.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Selected Christian Observances, 2021, U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department
  2. ^ "Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ". Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. 2015. Retrieved 17 May 2015. The Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ is celebrated each year on the fortieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter). Since the date of Pascha changes each year, the date of the Feast of the Ascension changes. The Feast is always celebrated on a Thursday.
  3. ^ a b Thomas Ignatius M. Forster (1828). Circle of the Seasons, and Perpetual key to the Calendar and Almanack. Oxford University Press. p. 377. Retrieved 1 April 2012. Holy Thursday or Ascension Day. Festum Ascensionis. Le Jeudi Saint d' Ascension.
  4. ^ a b George Soane (1847). New Curiosities of Literature and Book of the Months. Churton. p. 275. Retrieved 1 April 2012. Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday. This, as the name sufficiently implies, is the anniversary of Christ's Ascension.
  5. ^ Eusebius, Life of Constantine IV.54
  6. ^ Louis Duchesne, Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution (London, 1903), 491–515.
  7. ^ Church of England, "A Table of the Vigils, Fasts and Days of Abstinence to be observed in the year"
  8. ^ Pruen, Thomas (1820). An Illustration of the Liturgy of the Church of England. W. Bulmer and W. Nicol. p. 173. Retrieved 11 May 2014. Ascension Day. This, called also Holy Thursday, is ten days before Whitsuntide.
  9. ^ Keene, Michael (2000). Christian Life. Nelson Thornes. p. 60. ISBN 9780748752874. The day is sometimes called Holy Thursday.
  10. ^ Collins English Dictionary: Definition of "Holy Thursday"
  11. ^ "Rules to Order the Christian Year". Church of England. 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2015. Rogation Days are the three days before Ascension Day, when prayer is offered for God's blessing on the fruits of the earth and on human labour. The nine days after Ascension Day until Pentecost are days of prayer and preparation to celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit.
  12. ^ a b The Book of Worship for Church and Home: With Orders of Worship, Services for the Administration of the Sacraments and Other Aids to Worship According to the Usages of the Methodist Church. Methodist Publishing House. 1964. p. 122. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  13. ^ Hickman, Hoyt L. (2011). United Methodist Altars. Abingdon Press. p. 52. ISBN 9781426730696.
  14. ^ a b c Ascension Day is Moving Michael Kwatera, OSB. Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.
  15. ^ On the following Sunday in some areas: see Sunday observance
  16. ^ "Column 8". Sydney Morning Herald. 14 May 1992. p. 1.
  17. ^ "Church holy day changes sought". The Irish Times. 10 October 1996. p. 5. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  18. ^ Pollak, Andy (17 October 1996). "Holy days moved to following Sunday". The Irish Times. p. 7. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  19. ^ The Spectator's Notes: Charles Moore's reflections on the week Archived 2008-12-03 at the Wayback Machine, Charles Moore The Spectator, Wednesday, 7 May 2008
  20. ^ Is Ascension a Holy Day of Obligation? Scott P. Richert, About.com
  21. ^ "The Church in Malankara switched entirely to the Gregorian calendar in 1953, following Encyclical No. 620 from Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem I, dt. December 1952." Calendars of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
  22. ^ "Finzi G - God is gone up". The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge. 2015-10-15. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  23. ^ "Philip Moore - Ascension (Lift Up Your Heads) SATB & Organ". www.boosey.com. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  24. ^ "Sunday by Sunday on the web: Musical resources for Ascension Day" (PDF).