Catholic Activity: Meditation on Pentecost
Father Parsch explains the significance of Pentecost and the meaning in our own spiritual life.
Pentecost — from the Greek pentekoste, the fiftieth day — is Easter's double as well as its "jubilee octave" (i.e., 7 X 7 + 1). It brings the Easter season to a second climax. Pentecost, therefore, is not an independent feast; it is rather the seal or finale to Easter. If we do not overlook the fundamental differences, we might liken today's feast to that of Epiphany; for Epiphany bears a similar relationship to Christmas as Pentecost does to Easter. The following comparison may help. At Easter Christ, the divine Sun, rose in splendor; it is high noon at Pentecost and He sheds upon His vineyard the bright, warm rays that redden and ripen.
Another comparison. At Easter the garden of the Church is abloom with beautiful blossoms, Christians newly baptized and confirmed. By Pentecost these blossoms have developed and have matured into fruit, and now hang heavily upon the trees. The Gardener who tends the trees is our Savior Jesus Christ; the Sun that ripens the fruit is the Holy Spirit.
And a third comparison. At Easter we were born anew as children of God. Like infants we sought our Mother's nourishing milk, the holy Eucharist; carefree and happy we grew up in our Father's house. As we became older, Mother Church warned us that the happy time of childhood would pass. She taught us that we were strangers and pilgrims on this earth, that we must suffer and be patient (the third Sunday after Easter). Now at Pentecost we have come of age. Confirmation, the sacrament of spiritual adulthood, follows the same pattern.
Already in the old dispensation, Israel observed a festival called Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks. It was a day of thanksgiving for the wheat harvest and also the annual memorial to the promulgation of the Law on Mt. Sinai. The old foreshadowed the new, now we are are observing the true harvest of souls.
Pentecost marks the actual founding of the Church. On the first Pentecost the Church began to expand. Today she stands before us, vigorous and youthful, ready to continue her earthly pilgrimage that will terminate only with the end of time.
Pentecost also marks the beginning of the work and activity of the Holy Spirit. Before His departure Jesus promised that He would not leave us orphans. In His stead He would send the Paraclete, the Comforter, who would teach us all things, remind us of all things. In a most unique way Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit; today His activity in the Church and in the souls of men should impress itself upon us anew. Give more attention to the Holy Spirit, He dwells in your soul; and since baptism He has made your body and soul His temple, a house of God. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? Glorify God and bear Him in your body." What saintly lives we would lead if we would but remember that the Holy Spirit is within us!
Christ is in heaven; He is our Mediator there with the Father. But on earth His Church is guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. Christ is, indeed, present in the holy Eucharist, but He does not use His Eucharistic presence to continue the work He began in Palestine. That He leaves entirely to the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist His only desire is to serve as sacrifice and sacrificial banquet. Yes, we may say that the holy Eucharist is really the means by which the Holy Spirit sanctifies and glorifies.
The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. The Church is Christ's mystical Body. In a living body there must be a soul; and the soul of the Church is the Holy Spirit. If only we would grasp this truth in all its implications! What does the soul do to your body? It gives life. As soon as the soul leaves the body, the body is dead, utterly incapable of feeling, thinking, acting in any way; in short, without a soul the body disintegrates. Now the Holy Spirit is the soul of that great Body, the Church. He is the principle of life for the Church as a single body and for every Christian as an individual cell. It is He who gives and preserves divine life in our souls; only through Him can we pray, only through Him can we act virtuously.
In each church there are places where the Holy Spirit is especially active, viz., the confessional, the pulpit, the altar. Invisibly the sacred Dove is always hovering there.
- It is the Holy Spirit who gives the power to forgive sins. "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them," our Savior said on the night after His resurrection. Obviously, it is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that the priest can relieve one of the burden of sin.
- Preaching too is the work of the Holy Spirit. By faith we know that the sermon is not the ordinary speech of man; it is God's word. The priest loans, as it were, his tongue and his mouth to God. It is the Holy Spirit who preserves the Church free from error in her office of teaching.
- Finally, holy Mass is the work par excellence of the Holy Spirit. Even as the incarnation of the Son of God was effected by the operation of the Holy Spirit ("conceived by the Holy Spirit"), so it is the Holy Spirit who now changes bread and wine into Christ's sacred body and blood. For this reason the Holy Spirit is called down upon the oblation at the Offertory. In ancient liturgies the Epiclesis (i.e., "calling down" of the Holy Spirit upon the Sacrifice) formed an essential part of the consecratory prayers.
To celebrate Pentecost properly and becomingly, I must be convinced that the same miracle will take place mystically in my soul as occurred on the first Christian Pentecost. In the holy Sacrifice of Mass the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon me, one of God's predestined children.
Activity Source: Church's Year of Grace, Volumes 1-5 by Dr. Pius Parsch, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1964