Whit Sunday, The Day of Pentecost
(by Fr. Prosper Gueranger 1870)
Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle within them the fire of thy love.
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. ii. 1). We have had seven weeks since the Pasch; and now comes the day that opens the mysterious number of Fifty. This day is the Sunday, already made holy by the Creation of the Light, and by the Resurrection of Jesus; it is about to receive its final consecration, and bring us the fullness of God (Eph. iii. 19).
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 his 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 (the 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 triumphant 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, amidst thunder and lightning, promulgates a Law that is written on tablets of stone; the second is in Jerusalem, 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; the hearts of men are not stricken with fear, as when God spake on Sinai; repentance and gratitude, these are the sentiments which are now uppermost. A divine fire burns within their souls, and will spread throughout the whole world. Our Lord Jesus had said: I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled (St. Luke, xii. 49)? The hour for the fulfillment of this word is come: the Spirit of Love, the Holy Ghost, the eternal uncreated Flame, is about to descend from heaven, and realize the merciful design 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 are come from every foreign land where Israel has founded a Synagogue; they are 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, nor blasphemed His works whereby He gave testimony of His divine character. It may be that they took part with the other Jews in clamouring for Jesus' death, but they were led to it by the Chief Priests and Magistrates of the Jerusalem which they reverenced as the holy City of God, and to which nothing but religious motives have brought them.
It is the hour of Tierce, the third hour of the day (Our nine o'clock. Acts, ii. 15), fixed from all eternity, for the accomplishment of a divine decree. It was at the hour of midnight, that the Father sent into this world, that He might take flesh in Mary's womb, the Son eternally begotten of Himself: so now, at this hour of Tierce, the Father and Son, send upon the earth the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from them both. He is sent to form the Church, the Spouse and Kingdom of Christ; He is to assist and maintain her; He is to save and sanctify the souls of men; and this His Mission is to continue to the end of time.
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. A crowd is soon round the house that stands on Mount Sion; the hundred and twenty Disciples that are within the building, feel that mysterious emotion within them, of which their Master once said: The Spirit breatheth where He will, and thou hearest His voice (St. John, iii. 8). Like that strange invisible creature, which probes the very depth of the sea and makes the waves heave mountains high, this Breath from heaven will traverse the world from end to end, breaking down every barrier that would stay its course.
The holy assembly have been days in fervent expectation; the Divine Spirit gives them this warning of His coming, and they, in the passiveness of extatic longing, await his will. As to them that are outside the Cenacle, and have responded to the appeal thus given, let us, for the moment, forget them. A silent shower falls in the House; it is a shower of Fire, which, as holy Church says, "burns not, but enlightens, consumes not, but shines (Responsory for the Thursday within the Octave)." Flakes of fire, in the shape of tongues, rest on the heads of the hundred and twenty Disciples: it is the Holy Ghost taking possession of all and each. The Church is now, not only in Mary, but also in these hundred and twenty Disciples. All belong now to the Spirit that has descended upon them; His kingdom is begun, it is manifested, its conquests will be speedy and glorious.
But let us consider the symbol chosen to designate this divine change. He Who showed himself under the endearing form of a Dove, on the occasion of Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan, now appears under that of Fire. He is the Spirit of Love; and love is not only gentle and tender, it is, also, ardent as fire. Now, therefore, that the world is under the influence of the Holy Ghost, it must needs be on fire, and the fire shall not be checked. And why this form of Tongues? To show that the heavenly fire is to be spread by the word, by speech. These hundred and twenty Disciples need but to speak of the Son of God, made Man, and our Redeemer; of the Holy Ghost, Who renews our souls; of the heavenly Father, who loves and adopts us as His children; their word will find thousands to believe and welcome it. Those that receive it, shall all be united in one faith; they shall be called the Catholic Church, that is, universal, existing in all places and times. Jesus had said: Go, teach all nations (St. Matth. xxviii. 19)!--the Holy Ghost brings from heaven both the tongue that is to teach, and the fire, (the love of God and mankind,) which is to give warmth and efficacy to the teaching. This Tongue and Fire are now given to these first Disciples, who, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, will transmit them to others: so will it be to the end of time.
