The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord commemorates Jesus’ ascension into Heaven.
Historically, this holy has been celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday – the Thursday in the sixth week of Easter. Most U.S. dioceses, however, have moved the celebration of the Ascension to the seventh Sunday of Easter. For this reason, it is now often referred to as “Ascension Sunday.” The day of celebration – Thursday or Sunday – seems to vary from diocese to diocese and country to country in 2023.
When celebrated on a Thursday, the Ascension of the Lord remains a holy day of obligation. The Church expects Catholics to attend Mass every Sunday already, so when the Ascension is celebrated on a Sunday, attendance is doubly encouraged.
Table of Contents
- Reflection on the Ascension of the Lord
- Prayers for the Ascension of the Lord
- Mass Readings for the Ascension Sunday 2023
- Commonly-Asked Questions
- Related Reading
Reflection on the Ascension of the Lord
Read a few excerpts from a beautiful sermon on the Ascension of Jesus from around the beginning of the fifth century, composed by early church father and bishop St. Augustine of Hippo. (Source: Vatican Archives)
St. Augustine first points us to reflect on the Ascension with the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 3:1-4):
Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
He eloquently explains to us how, through his resurrection and ascension, Christ is here with us on earth by His divinity, and we are in Heaven with Him by His love,
While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.
And how His Ascension is unique to Him alone:
No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are sons of God.
Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.
You can also listen to a reflection on the Ascension from the current day with Bishop Barron in Hallow’s Sunday Sermons this Ascension Sunday 2023.
Prayers for the Ascension of the Lord
- Pray with the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-4)
- Pray with the Collect Prayer for Ascension Sunday: “Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God, and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving, for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation, and, where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”
- Listen and pray with Day 322 in the Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz, which draws on the Acts of the Apostles, Romans, and Proverbs.
Mass Readings for the Ascension of the Lord “Ascension Sunday” – May 21, 2023
First Reading – Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”
6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Second Reading – Ephesians 1:17-23
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. 18 May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
Alleluia cf. Matthew 28:16-20
“Go and teach all nations, says the Lord; I am with you always, until the end of the world.”
Gospel – Matthew 28:16-20
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. 18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
When is the Ascension of the Lord?
Historically, the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday on the Thursday in the sixth week of Easter. In the last decade, there has been a shift in the U.S. to celebrate the Ascension on the seventh Sunday of Easter. In 2023, Ascension Sunday is May 21.
Is the Ascension a holy day of obligation in 2023?
When celebrated on the Thursday in the sixth week of Easter, the Ascension is a holy day of obligation. When celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Easter, Catholics are already expected to attend Mass that day.
When did Jesus ascend into Heaven?
Based on the Acts of the Apostles, the Church holds that Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Is the Ascension the same as Pentecost?
The Ascension and Pentecost are not the same, though they are connected. It was 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven that the Holy Spirit was able to descend upon His disciples. Pentecost signals the end of the Easter season and is also the day we recognize as the birth of the Church.
What happened between the Ascension and Pentecost?
For ten days, Jesus’ disciples and Mary patiently and prayerfully waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
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