What is Ascension Day?
According to the biblical story, after appearing for 40 days the risen Jesus led his disciples to the Mount of Olive in Jerusalem, telling them that the time had come for him to be returned to God.
A passage in the Acts of the Apostles recounts the tale: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
Encyclopedia Britannica says: “According to the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, after appearing to the Apostles on various occasions during a period of 40 days, Jesus was taken up in their presence and was then hidden from them by a cloud, a frequent biblical image signifying the presence of God.”
How important is Ascension Day?
It is thought that Ascension Day was being marked as early as the fourth century, and it remains a significant observance in the Catholic Church, as well as other Christian Churches.
Encyclopedia Britannica says: “The Feast of the Ascension ranks with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost in the universality of its observance among Christians.
“The meaning of the Ascension for Christians is derived from their belief in the glorification and exaltation of Jesus following his death and Resurrection, as well as from the theme of his return to God the Father.
“Thus, the Gospel According to John uses both the sayings of Jesus and his post-Resurrection appearances to indicate a new relationship between Jesus and his Father and between him and his followers, rather than a simple physical relocation from earth to heaven.”
In countries where it is not marked as a public holiday, it has become common to move its commemoration to the following Sunday (a week before Pentecost) to allow more worshippers to attend mass.
Where is Ascension Day a public holiday?
Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, Germany, Austria, Indonesia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the South Pacific island nation Vanuatu.
The day after Pentecost (which falls 10 days later) was marked as the “Whit Monday” bank holiday in the UK until 1971, when it was replaced by a bank holiday on the final Monday in May.
However, Pentecost Monday is still a public holiday in various European countries, including France, Germany and Belgium.
What is Pentecost?
Pentecost always falls exactly seven weeks after Easter Sunday, which means this year it is on 5 June.
The festival commemorates the arrival of the Holy Spirit to the disciples following the death of Jesus in the traditional Easter story.
Its name comes from the Greek word “Pentekostos”, meaning 50, which reflects its origins in the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (marked on the 50th day after Passover).
Pentecost is also known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday” in the UK and Ireland, which is variously believed to be a shortening of “White Sunday” or to have its origins in the Anglo-Saxon word “wit”, which means “understanding”.