An obstacle, however, opposes the mission at the very onset. Since the confusion at Babel, there have been as many languages as countries; communication by word has been interrupted. How, then, is the word to become the instrument of the world's conquest, and make one family out of all these nations, that cannot understand each other? Fear not: the Holy Spirit is all-powerful, and has provided for this difficulty. With the other gifts, wherewith He has enriched the hundred and twenty 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, not only without effort, but even with charm and joy, this plenitude of word and speech which is to re-unite mankind together. The Spirit of love has annulled the separation of Babel; men are once more made Brethren by the unity of language.
How beautiful art thou, dear Church of our God! Heretofore, the workings of the Holy Ghost have been limited; but now, He breatheth freely where He willeth; He brings thee forth to the eyes of men by this stupendous prodigy. Thou art the image of what this earth was, when all its inhabitants spoke the same language. The prodigy is not to cease with the day of Pentecost, nor with the Disciples who are its first receivers. When the Apostles have terminated their lives and preaching, the gift of tongues, at least in its miraculous form, will cease, because no longer needed: but thou, O Church of Christ! wilt continue to speak all languages, even to the end of time, for thou art to dwell in every clime. The one same Faith is to be expressed in the language of every country; and thus transformed, the miracle of Pentecost is to be kept up forever within thee, as one of thy characteristic marks.
The great St. Augustine alluded to this, when he spoke the following admirable words: "The whole body of Christ, the Church, now speaks in all tongues. Nay, I myself speak all tongues, for I am in the body of Christ, I am in the Church of Christ. If the body of Christ now speaks all languages, then am I in all languages. Greek is mine, Syriac is mine, Hebrew is mine, and all are mine, for I am one with all the several nations that speak them (Enarratio in Psalmum cxlvii. vers. 14)." 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 epistolary 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; it dismembered that Europe, which the Church had united, not only by her Faith, but by her language. But let us return to the Cenacle, and continue our contemplation of the wondrous workings of the Holy Spirit within this still closed sanctuary.
First of all, we look for Mary; for Her who now, more than ever, is full of grace. After those measureless gifts lavished upon her in her Immaculate Conception; after the treasures of holiness infused into her by the Incarnate Word during the nine months she bore Him in her womb; after the special graces granted her for acting and suffering in union with her Son, in the work of the world's Redemption; after the favors wherewith this same Jesus loaded her when in the glory of His Resurrection; after all this, we should have thought that heaven had given all it could give to a mere creature, however sublime the destiny of that creature might be. But no. Here is a new mission opened for Mary. The Church is born; she is born of Mary. Mary has given birth to the Spouse of her Son; new duties fall upon the Mother of the Church. Jesus has ascended into heaven, leaving Mary upon the earth, that she may nurse the infant-Church. Oh! how lovely, and yet how dignified, is this infancy of our dear Church, cherished as she is, fed, and strengthened by Mary! But this second Eve, this true Mother of the living? must receive a fresh infusion of grace to fit her for this her new office: therefore it is, that She has the first claim to, and the richest portion of, the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Heretofore, He overshadowed her and made her Mother of the Son of God; now, He makes her the Mother of the Christian people. It is the verification of those words of the Royal Prophet: The stream (literally, the impetuosity) of the river maketh the City of God joyful: the Most High hath sanctified His own Tabernacle (Ps. xlv. 5). The Spirit of Love here fulfils the intention expressed by our Redeemer when dying on the Cross. Woman! said Jesus to her, behold thy Son! St. John was this son, and he represented all mankind. The Holy Ghost now infuses into Mary the plenitude of the grace needful for her maternal mission. From this day forward, she acts as Mother of the infant Church: and when, at length, the Church no longer needs her visible presence, this Mother quits the earth for heaven, where she is crowned Queen; but there, too, she exercises her glorious title and office of Mother of men. Let us contemplate this master-piece of Pentecost, and admire the new loveliness that beams in Mary from this second Maternity. She is inflamed by the fire of divine love, and this in a way not felt before. She is all devoted to the office put upon her, and for which she has been left on earth. The grace of the Apostolate is granted to her. She has received the tongue of fire; and although her voice is not to make itself heard in public preaching, yet will she speak to the Apostles, directing and consoling them in their labors. She will speak, too, to the Faithful, but with a force, sweetness, and persuasiveness, becoming one whom God has made the most exalted of His creatures. The primitive Christians, with such a training as this, will have a vigour and an energy enough to resist all the attacks of hell, and, like Stephen, who had often listened to her inspiring words, die Martyrs for the Faith.
