The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

Feast of Pentecost

Part I

The great day, which consummates the work that God had undertaken for the human race, has at last shone upon the world. The days of Pentecost, as St. Luke says, are accomplished (Acts 2: 1). We have had seven weeks since the Pasch; and now comes the day that opens the mysterious number of fifty. This day is a Sunday, already made holy by the creation of the light, and by the Resurrection of Jesus: it is about to receive its final consecration.

In the old and figurative law, God foreshadowed the glory that was to belong, at a future period, to the fiftieth day. Israel had passed the waters of the Red Sea, thanks to the protecting power of the Paschal Lamb! Seven weeks were spent in the desert, which was to lead to the Promised Land; and the very morrow of those seven weeks was the day whereon was made the alliance between God and His people. The Pentecost (which means fiftieth day) was honored by the promulgation of the Ten Commandments of the Divine Law; and every following year, the Israelites celebrated the great event by a solemn festival. But their Pentecost was figurative, like their Pasch: there was to be a second Pentecost for all people, as there was to be a second Pasch for the Redemption of the whole world. The Pasch, with all its triumphs and joys, belongs to the Son of God, the Conqueror of death: Pentecost belongs to the Holy Ghost, for it is the day whereon He began His mission into this world, which, henceforward, was to be under His Law.

But how different are the two Pentecosts! The one, on the rugged rocks of Arabia (Mount Sinai), amidst thunder and lightning, promulgates a Law that is written on tablets of stone; the second is in Jerusalem (Mount Sion), on which God's anger has not as yet been manifested, because it still contains within its walls the first fruits of that new people, over whom the Spirit of Love is to reign. In this second Pentecost, the heavens are not overcast, nor is the roar of thunder heard; there is the sound of a mighty, rushing wind, but the hearts of men are not stricken with fear, as when God spoke on Sinai – repentance and gratitude are the sentiments now uppermost. A divine fire burns within their souls, and will spread throughout the whole world. Our Lord Jesus Christ had said: "I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled?" (Luke 12: 49) The hour for the fulfillment of this word has come: the Spirit of Love, the Holy Ghost, the eternal and uncreated Flame, is about to descend from Heaven, and realize the merciful designs of our Redeemer.

Jerusalem is filled with pilgrims, who have flocked thither from every country of the Gentile world. They feel a strange mysterious expectation working in their souls. They are Jews, and have come from every foreign land where Israel has founded a synagogue; they have come to keep the feasts of Pasch and Pentecost. Asia, Africa, and even Rome, have here their representatives. Amidst these Jews properly so-called, are to be seen many Gentiles, who, from a desire to serve God more faithfully, have embraced the Mosaic Law and observances; they are called proselytes. This influx of strangers, who have come to Jerusalem out of a desire to observe the Law, gives the city a Babel-like appearance, for each nation has its own language. They are not, however, under the influence of pride and prejudice, as are the inhabitants of Judea; neither have they, like these latter, known and rejected the Messias. It may be that they took part with the other Jews in clamoring for Jesus' death; but they were led to it by the chief priests and magistrates of the Jerusalem which they have reverenced as the holy city of God, and to which nothing but religious motives have brought them.

It is the third hour of the day or about nine in the morning (Acts 2: 15). Suddenly is heard, coming from Heaven, the sound of a violent wind; it startles the people in the city, it fills the Cenacle with its mighty breath. The 120 disciples that are within the Cenacle have been many days in fervent expectation; the Divine Spirit gives them this warning of His coming, and they await His will. A silent shower falls in the house; it is a shower of fire in the shape of tongues, which rest on the heads of the 120 disciples – it is the Holy Ghost taking possession of all and each. The Church is now not only in Mary, but also in these 120 disciples. All belong now to the Spirit Who has descended upon them; His Kingdom is begun, it is manifested, its conquests will be speedy and glorious.

The symbol chosen to designate this divine change shows that the Holy Ghost brings from Heaven both the tongue that is to teach, and the fire of the love of God and mankind, which is to give warmth and efficacy to the teaching. The tongue and the fire are now given to these first disciples, who, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, will transmit them to others. So will it be to the end of time.

