Thursday, 21 May 2009

Ascension Day

Like many priests and parishes we have succumbed to the temptation (complied with the Catholic ruling?) of transferring the Ascension of the Lord to next Sunday. Undoubtedly it makes sense for pastoral reasons, in that far more lay people will now be familiar with one of the most important feasts of the Church's year. Yet those of us who are old enough will remember with a certain amount of nostalgia being given a half day holiday from school to be able to attend mass on Ascension Day itself. That was another world, of course, but am I the only one who feels a certain amount of trepidation at transferring Solemnities of the Lord which fall during the week to the nearest Sunday? Whatever the eminently sensible reasons we give, it still feels more than a little bit like colluding in the process of creeping secularisation.
Anyway, despite intending to observe the solemnity this coming Sunday, I nevertheless (uncanonically?) said a mass of the Ascension this morning at 8 a.m. for a small group of people who wished to celebrate the Ascension on the traditional day.
It was a luminously bright May morning, the sunlight flooding through the east window of the Lady Chapel, so much so it brought to mind the poem printed below, "Ascension Thursday." It's a translation from the Welsh of the twentieth century writer Saunders Lewis, poet, playwright, nationalist and devout Roman Catholic. I hope this doesn't ruffle too many feathers, but modern (that is, post-sixteenth century) Welsh culture can sometimes have a depressing tendency to be inward looking and ultimately rather sterile. Lewis, however, was a Catholic of the European mainstream, one thinks perhaps of Claudel as being the nearest equivalent.

Ascension Thursday

What's on this May morning in the hills?
Look at them, at the gold of the broom and laburnum
And the bright surplice on the shoulders of the thorn
And the intent emerald of the grass and the still calves;

See the candlestick of the chestnut tree alight,
The groves kneeling and the mute birch a nun,
The cuckoo's two-notes over the shining hush of the brook
And the form of the mist bending from the censer of the meadows;

Come out, you men, from the council houses before
The rabbits scamper, come with the weasel to see
The elevation of the unblemished host
And the Father kissing the Son in the white dew.

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