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Catholic Activity: Ascension Thursday Activities

We celebrate the feast of the Ascension for its theological significance, not just the historical. For this day, we can have processions, picnics, dramas, eat poultry, mountain climb...there are several ideas here. And in the evening begins the nine day preparation for Pentecost, each night discussing the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit.


On this day, forty days after Easter, Christ commissioned his Apostles to spread the gospel to all nations and was then "lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took him out of their sight" (Acts I, 9). We celebrate this feast not so much for the historical event but for its theological significance, for, as it says in the preface in the Mass, "Christ was lifted up to Heaven to make us sharers in his divinity."

It is a feast of many customs and a great day for processions and picnics. If there are dedicated hams in the family, play-acting this drama should be a really satisfying experience. You certainly have to be creative figuring out how to get the Risen Christ to his destination. In the 13th century, a statue of Christ was hoisted aloft until it disappeared through an opening in the ceiling of the church, whereupon all rose and called on the Lord in prayer and hymns.

In England, Ascension was celebrated with horse races (sure winner for the day: Flying High?); in central Europe, it was mountain climbing and picnicking on high places; and during the Middle Ages it was the custom to eat a bird on Ascension Day because Christ "flew" to Heaven. Anything with wings would do — pigeons, pheasants, even crows — and for German vegetarians, bakers made pastries in the shape of birds. Even if it is stretching a liturgical point, it might be a special treat if each member of the family had his individual roasted Rock Cornish hen. Children love anything in miniature, and a whole chicken! At least the problem of who gets the wing or thigh or white meat would not mar this celebration. On the eve of Ascension we begin the nine days of waiting and preparing for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Each evening a specific gift of the Holy Spirit should be verbally dissected, discussed in depth. We parents must show how we cannot spend a day with out applying these gifts practically to solve our personal problem of the moment. We must explain the hand-in-hand relationship between the gifts and the fruits. When we use the gifts (Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Fortitude, Counsel, Understanding, and Wisdom), we bear the fruits (Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Long-Suffering, Faith, Mildness, Modesty, Continency, Chastity).

Or, "the fruits of the Holy Spirit are the effects of using the gifts, not just something you grit your teeth and vow to acquire or bust."

If we get this message through, then the bounty of the Holy Spirit may cease to be just some noble-sounding abstract nouns, rattled off by rote for 20 points in a religion exam.

Activity Source: Family Liturgical Customs No. 4: Easter by Ethel Marbach, Abbey Press Publishing Division, St. Meinrad, Indiana, 1964

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