Come, Holy Spirit: why Pentecost counts

Pentecost has always been a special time for me, though wrapped in mystery. I remember as a little girl in the Lutheran church learning, to my great surprise, that it was the second great Christian celebration in the liturgical year, trumping Christmas! How could that be possible? I couldn’t really grasp at that point how Easter even trumped Christmas (hard-boiled eggs don’t stand a chance against candy canes in my books), much less Pentecost. There were no parties for Pentecost, no family gatherings, and no special meals. Church wasn’t even much different than normal. What was the big deal, anyway?

As I look back, my disbelief doesn’t surprise me, as there was a pretty serious disconnect between what we said and what we did regarding Pentecost. Despite what we said, Pentecost just wasn’t as important as Christmas. It ranked somewhere between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July: we remembered it, we went to Church, and we moved on. While both Christmas and Easter were preceded by special seasons of preparation, Pentecost wasn’t.

Things changed a bit when I became Catholic. Then I attended a Pentecost Vigil Mass for the first time, at a parish with a great devotion to the Holy Spirit. I still remember the holiness, the specialness of the Mass – the whole atmosphere was charged with expectation, with the feel that anything could happen next. Most of the congregation was dressed in red, and the church was packed to the rafters and lovingly decorated. I remember the prayers of the faithful, read in all different languages, the incense, the music, and the joy of all present. Finally I saw Pentecost as counting. It really did matter.

This sense has only grown in me as time has passed. In fact, now it seems to me that Pentecost does have a preparatory season: the Easter season, of which Pentecost is both a culmination and apex. You could even say that Pentecost contains within it all the other great celebrations of the liturgical year. It completes the unveiling of the Messiah’s name and mission begun in the Annunciation, inviting all the nations to learn the name of Jesus, first heard by Mary from Gabriel’s lips. Like Christmas, it celebrates a birth – only now, instead of the human body of Jesus, we honor the mystical body of Christ, the Church born after a period of silent, prayerful waiting. Pentecost develops the proclamation heard at Christ’s Baptism, “you are my beloved son” and extends those precious words as an invitation to all who receive the Spirit of adoption in baptism. It announces in many more tongues what was written on Christ’s cross on Good Friday in three languages, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The coming of the Spirit also reminds us of and completes the joy of Easter: the One whose Spirit has filled the infant Church with such life is certainly risen, as he promised.

Our community will be ushering in the Holy Spirit
with the extended form of the Pentecost Vigil Mass, as we have since it became available for use with the new edition of the Missal. This is a lovely end to the Easter season, forming with the Easter Vigil a sort of frame for the whole time. It is a great source of joy to me that this occasion doesn’t feel stale, forced, or old, despite the fact that we seem always to be calling down the Holy Spirit, imploring him to come and fill our hearts. I attribute this constant newness to our community’s love for Our Lady, who teaches us to await and to receive the Holy Spirit. Recently, I was at a votive Mass for Our Lady of the Cenacle, and was captivated by the words of the preface:

"She who waited in prayer for the coming of Christ is still at prayer as she calls upon the promised Paraclete; she who was overshadowed by the Spirit at the incarnation of the Word is once more filled with your Gift from on high at the birth of God’s new people. As she keeps vigil in prayer, her heart on fire with love, she is the model of the Church, enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and keeping watch for the Second Coming of Christ.

Wow! No matter how much Mary has received of God’s life, she is always longing for more, waiting for more, praying for more. May we imitate her as we prepare for and celebrate Pentecost, and may the Holy Spirit “whom the Father sent as the first fruits for those who believe, bring to perfection his work in the world”.

-Sr. Agnes Therese Davis, TOR

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