Doctrinal note for Pentecost
Easter and Pentecost, with the forty-eight days between them, used to be regarded as a single feast of fifty days (the word Pentecost is from the Greek, and means the fiftieth day), on which was kept, first the triumph of Christ, then His entry into His glory, and finally, on the fiftieth day, the anniversary of the Church's birth. "To-day the Christian Church is born" (St. Augustine, sermon for Pentecost).
The Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost, are all part of the Paschal mystery. As St. Augustine says, Easter was the beginning of grace, and Pentecost is its crown, since the Holy Ghost then completes the work accomplished by Christ. And the Ascension, in its place in the centre of the triptych of Paschaltide, is the meeting place of these two feasts. By His resurrection our Lord has restored to us our rights to the divine life4, and at Pentecost He applies them to our souls by communicating to us His Holy Spirit, the "Giver of Life."
To do this, He must first take possession of the kingdom He has won, for as St. John says, "As yet the Spirit was not given," for Jesus was not yet glorified. For the Ascension of our Redeemer is the official recognition of His rights of conquest; so far as His humanity is concerned it puts the crown on His redemptive work, and it is for the Church the fount of her holiness and her very life.
"The Ascension," writes Dom Gueranger, "is the intermediate mystery between Easter and Pentecost. On the one hand it completes Easter by setting up the God-Man on the right hand of the Father as the conqueror of death and Head of the Church; and on the other, it brought aboui the mission to the earth of the Holy Ghost." "Our glorious mystery of the Ascension," he writes again, forms the boundary line between the two reigns of God in the New Dispensation on earth: the visible reign of the Son of God and the visible reign of the Holy Ghost" " If I go not," said our Lord to His apostles, "the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go, I will send Him to you." The Incarnate Word has finished His external mission among men, and now the Holy Ghost is about to begin His; for the Father has not only sent us His Son Incarnate to gather us to Himself, but also the Holy Ghost, " Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son", and who appeared in the world under visible signs: tongues of lire and a mighty wind. "The Father," says St. Athanasius, "does everything by the Word, in the Holy Ghost." Even when the omnipotence of the Father is manifested to us in the creation of the world, we read in Genesis that the Spirit of God moved over the waters to render them fruitful.
Again, when the wisdom of the Word is displayed to us, we are beholden it all to the Holy Ghost. It is He "who spake by the prophets"; it was His power that overshadowed the Virgin Mary and made her the Mother of Christ. Finally, it was He, who in the form of a dove descended upon our Lord at His Baptism, led Him into the desert and guided Him through the whole of His public ministry.
But more especially, when He filled the apostles with light and strength 011 the Day of Pentecost, did the Spirit of holiness inaugurate the dominion which he was going to exercise over souls. It was " with the Holy Ghost 1 hat the Church was baptized in the Cenacle and it was His life-giving hreath that came to give life to the mystical Body of Christ, which He had organized after His resurrection. So it was that our Lord breathed on His apostles, and said to them: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost... Whose •ins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them'." And we know that the Holy Ghost is called "the Remission of Sins," and that baptism, whose purpose is to purify our souls from their sins, is given " with water and the Holy Ghost". " Go out of him, unclean spirit ", says the priest who Imptizes, " and give place unto the Holy Ghost the Paraclete." By His Ktace this divine Spirit heals and raises up our souls ; He rescues man from that death from which man cannot rescue himself. Thanks to Him, ouls are raised to the supernatural state and His supernatural influence can quicken all their thoughts and acts. For " as the life of the body springs from the union of body and soul, in the same way the life of the soul springs from the union of the soul with the Spirit of God by sanctifying grace" (St. Irenaeus and St. Clement of Alexandria) ; and St. Thomas adds : " Man receives grace through the Holy Ghost9."
Grace implies the raising to the supernatural level of our whole being; and to quote the Angelical Doctor again : " A certain participation in the divinity on the part of the reasonable creature." Much more than this, where grace is, there is its divine Artificer, which is why the Church calls the Holy Ghost " the sweet Guest of our souls". He who makes our uetions fruitful by " His intimate working".
It is the purpose of this Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of the formation of the apostles and the Church, in our Lord's words : " He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you10", and this He does, not only by enlightening the mind, but also by purifying and warming the heart. While the Church gives Him the title of " the Light of Hearts", often during this week she alludes to that purifying and enkindling of the will which permits the intelligence to contemplate the truth with vivid clearness.
" Every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved; but he that doth truth cometh to the light that his works may be made manifest11.»
The Holy Ghost comes to give testimony to Christ, as the Master Himself foretold, and He gives this testimony not only interiorly by the action of grace in men's hearts, but exteriorly also, through the medium of the visible hierarchy. And so it is that constantly throughout the week, the liturgy speaks at one and the same time of the infusion of the grace of the Holy Ghost, and of the preaching of faith in Christ The testimony of the Holy Ghost in the soul echoes that which our Lord bears to Himself through the Church, so that to deny the divinity and the resurrection of Christ as taught by the Church, is a sin against the Holy Ghost, and one which carries its sentence of condemnation within itself; such a one, as our Lord said, is already judged1.
From this Holy Spirit, all down the ages, will spring that wonderful doctrinal and mystical force which was personified in the Cenacle by Peter and Mary. The Holy Ghost who once inspired the sacred authors, secures to the Pope and to the Bishops grouped around him, that doctrinal infallibility which enables the teaching Church to continue the mission of our Lord. From the Holy Ghost the sacraments instituted by Christ receive their efficacy.
