By the time this column appears in print, Pentecost will have come and gone. In the waning days of the Easter season, the liturgy prompted us to wait for the coming of the Spirit; but there is no comparable liturgical effort in the days following the feast to help us relish the Spirit dwelling in us. The liturgy once encouraged Christians during the now-suppressed octave of Pentecost to meditate on the Spirit. Medieval monks savored the Spirit’s gifts deeply enough to give us the so-called Golden Sequence, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” which we still chant today. Rabanus Maurus in the ninth century gave us the equally rich “Veni, Creator Spiritus”; and in our times the monks of Taizé popularized their own importunate round, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus.”
According to Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, even Pope Paul VI, when he prepared to vest to celebrate Mass the Monday after Pentecost in 1969, was surprised and saddened to learn that under his authorization the day now belonged to Ordinary Time. The older octave, Kirby writes on his blog, Vultus Christi (snipurl.com/23r4tee), “was eight days under the grace of the Holy Spirit, eight days of joy in the fire and light of His presence, eight days of thanksgiving for His gifts. The Octave of Pentecost was one of the most beautiful moments in the Church Year, not only by reason of the liturgical texts, but also by reason of its effect in the secret of hearts.”
What the suppression of the octave deprived us of is the opportunity, in Dom Mark’s words, to “linger over anything momentous...to bask in the after-glow of events rich in meaning...to prolong the feast.” People have an innate capacity and desire for meditation, he writes. “Meditatio is the act of repetition by which truth, or beauty, or goodness passes from the head into the heart. There it becomes life-changing.”
This Pentecost 2012 we sorely need to appreciate the beauty and the power of the Spirit alive in us—and to celebrate the Spirit moving in the wider church and in the world. For it so often seems we are living in a time of “the quenched Spirit,” when God no longer sends prophets to speak his word and the prophets we hear are often false prophets. We need the gentle comfort of the Spirit to nurse our bruised hearts and the Spirit’s light to guide us through dark times. Most of all, we need the divine gift of reform and re-animation.
Pope Paul testified to his confidence in the Spirit’s active presence in both the church and the world. “We live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit,” he wrote in “Evangelii Nuntiandi.” “Everywhere people are trying to know him better.... They are happy to place themselves under his inspiration.... Through the Holy Spirit, the Gospel penetrates to the heart of the world, for it is he who causes people to discern the signs of the times.”
The same conviction was shared by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who declared in “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” “The People of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord who fills the earth.” Inspired by that faith, the council reappropriated the ancient teaching on charisms and recalibrated the balance between charism and office in the life of the church. It also thrust the church into the world, confident that the Spirit was at work there as well as in the church.
Let us own the gifts the Spirit continues to pour out on the church to renew her. Let us honor the Spirit by discerning with other Christians and men and women of good will the signs of the times through which God continues to transform our world. Finally, let us take up for ourselves Blessed John XXIII’s daily prayer for the council, “O Holy Spirit, renew thy wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.”