Let us next look at the Apostolic College. The frequent instructions they have been receiving from their Lord, during the forty days after His Resurrection, have changed them into quite other men; but now that they have received the Holy Ghost, the change and conversion is complete. They are filled with the enthusiasm of faith; their souls are on fire with divine love; the conquest of the whole world, this is their ambition, and they know it is their mission. What their Master had told them, is fulfilled: they are endued with Power from on high (St. Luke, xxiv. 49) and are ready for the battle. Who would suppose that these are the men who crouched with fear, when their Jesus was in the hands of His enemies? Who would take these to be the men that doubted of His Resurrection? All that this beloved Master has taught them is now so clear to them! They see it all, they understand it all. The Holy Ghost has infused into them, and in a sublime degree, the gift of Faith; they are impatient to spread this Faith throughout the whole earth. Far from fearing, they even long to suffer persecution in the discharge of the office entrusted to them by Jesus that of preaching His name and His glory unto all nations.
Look at Peter. You easily recognize him by that majestic bearing, which, though sweetly tempered by deep humility, bespeaks his pre-eminent dignity. A few hours ago, it was the tranquil gravity of the Head of the Apostolic College; now, his whole face gleams with the flash of enthusiasm, for the Holy Ghost is now sovereign possessor of this Vicar of Christ, this Prince of the word, this master-teacher of truth. Near him are seated the other Apostles: Andrew, his elder brother, who now conceives that ardent passion for the Cross, which is to be his grand characteristic; John, whose meek and gentle eye now glistens with the fire of inspiration, betokening the Prophet of Patmos; James, the brother of John, and called, like him, the son of thunder (St. Mark, iii. 17), bears in his whole attitude the appearance of the future chivalrous conqueror of Iberia. The other James, known and loved under the name of Brother of Jesus, feels a fresh and deeper transport of joyousness as the power of the Spirit thrills through his being. Matthew is encircled with a glowing light, which points him out to us as the first writer of the New Testament. Thomas, whose faith was the fruit he took from Jesus' Wounds, feels that faith now made perfect; it is generous, free, unreserved, worthy of the brave Apostle of the far East. In a word, all Twelve are a living hymn to the glory of the almighty Spirit, Whose power is thus magnificently evinced even at the onset of His reign.
The Disciples, too, are sharers, though in a less degree than the Apostles, of the divine gifts; they receive the same Spirit, the same sacred Fire, for they, too, are to go forth, conquer the world, and found Churches. The holy Women, also, who form part of the assembly of the Cenacle, have received the graces of this wondrous Descent of the Holy Ghost. It was love that emboldened them to stand near the Cross of Jesus, and be the first to visit His Sepulchre on Easter morning; this love is now redoubled. A tongue of fire has stood over each of them, and the time will come when they will speak, with fervid eloquence, of Jesus, to both Jews and Gentiles. The Synagogue will banish Magdalene and her Companions: the Gentiles of our western Europe will receive them, and the word of these holy exiles will produce a hundredfold of fruit.
Meanwhile, a large crowd of Jews 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 clamour for the Apostles, and these are burning with zeal to begin their work: so, too, are all. At once, then, 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? They have heard them speak before this, and they expected a repetition of the jargon now; when, lo! there is the correct accent and diction of every country, and with such eloquence! The symbol of unity is here shown in all its magnificence. Here is the Christian Church, and it is One, One though consisting of such varied elements: the walls of division, which divine justice had set up between nation and nation, are now removed. Here, also, are the heralds of the Faith of Christ: they are ready for their grand mission; they long to traverse the earth, and save it by the word of their preaching.
But, in the crowd, there are some who are shocked at witnessing this heavenly enthusiasm of the Apostles. These men, say they, are full of new wine! It is the language of rationalism, explaining away mystery by reason. These Galileans, these drunken men, are, however, to conquer the whole world to Christ, and give the Holy Ghost, with His inebriating unction, to all mankind. The holy 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. It is time for the Shepherd to show himself, and speak, for the Flock is now to be formed. Let us hearken to the Holy Ghost, Who is about to speak, by his chief organ, to this wondering and attentive multitude. The Apostle, though he speaks in one tongue, is understood by each of his audience, no matter what his country and language may be. The discourse is, of its own-self, a guarantee of the truth and divine origin of the new law.