An obstacle, however, opposes the mission at the very outset. Since the confusion at Babel, there have been as many languages as countries; communication by word has been interrupted. How then is the spoken word to become the instrument of the world's conquest, and to make one family out of all these nations that cannot understand each other? Fear not: the Holy Ghost is all-powerful, and has provided for this difficulty. With the other gifts wherewith He has enriched the 120 disciples, He has given them that of understanding all languages, and of making themselves understood in every language. In a transport of holy enthusiasm, they attempt to speak the languages of all nations; their tongue and their ear take in, without effort, this plenitude of word and speech which is to reunite mankind together. The Spirit of Love has annulled the separation of Babel; men are once more made brethren by the unity of language.

During the ages of Faith, the Church (which is the only source of all true progress), succeeded in giving one common language to all the nations that were in union with Her. For centuries, the Latin language was the bond of union between civilized countries. However distant these might be from one another, there was this link of connection between them; it was the medium of communication for political negotiations, for the spread of science, or for friendly correspondence. No one was a stranger, in any part of the West, or even beyond it, who could speak this language. The great heresy of the 16th century robbed us of this as of so many other blessings; and this robbery has been repeated in the 20th century.

Meanwhile, a large crowd has collected round the mysterious cenacle. Not only has the "mighty wind" excited their curiosity, but moreover, that same Divine Spirit, Who is working such wonders upon the holy assembly within, is impelling them to visit the house, wherein is the new-born Church of Christ. They clamor for the Apostles, and these are burning with zeal to begin their work. At once the crowd sees these men standing in its midst, and relating the prodigy that has been wrought by the God of Israel.

What is the surprise of this multitude, composed as it is of people of so many different nations, when these poor uneducated Galileans address them, each in the language of his own country? The symbol of unity is here shown in all its magnificence. But in the crowd there are some who are shocked at witnessing this heavenly enthusiasm of the Apostles. "These men," they say, "are full of new wine!" It is the language of rationalism, explaining away mystery by reason.

The Apostles feel that it is time to proclaim the new Pentecost; yes, this anniversary of the old is a fitting day for the new to be declared. But in this proclamation of the law of mercy and love, which is to supersede the law of justice and fear, who is to be the Moses? Our Emmanuel, before ascending into Heaven, had selected one of the twelve for the glorious office: it is Peter, the Rock on whom is built the Church.

The Fisherman of Genesareth thus pours forth his wondrous eloquence: "Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you… these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: '… upon My servants indeed… will I pour out, in those days of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy…' Therefore let all the house of Israel know most certainly, that God hath made both Lord and Christ this same Jesus, Whom you have crucified" (Acts 2: 14-36).

The Holy Ghost makes His presence and influence to be felt in the hearts of these favored listeners. They repent of the awful crime of Christ's death, of which they have been the accomplices; they believe in His Resurrection and Ascension; they beseech Peter and the rest of the Apostles to put them in the way of salvation: "What shall we do?" Peter resumes his discourse, saying: "Do penance, and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." The Apostle makes his final appeal to his hearers: "Save yourselves from this perverse generation!" (Acts 2: 37-40)

These children of Israel had to make this sacrifice, or they never could have shared in the graces of the new Pentecost: they had to cut themselves off from their own people; they had to leave the Synagogue for the Church. There was a struggle in many a heart at that moment; but the Holy Ghost triumphed – 3,000 declared themselves disciples of Christ, and received the mark of adoption in Holy Baptism.

** Pentecost **

Part II

O Church of the Living God, how lovely art Thou in Thy first reception of the Divine Spirit! How admirable is Thy early progress! Thy first abode was in the Immaculate Mary, the Virgin full of grace, the Mother of God; Thy second victory gave Thee the 120 disciples of the Cenacle; and now, 3,000 elect proclaim Thee as their Mother, and, leaving the unhappy Jerusalem, will carry Thy name and kingdom to their own countries. Tomorrow, Peter is to preach in the temple, and 5,000 men will enroll themselves as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth!

