Customs for the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension
The Catholic Church is filled with rich and sometime forgotten gems. This Thursday, 40 days after the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, the Church in her wisdom calls us to lift our minds toward heaven in a special way. Here are some traditions and customs that you might be interested in adopting this Feast:
- Eat Fowl: “It was a widespread custom in many parts of Europe during the Middle Ages to eat a bird on Ascension Day, because Christ “flew” to Heaven. Pigeons, pheasants, partridges, and even crows, graced the dinner tables. In western Germany bakers and innkeepers gave their customers pieces of pastry made in the shapes of various birds. In England the feast was celebrated with games, dancing, and horse races.” (see CatholicCulture.org)
- Hike a Mountain: “From the very beginning of its observance as a separate festival, the Ascension had a distinctive feature in the liturgical procession which went outside the city, and usually to the top of a hill, in imitation of Christ’s leading the Apostles “out towards Bethany” (Luke 24, 50). In Jerusalem it was, of course, the original path that Christ took to the summit of the Mount of Olives. In Constantinople the suburb of Romanesia, where Saint John Chrysostom had preached his sermons on the Ascension, was chosen. In Rome, the pope was crowned by the cardinals in his chapel after the morning service, and in solemn procession conducted to the church of the Lateran. From there, after the Pontifical Mass, toward noon, the procession went to a shrine or church outside the walls. The Epistle of the Ascension was read and a prayer service held.” (see CatholicCulture.org) Perhaps this makes the Ascension a good opportunity to take advantage of the Spring season and hike a mountain near you, and read the account of the ascent in Scripture.
- Catch Crickets: While on that mountain, you might catch some crickets and have them sing for you. In certain parts of Tuscany, particularly in Florence, a man used to gift his beloved some flowers on this Feast, and give her a cricket cage. It is uncertain how the cricket became associated with the Ascension, but the Feast is known in parts of Italy as “La Festa del Grillo” (“the Feast of the Cricket”). According to Tracy Tucciarone, of FishEaters.com, this “custom usually takes place on the Sunday after Ascension Day, and caged crickets are sold so that children can release them.” (see Fish Eaters)
Quotations on the Glorious Ascension
That our flesh should be seated in the heavens and be worthy of worship by the Angels, Archangels, Seraphim and Cherubim is truly a great, astonishing and marvelous thing. On contemplating that, I am often struck with amazement, and I entertain exalted thoughts about mankind, for I see God’s great and abundant care for our existence.
St. John Chrysostom
O man, become a bit more sober, come to your senses. As a rational creature, recognize that God in the Highest has descended from Heaven for you, to raise you up from the earth and take you to Heaven.
St. Ephraim of Syria
By ascending to Heaven before [the eyes of] his holy disciples, Christ also showed all believers the way. Christ the Head ascended unto Heaven; His holy members, the true Christians, will ascend as well. The path had been closed to men, but by Christ’s death, it was opened. In Christ’s death, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain” (Matthew 27: 51), and the path and entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven was opened to the faithful (Hebrews 10: 19-20).
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (Venerated by the Orthodox)