Religion in Poggioreale: Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension (or the Sceusa)

May 30 (Movable feast day – determined by the Vatican)

At dawn on the day of the festival in past times the people gathered wood from grape vines to form piles in the center of the cross streets to bum them, sending up high flames along with clouds of smoke.

Pitre would say:

the country people intended to send the noxious cloud over the sown fields; but we now believe this act is of a purely religious character: it was a remembrance that precisely at dawn the Ascension of Christ to Heaven occurred and the smoke is meant to show the gratitude of the people’s prayers that accompanied Jesus. The flame signified the fire of faith and the enthusiasm with which the Poggiorealese people animated signs and prayers.

Since time immemorial in the town, on the morning of the Ascension the local cleric moved in procession through the streets of town in order to affix tiny crosses made of beeswax to the principal street corners (singing the verse: hoc signurn crucis erit in coelo, alleluia! Cum Domumis ad judicandum venerit, alleluia).

This was very significant for the faithful who were reminded of the true cross of Jesus, which will appear in glory in heaven next to the Eternal Judge Jesus on the day of Final judgment. These little crosses are blessed on the spot, where they remained like a sacred object for the people and for good luck in the town. Those whose houses which remained with a little cross attached on the corner were truly happy.

It is also gratifying to remember the circumstance that to the first 200 houses built in the town, a little wooden cross was attached on the interior of entrance door.

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Background on the Feast of the Ascension

(Source: Wynne, J. (1907). Feast of the Ascension. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved June 9, 2019 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01767b.htm)

The fortieth day after Easter Sunday, commemorating the Ascension of Christ into heaven, according to Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:2.

In the Eastern Church this feast was known as analepsis, the taking up, and also as the episozomene, the salvation‚ denoting that by ascending into His glory, Christ completed the work of our redemption. The terms used in the West, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by His own powers. Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth. The feast falls on Thursday. It is one of the Ecumenical feasts ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the calendar, has a vigil and, since the fifteenth century, an octave which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost, in accordance with the directions of Leo XIII.

History

The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Sylvia (Peregrinatio Etheriae) speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born (Duchesne, Christian Worship, 491-515).

It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost. Some believe that the much-disputed forty-third decree of the Council of Elvira (c. 300) condemning the practice of observing a feast on the fortieth day after Easter and neglecting to keep Pentecost on the fiftieth day, implies that the proper usage of the time was to commemorate the Ascension along with Pentecost. Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.

Customs

Certain customs were connected with the liturgy of this feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes after the Commemoration of the Dead in the Canon of the Mass, the blessing of first fruits, afterwards done on Rogation Days, the blessing of a candle, the wearing of mitres by deacon and subdeacon, the extinction of the paschal candle, and triumphal processions with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven.

Rock records the English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing the device of the lion and at the foot the banner of the dragon, to symbolize the triumph of Christ in His ascension over the evil one. In some churches the scene of the Ascension was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church. In others, whilst the figure of Christ was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.

In the liturgies generally the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]