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, and, with your ears, receive my words! For 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: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And upon my servants indeed, and upon my handmaids, will I pour out, in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.' Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you, by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as you also know. This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you, by the hands of wicked men, have crucified and slain. Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the sorrows of hell (the tomb), as it was impossible that He should be holden by it. For David saith concerning him: 'My flesh shall rest in hope, because thou wilt not leave my soul in the Tomb, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.' Ye men, Brethren, let me freely speak to you of the Patriarch David: that he died and was buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day. Whereas, therefore, he was a Prophet, he spoke of the Resurrection of Christ; for neither was He 'left in the Tomb,' neither did his 'flesh' see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised again, whereof all we are witnesses. Being exalted by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath poured forth this which you see and hear. 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, ii. 14-36)."
Thus did the second Moses promulgate the New Law. How must not his hearers have welcomed the stupendous gift of this new Pentecost, which put them in possession of the divine realities foreshadowed by that figurative one of old! Here again, it was God revealing Himself to His creatures, and, as usual, by miracles. Peter alludes to the wonders wrought by Jesus, Who thus bore testimony of His being the Messias. He tells his audience, that the Holy Ghost has been sent from heaven, according to the promise made to this Jesus by his Father: they have proof enough of the great fact, in the gift of tongues of which themselves are witnesses.
The Holy Spirit makes His presence and influence to be felt in the hearts of these favored listeners. A few moments previous, and they were disciples of Sinai, who had come from distant lands to celebrate the by-gone Pasch and Pentecost; now they have faith, simple and full faith, in Christ. They repent the awful crime of His Death, of which they have been accomplices; they confess His Resurrection and Ascension; they beseech Peter and the rest of the Apostles to put them in the way of salvation: Men and Brethren! say they, what shall we do (Acts, ii. 37)? Better dispositions could not be: they desire to know their duty, and are determined to do it. 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. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call (Ibid. 38, 39)."
The Jewish Pentecost pales at each word of the new Moses; the Christian Pentecost manifests itself with clearer light. The reign of the Holy Ghost is inaugurated in Jerusalem, and under the very shadow of that Temple which is doomed to destruction. Peter continued his instructions; but the sacred volume has left us only these few words, wherewith, probably, the Apostle made his final appeal to his hearers: "Save yourselves from this perverse generation (Acts. ii 40)!
Yes, 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 Spirit triumphed; three thousand declared themselves disciples of Christ, and received the mark of adoption in holy Baptism. 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 hundred and twenty Disciples of the Cenacle; and now, three thousand 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 five thousand men will enroll themselves as Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Hail! then, dear creation of the Holy Ghost! Militant on earth; triumphant in heaven; beautiful, noble, immortal Church! all hail! And thou, bright Pentecost! day of our truest birth! how fair, how glorious, thou makest these first hours of Jesus' Spouse on earth! The Divine Spirit thou givest us, has written, not upon stone, but upon our hearts, the Law that is to govern us. In thee, O Pentecost! we find realized the hopes foreshadowed in the mystery of the Epiphany; for though 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 Spirit! 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 offerest 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. This mission could not take place until Jesus had been glorified, as St. John tells us (St. John, vii. 39); and there are several reasons assigned for it by the Holy Fathers. It was necessary that the Son of God, Who, together with the Father, is the principle of the procession of the Holy Ghost in the divine essence, should also personally send this Divine Spirit upon the earth. The exterior mission of one of the Three Persons is but the sequel and manifestation of the mysterious and eternal production which is ever going on within the Divinity. Thus the Father is not sent either by the Son or by the Holy Ghost, because He does not proceed from them. The Son is sent to men by the Father, of Whom He is eternally begotten. The Holy Ghost is sent by the Father and the Son, because He proceeds from both. But, in order that the mission of the Holy Ghost might give greater glory to the Son, there was a congruity in its not taking place until such time as the Incarnate Word should be enthroned at the right hand of the Father. How immense the glory of Human Nature, that it was hypostatically united to the Person of the Son of God when this mission of the Holy Ghost was achieved! and that we can say, in strict truth, the Holy Ghost was sent by the Man-God!
