Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Preparing for Pentecost

The days between Ascension and Pentecost, during which the disciples waited in prayer and expectation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, are often referred to as the Church’s first “novena.”  This custom of heightened prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit during the days preceding Pentecost has continued in the Church up until modern times. In the 18th century, the founder of the Redemptorists, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), so famous for his Stations of the Cross, composed a novena to the Holy Spirit. In the 20th century, Paulist Monsignor John J. Burke (1875-1936), who was General Secretary of the national Catholic Welfare Conference (predecessor of the current United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), likewise composed a popular novena to the Holy Spirit in 1925.  

There are, of course, several possible ways of approaching Pentecost. The Roman Liturgy of Paul VI (now known as the "Ordinary Form" of the Roman Rite) reduced Pentecost somewhat from being a feast on a par with Easter (with an Octave equal to Easter's) to a one-day affair marking the close of a 50-day Easter season. That approach is not without merit. As the parallelism between the Jewish and Christian spring seasonal festivals suggests, the promise of the resurrection at Easter in fulfilled for the Church in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, just as for Israel the exodus from Egypt found its fulfillment in the covenant at Mount Sinai. Nor was reducing the Easter season from 56 days to 50 any great loss. (However, the abolition of the Ember Days was truly a loss, but that is another issue).

On the other hand, the more traditional emphasis on Pentecost primarily as "the Birthday of the Church" had a lot going for it. The liturgy may anticipate the eternal heavenly liturgy, but it is in the present present an earthly experience of the pilgrim Church journeying in the world. One of the challenges of the liturgy is to empower people to continue Christ's life like and work in the world as his Church - animated and empowered by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. Surely that theme deserves more attention than it sometimes gets. And what better occasion than Pentecost not just to close the Easter season but to highlight the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit in  the "ordinary" life of the Church.

In his "Notes on the Holy Spirit" from the 1870s-1880s, Paulist Founder Isaac Hecker wrote:
“The work of the Holy Ghost began on the day of Pentecost, when He descended visibly to the Apostles and disciples. It is in this dispensation we live, and when He reigns on earth, the work of the Holy Spirit will be finished. When is realized the petition of the Saviour, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 
Through the Holy Spirit the world was called out of chaos.
Through Him the patriarchs and prophets were inspired.
Through Him the way to the Incarnation was prepared.
Through Him the Church was established.
Through Him every Christian soul is regenerated.
Through Him all things receive their perfection and are glorified.
Through the Holy Spirit the martyrs received the strength to sustain triumphantly their sufferings.
Through Him the apostles of nations were filled with zeal and power to convert nations.
Through Him the innumerable litany of the Saints were sanctified.

Through the Holy Spirit we receive all that is Holy, Good, True and Beautiful.

Sanctity is the result of the primary or immediate action of the Holy Spirit in the individual soul and its faithful correspondence with this inspiration.”                                 

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