Further, outside the hierarchy, the Holy Ghost raises up faithful souls, who yield themselves with docility to His sanctifying work. This sanctity, which is the triumph of love in the hearts of men, is justly attributed to the third person of the Holy Trinity, who is the personal love of the Father and the Son. For the will is holy when it wills nothing but good. Hence the Spirit is called holy since He proceeds eternally from the divine Will, with which goodness is one and the same thing. And so it is He who makes us holy by closely uniting our will to God's Thus, after the Holy Ghost, the Credo speaks to us of the holy Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, which is the fruit of holiness and its manifestation in our bodies, and finally of eternal life, which is the plenitude of holiness in our souls.
This supernatural life especially fills our souls at Pentecost, which reminds us of the taking possession of the Church by the Holy Ghost, and which therefore, year by year, strengthens more and more God's reign within our souls.
Therefore, at Pentecost we celebrate not only the coming of the Holy Ghost, but also the entry of the Church into the heavenly world2, for as St. Paul says, " In Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father8".
Thus, the anniversary of the Mosaic Law on Sinai becomes, for all Christians, that of the institution of the New Law, by which we receive no more " the spirit of bondage ", but " the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba: (Father)4". The Mosaic Law pointed out what had to be done but did not supply help for doing it easily ; the Holy Ghost, on the contrary, while making known the Law of the Gospel, gives also abundant graces to practice it, for love is the secret of obedience.
Pentecost is not merely an anniversary, it is also a life, the descent into our hearts of the Holy Ghost. And devotion to the Holy Ghost is the measure of our sanctity.
Historical note for Pentecost
Before His ascension into heaven, our Lord charges His apostles " that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father6", the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. On their return from the mount of Olives, the disciples, numbering about one hundred and twenty, went back to the Cenacle, where they all " were persevering in one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus'".
After this novena, the most solemn ever made, occurred the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit, which by divine Providence, coincided with the Jewish feast of Pentecost among the Israelites. This " most solemn and most holy day7 " was the anniversary of the promulgation of the Law on mount Sinai. Consequently a considerable number of foreigners who had flocked to Jerusalem from all parts, were witnesses of the coming of the Holy Ghost.
" It was nine o'clock in the morning, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as of fire; and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled
1. St. Mark m, 28.
2. " Unless a inan be born of the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (St. John in, 6.) — 3. Ephesians n, 18. — 4. Romans vin, 15. — 6. Acts I, 4.
6. Acts i, 14. — 7. Leviticus ran, 21.
with the Holy Ghost and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak1."
Thus, " endued with power from on high2," the Church began at Jerur-snlem the work of the Apostolate entrusted to her by her divine Lord. Peter, the chief of the apostles, first addressed the assembly, and become already a " fisher of men8", brought by the first cast of his net, about ihree thousand converts into the infant Church. On the following days the twelve met in the Temple under Solomon's porch, and like their divine Master, preached the Gospel and healed the sick. Thus, " the multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord, was more increased4".
Subsequently, spreading in all directions outside Judea, the apostles went forth to proclaim Christ and to give the Holy Ghost to the Samaritans 1 and then to the Gentiles everywhere4.
Liturgical note for Pentecost
On the fiftieth day after the passing over of the destroying angel and the crossing of the Red Sea, to the Hebrews encamped at the foot of Sinai, almighty God with great solemnity promulgated His Law. The Jewish feasts of the Passover and Pentecost, which recalled these two events, were the most important in the year.
Sixteen centuries later, the feast of the Passover was marked by the death and resurrection of Christ, and that of Pentecost (fifty days after, as the name implies), by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the apostles These two feasts, having become Christian in character,are the most ancient of the liturgical cycle, which owes its origin to them. They bear the names respectively of White and Red Easter. Wherefore, after Easter, Pentecost, is the greatest feast of the whole year, having an equally privileged vigil and oetave. The book of the Acts of the Apostles is read, for this is the season which commemorates the foundation of the Church, of whose beginnings this sacred book gives an account, and this custom is modelled on what takes place in Easter Week.
It is an entirely new life that is beginning, therefore it is suitable that t he new writings should be read. Besides, the New Testament puts the Old in its true light by showing that everything that it contained was only of the nature of a type. So in the Mass for Pentecost and throughout the octave, the Old and the New Law, Holy Scripture and Tradition, the Prophets, the Church Fathers and the Apostles echo the Master's words. Like the different pieces of a mosaic, all these parts group themselves in such a way as to bring before the mind a wonderful picture portraying the action of the Holy Ghost down through the centuries of the world's life. To place this magnificent masterpiece in still clearer relief, the liturgy surrounds it with all the external pomp of its sacred ceremonies and symbolic rites.
The priest is clothed in red vestments which recall the tongues of fire and serve as a symbol of that testimony of blood which men will have to bear to the Gospel by the power of the Holy Ghost. Formerly, in certain churches, while the Veni Sancte Spiritus was being sung, a shower of red roses was let fall from the roof, while a dove flew about over the heads of the faithful. Hence the pleasing name of the Easter of Roses by which Pentecost was known in the thirteenth century. Sometimes, to add another feature to the attempt to give a scenic character to the ceremonial, a trumpet was sounded during the Sequence as a reminder of the trumpet of Sinai or the mighty sound in the midst of which the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles.
In this way the Christian was immersed in the distinctive atmosphere which is a characteristic of Pentecost, thus receiving a new outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Lest anyone should allow himself to be distracted from the contemplation of this mystery, it is celebrated throughout the entire octave, to the exclusion of any other feast. Thus is clearly expressed the Church's intention that during these eight days we should choose for our spiritual reading and meditation subjects connected with Pentecost For example what an excellent preparation for Holy Communion and what an appropriate thanksgiving is to be found in the Sequence, whether said or sung, forming as it does, one of the most beautiful pieces of Christian poetry.
With the Mass and the midday Regina Coeli on Ember Saturday ends Paschaltide, which began with Mass on Holy Saturday.