And thou, bright Pentecost! day of our truest birth! how fair, how glorious, thou makest these first hours of Jesus' Bride on earth! In thee, O Pentecost, we find realized the hopes foreshadowed in the mystery of the Epiphany; for though thou thyself art promulgated in Jerusalem, yet thy graces are to be extended to all that are afar off, that is, to us Gentiles. The Magi came from the East; we watched them as they visited the crib of the Divine Babe, for we knew that we, too, were to have our season of grace. It was Thou, O Holy Ghost, that didst attract them to Bethlehem: and now, in this Pentecost of Thy power, Thou callest all men; the star is changed into tongues of fire, and the face of the earth is to be renewed. Oh, grant that we may be ever faithful to the graces Thou dost offer us, and carefully treasure the gifts sent us, with Thee and through Thee, by the Father and the Son!

The mystery of Pentecost holds so important a place in the Christian dispensation, that we cannot be surprised at the Church's ranking it, in Her liturgy, on an equality with her Paschal solemnity. The Pasch is the redemption of man by the victory of Christ; Pentecost is the Holy Ghost taking possession of man redeemed. The Ascension is the intermediate mystery; it consummates the Pasch, by placing the Man-God, the Conqueror of death, and our Head, at the Right Hand of the Father; it prepares the mission of the Holy Ghost to our earth.

Observe, too, the season of the year, in which the Holy Ghost comes to take possession of His earthly kingdom. Our Jesus, the Sun of Justice, arose in Bethlehem in the very depth of winter; humble and gradual was His ascent to the zenith of His glory. But the Spirit of the Father and the Son came in the season when sunshine decks our earth with loveliest flowers. Let us welcome the life-giving heat of the Holy Ghost, and earnestly beseech Him that it may ever abide within us. The liturgical year has brought us to the full possession of truth by the Incarnate Word; let us carefully cherish the love, which the Holy Ghost has now enkindled within our hearts.

The Christian Pentecost, prefigured by the ancient one of the Jews, is of the number of the feasts that were instituted by the Apostles. It formerly shared with Easter the honor of the solemn administration of Baptism. Its Octave, like that of Easter, and for the same reason, ends with the Saturday following the Feast. The Pentecost solemnity, like Easter, begins on the Vigil, for the neophytes used to immediately put on their white garments after being baptized during the Vigil: on the eighth day, the next Saturday, they laid them aside.

In the middle ages, the Feast of Pentecost was called by the beautiful name of "The Pasch of Roses," just as the Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension was termed the "Sunday of Roses." The color and fragrance of this beautiful flower were considered by our Catholic forefathers as emblems of the tongues of fire, which rested on the heads of the 120 disciples, and poured forth the sweet gifts of love and grace on the infant Church. The same idea suggested the red-colored vestments for the liturgical services during the whole Octave. In the 13th century, a dove was allowed to fly about in the church, and flowers and flaming tow were cast down from the roof, during the Mass on Pentecost; these were allusions to the two mysteries of Jesus' Baptism, and of the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost.

Throughout the Octave, Holy Church celebrates the Hour of Tierce with unusual solemnity, in order to honor more markedly the mystery of Pentecost. This portion of the Divine Office, which corresponds with our nine o'clock in the morning, begins with a hymn to the Holy Ghost composed by St. Ambrose; but today She uses instead the sublime and mystic Veni Creator, which, according to our Catholic Tradition, was written in the 9th century by St. Karl the Great (Charlemagne).

It was St. Hugh, Abbot of Cluny, in the 11th century, who was inspired with the thought of introducing it into the Tierce of Pentecost; and our Holy Roman Church showed Her approbation of the practice by adopting it into Her liturgy; thus the custom of singing the Veni Creator before or during the Mass of Pentecost, in churches where Tierce is not sung. During this soul-stirring hymn, the faithful should fervently adore the Holy Ghost, and invite Him into their hearts. If there be no obstacle on our part, He will take possession of our souls. Showing Him how our souls are sealed with Himself, by the indelible characters of Baptism and Confirmation, let us beseech Him to defend His own work. Let us remember that, in order to receive the Holy Ghost and keep Him within us, we must renounce the spirit of the world, for our Savior has said: "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6: 24).

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