Of Many Things

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.”

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Nicholas Clifford
6 years 3 months ago
Good - I enjoyed reading this. I know nothing about the history of liturgy and its calendars, but I regret the reduction of the Sundays after Pentecost that we knew earlier, to Ordinary Time (as I regret moving the great feast of Epiphany to the nearest convenient Sunday on or around January 6th, as if it were the Columbus Day holiday or something of the sort). In the Episcopal Church, for reasons never quite clear to me, the summer and autumn Sundays are dated from Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost, but presumably the idea is much the same. And the Episcopalians (I think) still celebrate the Epiphany on its proper date.
Craig McKee
6 years 3 months ago
Old Liturgical Joke:

Q: What's GREEN and stretches from May till November?

6 years 3 months ago
Why couldn't Pope Paul VI reinstitute the octave?  I think that moving the feast of the Epiphany and the dropping of the Pentecost octave is detrimental to the overall appreciation of liturgical celebrations on the part of the laity.  Is there anything that can be done to restore what has already been changed?  We have Advent preparing us for Christmas.  Chaistmastide after that.  Lent preparing us for Easter and Eastertime after that - leading to Pentecost Sunday.  But I bet dollars to donuts that at least 90% of the faithful attending Mass that day didn't realize it was Pentecost until it was announced from the altar or read in the bulletin. And probably just as easily forgotten a day or two later.
Robert O'Connell
6 years 3 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Christiansen, for this editorial comment.  The Holy Spirit certainly does not need, but does deserve, our attention.  

It is also nice to read something that mentions Paul  VI favorably, noting his humble humaanity.   
Campion House
6 years 3 months ago
A close reading of the missal will find that the week preceding Pentecost is filled with the same kind of references to the Holy Spirit that one found in the old octave. The rationale for eliminating the Pentecost Octave was to regain the early church's notion of the integrity of the 50 Days of Easter =Pentecost). I am not sure about the story that Paul VI was surprised by the elimnation of the octave. He was very 'hands on' in the production of the missal that bears his name. That story has been used to attack the whole project of the 1969 and to argue that Paul VI had been duped.
Eugene Vavrick
6 years 3 months ago
I totally agree with Fr. Baldovin's comment above. Paul VI was intricately involved with the production of the Missal of 1969, and the reform of the liturgical year. The conciliar liturgists went back to history, studied the ancient practices, and sought to recover the best meaning of the feast of Pentecost: 50 days of rejoicing and celebrating the Resurrection, and the manifestations of the Spirit.
Eileen Gould
6 years 2 months ago

I cannot quote from ecclesiastical disquisitions. I speak only from personal experience. In the last 30 or so years (I'm 86) I have become aware of the actions of the Holy Spirit in my life at that time (1983) and throughout my entire life. And I see no reason that evidence of this phenomenon has not continued to the present time. It's so evident that I actually find it exciting. Because of this, my season of Joy, beginning with Easter Sunday and culminatng on Pentecost, is without doubt, the happiest time of the year for me, liturgical and otherwise. I have sent handpainted Pentecost cards for years.

I have become aware of the downplaying (in layperson's terms) of Pentecost and it disturbs (hurts) me. Perhaps the power of the Holy Spirt in our lives was never properly taught (except for wisdom in tests!)

Thank you, Father Christiansen, for this article. I have become a fan of yours.

Bruce Snowden
4 years 3 months ago
As best I understand it, Pentecost doesn't end on Pentecost Sunday - it's simply a liturgical recontinuation of last year's Pentecost Sunday, which cyclically extends back to the Upper Room, rocked by wind and fire on that First Pentecost, wind and fire blowing and burning ever since in the heart of the church whom we are. It's there - it never stops blowing and never stops burning. It needs to be felt and fanned through personal contact with its source through prayer and homiletically typhooned and conflagrated so to speak, by priest and deacon to the People of God charismatically ready as all are, some unaware.


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