SATURDAY, MAY 14 VIGIL MASS OF PENTECOST
JOHN 7: 37-39 Link to all readings at USCCB Site
On the last and greatest day of the feast,
Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.”
He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive.
There was, of course, no Spirit yet,
because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
SUNDAY, MAY 15 THE FEAST OF PENTECOST
JOHN 20: 19-23 Link to all readings at USCCB site
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
JOHN 14: 15-16, 23B-26
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.
“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”
Now did you get all that? Don’t shoot the messenger. And if you click the link to the bishops’ site above, you will note that there are four options for the first reading of the Vigil Mass alone, including the famous Tower of Babel story from Genesis. I have attended Mass on the Pentecost Vigil where the Mass of the Sunday was used with no apologies. You might get information about your own parish’s plans from last Sunday’s bulletin, right there on the refrigerator. I just ran downstairs for more coffee and glanced at our refrigerator, and it appears we are using the short Johannine Sunday option at all the Masses including Saturday. So be it. It is probably true that there isn’t a church in the galaxy that doesn’t use the Midnight Mass readings of Christmas at all its Christmas Masses, morning, noon, or night.
I do hope that wherever you celebrate Mass this weekend, the Sequence Veni Creator Spiritus or Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit or Come, Holy Spirit) is sung with solemnity before the Gospel. The text is included in the bishops’ link cited above, but I have a YouTube link here if you have never heard this poem sung in Gregorian Latin style.
The feast of Pentecost marks the end of the Easter Season. Monday of next week is officially Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, vestment color green, and the Church will progress through the year till the end of November and the Feast of Christ the King. We will resume St. Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ deeds and works for the next six months, as people changed by the experiences of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
The Feast of Pentecost observes the outpouring of God’s enduring life animating the individual and group identity of the followers of Jesus. This act of God is portrayed in multiple ways in the New Testament—in some cases through the agency of Jesus himself, or, as in the fiery episode in the upper room portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles’ Chapter 2, through a direct intervention of the Father. This is fitting in that traditionally the Church has spoken of the Trinity in terms of operations: creating, redeeming, animating. It is impossible to separate the personhoods of God and it is equally impossible to separate the works of God.
In Genesis 2:7 [a text not included in the weekend smorgasbord] God literally blows life into Adam’s nostrils, making him a living being. Creation itself begins the Pentecostal experience, making man of the image and likeness of God. Once the human experience had taken traction God extended his self-revelation and sharing of life in Jesus of Nazareth. In the Vigil Gospel Jesus cries out during a temple feast, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” The evangelist St. John explains in the text that Jesus is speaking here of the Spirit, who will come when Jesus is “glorified.”
One may argue that God’s life among us has been a constant since creation, and this would be correct; the entirety of the Hebrew Scripture is testament to that fact. The event(s) of Pentecost mark a new turn in God’s story: the glory of the Kingdom, the eternal afterlife, has begun. The future is indeed now. St. John’s observation that the Spirit would not be poured forth till Jesus was glorified in his Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension is his way of telling us that we have seen everything we need to see and, equally importantly, heard everything we need to hear, to join Jesus. “I go before you, to prepare a place for you.”
The greatest mistake in addressing the feast of Pentecost would be to interpret the Scripture texts metaphorically and poetically. In fact, the ongoing life of God has become pointed and directed. We now know precisely how God created us to live, we have been changed and redirected in our personal baptismal/confirmational encounters with the Spirit (whether the ceremonies were adequate signs of that change or not). And perhaps most importantly, the grace of God and the knowledge of God will never be lost in the community that professes Jesus as Lord.
In my youth the Feast of Pentecost used to be called the birthday of the Church, and there is much truth in this. Theologically speaking, the community of those baptized in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has been assured of its sacred responsibility to hand on the Jesus event without error. The Church’s power to teach and its power to effect God’s salvation in the sacraments are genuine powers because the Spirit lives in the Church. I will concede that many times it is as hard to see the Spirit at work in the Church as it is to see Mount Rainier from Seattle. But at the end of the day, I have to be honest with myself and ask: would the Church look better if everyone leading it had attained my current “level of holiness?” I doubt it very much.
The fact that God breathed life into Adam, or that the Spirit gives life to the Church, does not mean that ipso facto we are God, individually or as a church, but rather that we have God to sustain us through sin and the uneven path toward virtue. The Feast of Pentecost celebrates that enduring continuity of God’s love and truth as handed along by his flawed creatures, history’s true miracle if there ever was one.