This divine Mission was not to be given to the Third Person, until men were deprived of the visible presence of Jesus. As we have already said, the hearts of the Faithful were henceforward to follow their absent Redeemer by a purer and wholly spiritual love. Now, Who was to bring us this new love, if not He Who is the link of the eternal love of the Father and the Son? This Holy Spirit of love and union is called, in the Sacred Scriptures?, the "Gift of God (St. John, iv. 10);" and it is on the day of Pentecost that the Father and Son send us this ineffable Gift. Let us call to mind the words spoken by our Emmanuel to the Samaritan Woman at the Well of Sichar: If thou didst know the Gift of God (St. John, iv. 10)! He had not yet been given, He had not yet been manifested, otherwise than in a partial way. From this day forward, He inundates the whole earth with his Fire, He gives spiritual life to all, He makes His influence felt in every place. We know the Gift of God; so that we have but to open our hearts to receive Him, as did the three thousand who listened to St. Peter's sermon.
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 that harmonizes with His own divine characteristic. He is a consuming Fire (Deut. iv. 24); He comes into the world when summer is in his pride, and 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. As we have already remarked, it formerly shared with Easter the honor of the solemn administration of Baptism. Its Octave, like that of Easter, and for the same reason, ended with the Saturday following the Feast. The Catechumens received Baptism on the night between Saturday and Sunday. So that the Pentecost Solemnity began on the Vigil, for the Neophytes at once put on their white garments: on the eighth day, the 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 colour and fragrance of this lovely flower were considered by our Catholic Forefathers as emblems of the Tongues of Fire, which rested on the heads of the hundred and twenty Disciples, and poured forth the sweet gifts of love and grace on the infant Church. The same idea suggested the red-coloured Vestments for the Liturgical Services during the whole Octave. In his Rational, (a work which abounds in most interesting information regarding the Medieeval Liturgical usages,) Durandus tells us, that in the 13th Century, a Dove was allowed to fly about in the Church, and flowers and lighted tow were thrown down from the roof, during the Mass on Whit Sunday; these were allusions to the two mysteries of Jesus' Baptism, and of the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost.
At Rome, the Station is in the Basilica of Saint Peter. It was but just, that special honour should be paid to the Prince of the Apostles, for it was on this day that his preaching won three thousand converts to the Church. Though the Station, and the Indulgences attached to it, are at Saint Peter's, yet the Sovereign Pontiff and the sacred College of Cardinals solemnize today's Service in the Lateran Basilica, which is the Mother Church of the City and the World.
The great Day is far spent: but, the Holy Spirit, Whom we received this morning at the Hour of Tierce, gives us the irresistible desire to prolong our study of the sublime Mystery. Let us, then, return to Jerusalem. The flame enkindled in the hearts of the Apostles has spread among the admiring crowd. The Jewish pride of these men, who, but a few weeks back, had followed the Divine Victim up the hill of Calvary, hooting him with their blasphemies, is now changed into contrition; they are heartbroken at the thought of their having crucified the Lord of glory (I. Cor. ii. 8). They only require to know the truth, believe it, and be baptized, and they will be true Christians. Whilst the Holy Spirit is working within them, Peter and his fellow-Apostles continue their instructions: "He that died upon the Cross, and rose again from the grave, is the very Son of God, born of the Father from all eternity; the Spirit, that is now sent among them, is the Third Person, one with the Father and Son in the unity of the Divine Nature." The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, are revealed, in all their magnificence, to these disciples of Moses; the shadows of the ancient figures give place to the light and realities of the new Covenant. The time is come for the fulfillment of the prophecy uttered by St. John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan, a prophecy which many of the present audience heard him speak: There hath stood one in the midst of you, Whom ye know not. The same is He that shall come after me, Who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. I baptize with water, but he shall baptize with the Holy Ghost (St. John, i. 26, 27, 33)."
And yet, this Baptism of Fire is to be administered by Water. The Spirit, Who is Fire, works by Water and is called the "Fountain of living Water." The Prophet Ezechiel foresaw this great Day, when he spoke these words: "I will pour upon you clean Water, and you shall be cleansed from all your fithiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new Spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in the midst of you, and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them. And you shall be my people, and I will be your God (Ezechiel, xxxvi. 25, 28)."
