Thursday, May 29, 2014

Some interesting facts about Ascension Thursday

Dosso Dossi
via our dear St. John Cantius parish
In some parts of Italy (Tuscany, for ex.) there is the interesting custom of catching crickets on this day. Families will have a picnic while the children look for crickets, which are said to bring blessings (as they are seen to do in the East, too)—especially if they still sing when taken home in little cricket cages. Back in the day, a man would adorn his beloved’s doors with flowers on this Feast, and give her a cricket cage, too. I have no idea as to how crickets came to be associated with the Ascension, but the Feast is also known in parts of Italy as “La Festa del Grillo” ("the Feast of the Cricket"). Now this custom usually takes place on the Sunday after Ascension Day, and caged crickets are sold so that children can release them—but crickets can be kept as singing pets, too!

Also on this day, a very old civic ritual is re-enacted in this city. The Ascension had always been an important Feast to the Venetians: in A.D. 1000, the Doge left on this Feast Day to aid the Dalmatians who were being threatened by the Slavs. This led to Venetian security and became celebrated annually with a blessing of the sea. Then, in A.D. 1177, the Doge helped bring about a peace between Barbarossa and the Papal States. Pope Alexander III was so grateful for the Doge’s service that he sent a blessed ring as a sign of the sovereignty that the Doge and his successors will have perpetually over the sea. The blessing of the sea turned into a “marriage with the sea,” and since that time, the Doge of Venice would board an ornate, gilded boat (the Bucintoro, or Bucentaur) and be rowed to the lagoon in front of the church of San Nicolo del Lido, accompanied by clergy and government types, and with a procession of other decorated boats following behind. There, the Doge would throw a ring into the waters while saying the words “Desponsamus te mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii,” which mean, “We marry you, oh sea, as a symbol of perpetual dominion.” Now the mayor throws the ring, thereby uniting that beautiful city with the sea…
Okay I'll make this so long that no one reads it.  Anyway, Fr. John Hardon has an excellent piece of catechesis on this historical event.  I haven't made a pitch for it for a while but probably the best formation I ever received was taking the Marian Catechist program.  I didn't go through and become an official catechist, but the material is quite frankly something that should be part of every formation program.

There are especially three truths of faith that should be brought home to those we catechize on this article of the Apostles’ Creed. They are,
  • Reward
  • Superiority
  • Authority
By reward we here mean that Jesus as man, merited heaven as a reward for His perfect obedience to the Father’s will.

Merit is the reward that a person deserves from God for having freely cooperated with the grace of God. Christ had a free human will. He used this will to respond generously to the will of God the Father. We get some idea of the sufferings this involved from Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Olives. His spontaneous human feelings and emotions recoiled at the prospect of the Passion. But His deliberate human will was never for an instant out of perfect conformity to the Father’s will.

From conception in His Mother’s womb to the moment He breathed forth His soul in death on Calvary, Jesus constantly and completely surrendered His human will in sacrifice to the will of the Father. For this He was rewarded. And His reward began on Easter Sunday, but reached its perfect fulfillment with His Ascension into heaven.

By superiority we mean all that the simple word “Ascension” implies. By His Ascension into heaven, Jesus attained a superiority over all creation that is expressed in the now familiar title of “Christ the King.”

He is even now superior to all created rational beings. He is King of archangels and angels. He is King of the saints in heaven. He is King of the souls in purgatory. He is the King of all human beings on earth. He is mysteriously King of those in eternal suffering.

It is also because of His superiority that Jesus in heaven is our most powerful advocate before the throne of God. His priestly mission which He began on earth, is continued in heaven. This is what the New Testament means when it speaks of Christ our eternal priest, who is always making intercession for us. He intercedes for us, as man, and His intercession is so powerful because the man who is pleading for us is also God.

By authority we mean what He meant when He said that all authority has been given to Him, again even as man, in heaven and on earth. Concretely this means that Jesus is the supreme Lawgiver for all human beings, and our Supreme Judge.


  1. That's why it (the Marian Catechist program) is one of two options offered to my Confirmation candidates for their preparation for that sacrament.


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