What happened to the Church’s ‘Three Great Thursdays’?

“There are three Thursdays in the year that shine more than the sun: Maundy Thursday, Ascension Thursday and Corpus Christi.Card. Antonio Cañizares Llovera


According to tradition, tomorrow, Thursday, being the tenth day after the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we should be celebrating the feast of the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus, Corpus Christi. It was on the Thursday of Holy Week, the day before the Crucifixion, that Our Blessed Lord established this magnificent Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Instead, in most parishes of the universal Church, this feast has been passed to the following Sunday, thus throwing everything out of sync. In fact we are left with only one of our Three Great Thursdays celebrated on the right day, Maunday Thursday – Ascension Thursday, like Corpus Christi, also having been transferred to the following Sunday. What are the reasons for these changes?

Many like Fr. Z (who amusingly enjoyed his little annual rant on Ascension Thursday in this post) claims that it all boils down to “reduced expectations” for Catholics today. To have to make the effort of fulfilling our duty to attend Mass for a ‘holiday of obligation’ on a busy workday is surely too much to ask of anyone!

Really? If loving, serving and obeying God were truly the primary aim of our life, and if the saving of our souls and those of others were of paramount importance to us, would it really be too much?

This attitude today of reducing expectations for the members of Christ’s Body, in order to make life easier and thus increase the numbers in the pews, is total mistaken. Catholicism has always attracted people to the Church precisely because she did not give in to whims and fancies and changing fashions; she did not court Modernism. Following the words of Our Blessed Lord we were called to pass through the “narrow gate”, where we must discard our overload of comforts to enter, where self discipline and self-sacrifice must be embraced to remain faithful and true. Precisely by expounding the virtues of chivalry and obedience, chastity and pure love, nourished throughout by the Holy Eucharist, she set Man’s eyes on Heaven above. The Church is a worthy Bride that men must be willing to sacrifice their lives for. Yet the truth of the matter is, changing the small rules to make everything cushy, effortless and easy, can blind us to this reality!

The Ascension into Heaven

The Ascension into Heaven

As Fr. Z points out: “The celebration of Ascension on a particular Thursday is rooted in Scripture. Celebration on Thursday reflects the ancient practice of the Churches of the East and West alike. We read in Holy Scripture that nine days, not six, intervened between the Lord’s physical ascent to the Father’s right hand and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If Pentecost was the 50th day, seven weeks (as the ancients counted the starting day itself is included so you get 50 rather than 49), then Ascension Thursday was fixed at the 40th day after Easter.”

Likewise Corpus Christi – this beautiful feast, the reminder of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday) – should be celebrated on Thursday too.

In 2011 Zenit reported an interview with Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera about the feast of Corpus Christi:

“The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments says he thinks the feast of Corpus Christi should be returned to its traditional Thursday celebration, to better highlight the link with Holy Thursday and show how Christ is the center of everything.

“I think that to exalt the feast of Corpus Christi on its own, separate from Sunday, would be a very joyful and very hopeful reality, which would mean saying to all people in mid week that Christ is truly the center of everything,” he said.”

Jaume Huguet, Last Supper (1470)

Jaume Huguet, Last Supper (1470)

Fr. Z again: “If you change how people pray (or tell them they don’t have to) you change the way people believe.  There is a reciprocal relationship between our prayer and our belief.  Lex ordandi – Lex credendi.”

Let us petition our Catholic hierarchy to bring back many of the Church’s time-tested ancient traditional practices that brought her such abundant ‘good fruits’. That is, not only the feasts of the Ascension of Our Blessed Lord into Heaven and the celebration of His Holy Body and Blood, Corpus Christi, on their pertinent Thursdays, but also “Friday abstinence (hardly anyone pays attention to it anymore), going to confession regularly and confession (of) all mortal sins, the Eucharistic fast, dressing appropriately for Mass, etc. etc. etc.” (Fr. Z)

Naturally we are not talking about the Catholic Church’s doctrines and dogmas of Faith – for as everyone knows, these are unchanging – but many liturgical and disciplinary practices were moderated or lightened in the last few generations, or they were left to each individual to ‘chose for themselves’ (and therefore usually totally ignored!) Altogether, this softening of discipline has left us with less of that fighting spirit that so characterised our ancestors, who were glad to call themselves ‘soldiers of Christ’ in the war against the world, the flesh and the devil.

For Card. Cañizares, the feast of Corpus Christi means “to recognise that God is here. To go out in procession through the streets with the Most Holy Sacrament is an invitation to adore the Lord, a public confession of faith in Him and an acknowledgment that to go with the Lord is what truly matters for the renewal and transformation of society.

“It is a day of very great joy, especially in Spain,” he recalled. The cardinal noted his hope that all Christians would proclaim “that Christ is present in the Eucharist, that Christ is with us.””

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8 Responses to What happened to the Church’s ‘Three Great Thursdays’?

  1. TerryC says:

    All for this. Unfortunately I believe it will be a generation before this happens. That It will eventually happen I have no doubt. Generally speaking only strong, devout, orthodox men are entering the priesthood today. In a couple of decades when they fill the cathedral seats and bishop conferences things will changed, but not yet.


  2. Pingback: Corpus Christi: The Heart of the Faith | Journey Towards Easter

  3. mkenny114 says:

    This is a really great post Kathleen, and a very important topic – it is so true what Fr. Z says about the way we pray shaping what we believe, and I wish the bishops would stop assuming that the Faith needs to be made less challenging (as if making a Thursday Mass is actually that challenging anyway!) or that we can’t ‘cope’ with all these ‘demanding’ obligations. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve linked to this article in my post for today on Corpus Christi, so that anyone interested can see why it might not be celebrated in their area.

    Also, I just read an interesting article this morning that, whilst not really on the same topic, is I think related insofar as it talks about what people have come to expect from Mass (in part thanks to the changes you’ve described in your post) as opposed to what it actually is:



  4. Thanks for this! I had rented a car to drive the fifteen miles to the next parish where the Mass of Corpus Christi would ordinarily be celebrated (today, on Thursday, I mean) only to discover that alas the priest had to cancel. Next year perhaps.


  5. kathleen says:

    No, I don’t mind at all Michael – I’m very happy you’ve linked to my article, and I thank you. 😉

    Marc, so sorry to hear that!

    If anyone has been watching the images on TV of the immense crowds, joyfully cheering the coronation of the new king of Spain, Philip VI – who is after all, no more than a temporary king of just one country – they might have reflected on so much homage and magnificence given to an earthly king, whilst the beautiful feast of the Body and Blood of the King of Kings present in the Holy Eucharist, Corpus Christi (shoved forward to the following Sunday), was totally ignored by the majority!


  6. I’ve discovered recently that in every area of human life, the little things are the big things. Whether it’s small acts of thoughtfulness for my husband, a simple ingredient in a recipe, or the day I attend Mass and say my prayers, those things that seem so little at first glance turn out to be extremely important.


  7. kathleen says:

    Oh yes ideaharvester, I totally agree with that! Faithfulness to daily duty is the path to sanctity. Our Blessed Lord says so Himself: “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater” (Luke 16:10).
    Many great saints have lived their lives and achieved great holiness in giving witness to this profound teaching: St. Francis of Sales, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Jose Maria Escriva… to name just a few.

    In the same way, hacking away at ‘little’ things (little in comparison with some of the great current issues like abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’ etc. – although not really little at all if you think about it) like the changing of traditions mentioned above that Catholics have always valued, can have more serious consequences in the long run… like the weakening of Faith!


  8. nick batt says:

    My parish just started this celebration. We’ve got an old school pastor.


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