Pentecost. You'd be right to think that with the prefix pent- this day has something to do with the number five. It actually concerns the fiftieth day, or the seventh week, from the beginning of the harvesting of grain in Old Testament times. An agricultural feast, it had other names as well: the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of the First Fruits. It was at this time, that is, seven weeks (fifty days) since Easter, that the Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lady, the Apostles, and the other disciples of Christ. As a Christian feast it ranks higher in significance than it did for Jews since the first Christians on this day were given "power from on hight," as our Lord promised them before ascending into heaven. The "power" received was of a supernatural kind which strengthened their souls to convert the nations and to face a world that would be unwelcoming of their message. To this end they were given the grace needed to withstand opposition, and they were consoled in advance for the time when imprisonment, torture, and death for the sake of Christ would be their lot. Immediate visible signs attended the Holy Spirit's arrival: a violent wind, fiery tongues, and the much-disputed tongues by which the disciples could speak of Christ in various languages of the peoples. As it is in many places of the New Testament, Saint Peter is the champion of the day, appearing fearless and speaking with extraordinary conviction to the Jews about the new faith in Christ.
The gift of the Holy Spirit for Christians who are already baptized is not the vocalization of unintelligible babbling but the Sacrament of Confirmation which perfects the graces conferred in baptism, much as in the order of nature adulthood completes childhood. The red vestments in use this day in the Roman rite are reminiscent of the flames ('tongues') of fire that alighted upon the heads of those present on Pentecost day, and for us it is also a reminder of the blood which must sometimes be shed as the sole convincing sign to unbelievers of the truth of Christ and which won for the sufferers the highest places in heaven.
Pentecost's flames were consuming. Fire has a purifying quality which, in the spiritual sense, burns away the corrosive residue of sin by its painful heat. Our Lord's disciples had not yet known the suffering of martyrdom but the experience of Pentecost gave them the fire which consumed the self love that inhibits a consummate witness to Christ. For us, the metaphorical fire of the Holy Ghost is the purifying, toughening, and inuring of the soul against the inevitable trials, temptations to sin, and hostility to Christian truth which at times must greet every sincere witness to the Lord.
If these themes seem forbidding and weighty, one may also draw attention to the joyfulness of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Like Adam in the beginning of the human story who was first formed in clay and later came to birth upon receiving the breath of God's Spirit, so was the Church first formed by Christ when He promised to build it upon St. Peter's rock but fully animated with Spirit on Pentecost. It is a birthday and the cause of great happiness. (We will give full vent to our joy in the Latin mass today with the exuberant music of Bach.)
In the liturgical calendar formerly universals observed in the Latin Church, and now once again in use for the traditional Latin liturgy, Pentecost was deemed a day too great for a single day of celebration. Eight days are set aside for it to be celebrated and contemplated. I already announced that Pope Francis has designated Pentecost Monday as a commemoration of the Holy Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church. Mother of Christ on Christmas, Mother of all Christians on Pentecost -- both instances of a spiritual maternity which depended on the fertility of the Holy Ghost. There is a mysterious collaboration of Mary and the Holy Spirit both in the Son of God made man and in the making of us as other sons of God, reborn by the Holy Spirit and of Mother Church.
Saturday, June 02, 2018
God's gift at Pentecost
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, May 20, 2018):