Nothing could be clearer than this prophecy; when the Spirit came, there was to be a fount of water poured out upon men. We have already seen this Divine Spirit brooding over the Waters at the Creation. At the Epiphany, when celebrating the mystery of Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan, we saw the heavenly Dove uniting with the Word Incarnate in imparting a sanctifying power to the favoured element of Water. On Holy Saturday, at the blessing of the Font, the Pontiff plunged the Paschal Candle, (the symbol of Christ,) into the Water, and prayed thus: " May the virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the Water of this Font!" And now, on this Day of Pentecost, the cleansing stream is poured out in Jerusalem: Peter and his Brethren plunge these children of Israel beneath the life-giving element, and lo! three thousand children are regenerated in Christ! How admirable are these ancestors of our Faith, in whom were first fulfilled the prophecies! We rejoiced at seeing the Magi dismount from their camels, enter the stable, and offer their mystic gifts at the feet of the King of the Jews; but oh! how gladder, and how grander, is our summer day of Pentecost! for now the mysteries are complete; we are redeemed, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, the Holy Ghost has been sent to us, and is to abide with us forever. Those rich sources of grace, the Sacraments, which our Jesus instituted during his stay among us, must now be thrown open. Baptism is the first: the Spirit of the Father and the Son has opened it by His coming, nor will the sacred stream cease to flow, till time be swallowed up in eternity. But this same Divine Spirit is the "Gift of the Most High God;" the Apostles have received it, but they have received it in order to impart it to mankind. A second source is therefore opened, and the Sacrament of Confirmation gives the Holy Ghost to the three thousand Neophytes. It is administered by Peter and his fellow-Apostles, the Bishops of the New Law: by the power that is in them, they communicate to the newly baptized the heavenly strength they will henceforth need for confessing the Name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Even this is not dignity enough for these favored Christians: they have been regenerated to a life of grace, they are doubly crowned by a twofold character, and now they are to have union with Christ, the Institutor of the Sacraments, the Mediator and Redeemer of mankind. A third source must be opened: the new Priesthood, exercised for the first time by the Apostles, must produce the Bread of Life, that is, Jesus Himself, and feed the Neophytes with this Manna, which giveth life to the world (St. John. vi. 33). The Upper Chamber, still fragrant with the sweet Institution of the Eucharist, is the scene of its second celebration. Peter, surrounded by his Brethren, consecrates the Bread and Wine; and, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, the Body and Blood of Jesus are on the Altar. The New Sacrifice is inaugurated, and henceforth it shall be daily offered up to the end of time. The Neophytes approach, and receive from the hands of the Apostles the heavenly food which consummates their union with God, through Jesus, the Priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech (Ps. cix. 4; Heb. v. 6: vii. 17).
But, among those who communicate at this first celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, there is the Blessed Mother of Jesus, in whose virginal womb He took Flesh. The Holy Ghost has, by His coming, given a new consecration to the office entrusted to her by Jesus, when, dying upon the Cross, He made her Mother of Men; and now she is united, by the Mystery of Love, to that same dearest Jesus of hers, Who has ascended into heaven, leaving her to foster his infant Church. Henceforward, the Bread of Life will daily give her this her Beloved Son, until, at length, she herself shall be assumed into heaven, there to see and embrace him for endless ages.
What a happiness for those Neophytes who were privileged, above the rest, in being brought to the Queen of Heaven, the Virgin-Mother of Him Who was the hope of Israel! They saw this second Eve, they conversed with her, they felt for her that filial affection wherewith she inspired all the Disciples of Jesus. The Liturgy will speak to us, at another Season, of these favoured ones; we only allude to the incident now, to show how full and complete was the great Day, on which began our Holy Mother Church. The sacred Hierarchy was seen in Peter, (the Vicar of Christ,) in the other Apostles, and in the Disciples chosen by Jesus Himself. The seed of the word was sown in good soil, Baptism was administered to three thousand Israelites, the Holy Ghost was given to them to make them perfect Christians, the Son of God fed them with His own Flesh and Blood, and Mary adopted them as her spiritual Children.
Let us now unite our voices with that of the Church; let us sing, with her, the praises of that Holy Spirit, who made this first day of His Mission to be so rich in grace.