On the Meaning of Pentecost …

Pentecost mosaic in Rosary Basilica of Lourdes

Today is the great Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descends upon Our Lady and the Apostles, ten days after Our Lord’s Glorious Ascension into Heaven.

It falls fifty days after Easter, on the day of the Jewish ‘Feast of Weeks’ (Shavuot), when the Hebrews celebrated the revelation of the Law to Moses.

And whilst the ‘Feast of Weeks’ was originally a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost is a celebration of the fruits of Christ’s Incarnation (His Redemptive works) – the inauguration of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, His passion and Death on the Cross, His Resurrection and Glorious Ascension into Heaven. This completes the Paschal Mystery.

And just as it was on Shauvot that Moses received the Law on Mont Sinai, at Pentecost we receive a New Law.

For as the Holy Ghost descends, He breathes His Spirit into the foundations of the Church, laid by Our Lord during His Incarnation.

The Church was born with the pouring forth of Blood and Water from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced on the Cross. Yet it is with the descent of the Holy Ghost that Divine life pours into the Mystical Body of Christ, vivifying Her members and sanctifying Her. It is like a baptism, where by the Church becomes manifest in the world.

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Shortly before Jesus was raised up into Heaven, He spoke these words to His disciples:

When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you.

He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you (St. John 16:13-14).

Having witnessed Jesus Ascend to the Heavenly Kingdom, with these words in mind, the disciples retired to the upper room, or Cenacle, to pray for the descent of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete.

This nine day period of prayer, between the Ascension and Pentecost, is considered to be the very first Novena. Each Novena we pray today, follows the same pattern – nine days of prayer for a specific intention. And there are still many Novenas prayed during the nine days leading up to Pentecost, whilst awaiting the descent of the Holy Ghost.

For at the close of these original nine days of the first Novena, the Holy Ghost did indeed descend – just as Jesus had told them. This is what occurred:

And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place. And 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 it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak (Acts 2:1-4).

As the Spirit of Truth descended, pouring forth Divine Love and Wisdom as tongues of fire upon the Apostles, Holy Church was born. Therefore, Pentecost not only completes the Paschal Mystery, it marks the beginning of another mystery, the birth of Holy Church.

For Holy Church is born of these fruits. In obedience to the Holy Will of the Father, the Paraclete, pours forth the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom of the Holy Trinity.

And this Love and Wisdom entered into the hearts and souls of the Apostles. Filled with the Spirit of truth, Jesus’ followers found that they could speak in all tongues. They were given the understanding and the fortitude to go and preach to all the nations, bringing the Gospel to the whole world. And in so doing, the Universal and Apostolic natures of the Church were revealed.

‘The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

In the sense of ‘according to the totality’ or ‘in keeping with the whole’. The Church is catholic in a double sense:

First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. ‘Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.’ In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him ‘the fullness of the means of salvation’ which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost …

Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race (CCC 830-831).

And whilst the Apostolic members of the New Church preach the Word of God to the nations, and countless conversions result, they are sustained and fortified by the Sacraments.

In this way, Holy Church was –and is – shaped and formed, continuing the work of Redemption, whilst Her Head, Jesus Christ, reigns in Heaven, as Sovereign High Priest. His Redemptive fruits are ministered to us, His members, by means of Apostolic Succession (the Priesthood) through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost within the body of Holy Church.

On this day of Pentecost, when Holy Church is born, so is Her sacramentality. For Our Lord Jesus Christ now comes to us, in a sacramental way. By the power of the Holy Ghost, the Son is mediated into the world, where:

He acts through the sacraments (CCC 1076).

The Catechism describes this manifestation:

The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ – the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church …

In this age of the Church, Christ now lives and acts in and with his Church, in a new way appropriate to this new age. He acts through the sacraments … this is the communication (or dispensation) of the fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church’s ‘sacramental’ liturgy (CCC 1076).

As the culmination of the Paschal Mystery, Pentecost completes the fruits of Christ’s Redemptive work on earth. Yet, as the bearer of these fruits, the Holy Ghost pours forth life, ‘making Holy Church manifest in the world’.

Pentecost therefore, both seals the fruits of His Incarnation and brings them afresh, to grow forth into the Universal and Sacramental life of the Church.

All the while, Her Head, Jesus Christ, reigns on High, as Sovereign Priest, offering Himself to us as victim. With Infinite Love and Infinite Mercy, through the power of the Holy Ghost, He continues to act in the world through the Sacraments.

With all this in mind, we move forward into Time After Pentecost, where the liturgy focuses on the fruits of the Paschal Mystery – the preaching of the Faith to all the nations, the consequent conversions and the sacramental life, all of which is Holy Church.

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