Pentecost Sunday: O God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation, pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth and, with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.
Pentecost Sunday Mass Readings, Year A (28/05/2023)
The First Reading is from Acts 2:1-11. “Pentecost” which means “fiftieth” was the second of the three most important of the annual feasts in the Jewish calendar. It occurred seven weeks after Passover and was primarily a feast of thanksgiving for the harvest: the first-fruits of the wheat crop were offered to God on that day. Later on the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai was also commemorated on this feast day. All Jewish men, not legitimately impeded, were expected to come to Jerusalem, to the temple, for the feast. Hundreds of Jews from outside of Palestine also came, and the city was usually full to overflowing. It was very fitting therefore that this feast day was chosen for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.
The Christian religion was to be universal, and the gift of tongues showed its universality. The law given by God to Moses was for the Jews only; the new law, given by Christ, and confirmed by the power of the Holy Spirit, was for all men. The vast gathering of Jews from Palestine and from all nations was a very suitable occasion on which to proclaim publicly the message of Christ given through the mouth of St. Peter.
Pentecost day is called the “birth-day” of the Church. The Apostles had already received the Holy Spirit on Christ’s first appearance to them after his resurrection (Jn 20:22). But on Pentecost day the descent of the Holy Spirit was a public manifestation intended to impress and amaze the crowds of local and foreign Jews who thronged Jerusalem on that great festive occasion. The signs and wonders that manifested his coming brought these Jews in huge crowds to the place where the Apostles were staying, and immediately the gift of tongues was used by the Apostles to explain the occurrence.
Today was the day chosen for the opening of this mission of the Apostles. That they were backed by the divine power of the Holy Spirit was proved, not only by the gift of tongues but more especially by the change his coming wrought on the Apostles. From this day forward they were men dedicated to one purpose and to one purpose only, to bring the good news, the Gospel of Christ, to the world.
Then Second Reading is from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 12:2-7, 12-13. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were very evident in the infant Church. This was necessary to prove to the pagans that the Christian religion was from the real God who controlled all things. The God of the Christians had real powers and they were distributed freely by the Holy Spirit when occasion demanded. St. Paul is emphasizing that these gifts are not given to an individual for his honor or glory but to help to build up the Church.
These verses of St. Paul are very suitable on this feast day of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Not only did the Holy Spirit make his presence felt by the external exercise of his powers, on that first Pentecost day, but he continued to do so for some years until the Church had laid solid foundations in the Gentile world.
The important point to bear in mind today on this, the anniversary of the public manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, is the infinite love of God for us, his Chosen People of the new covenant. Through the Incarnation men are empowered to become adopted sons of God; through baptism we become members of Christ’s body, his Church. Through the direct reception of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are made active members of the Christian Church, with all the strength and powers necessary to be effective members, on active service daily, true soldiers of Christ.
The Holy Spirit came to us in confirmation with his gifts and graces to enable us to work for the whole Church, for the whole body of Christ. We are made soldiers to form an army that will work together for the protection of our nation and our freedom. No man is put into military uniform in order to look after his own interests. We too are not made soldiers of Christ in order to save our own souls only—we are soldiers in order to help our fellow-Christians and all men in their common fight against sin and Godlessness. We must then take an active part in the battles of the Church, against everything that impedes the practice of the Christian virtues.
The Gospel is from John 20:19-23. This Gospel, which was first read on the Second Sunday of Easter, is repeated here today, the feast of the Holy Spirit, because on that first appearance of the risen Lord he conferred the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Today’s feast commemorates the solemn public and publicized conferral of the same Holy Spirit.
The liturgical cycle, which each year represents to us God’s mercy and kindness in our regard, closes today with this great feast of Pentecost—the public solemn descent of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, on the Christian Church. During Advent, we try to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Son of God to dwell as man among us. Christmas recalls to our minds and hearts that great act of divine love. Lent prepares us for the sufferings endured by Christ during Holy Week on our behalf. Easter is the feast of triumph, Christ’s triumph over death, the guarantee of our final triumph and union with him in his eternal glory. Pentecost crowns Christ’s work among us. The Holy Spirit comes to abide with the Church, directing and effectively aiding its leaders to preserve, explain and spread the gospel of hope and love which Christ had brought on earth. The same spirit helps and aids each member of the Church to live a life of holiness by following the teaching of Christ and by helping his fellowmen to do likewise.
Briefly, this annual series of Church feast days recalls to our minds the infinite love of the Blessed Trinity for us finite, mortal men. At the same time it shows us the part played by each of the divine Persons in the eternal plan to share with us the perfect peace and the unending happiness which they enjoy in their heavenly kingdom.
God the Father created us with the intention and plan to raise us up to adopted sonship with him. God the Son took human nature so that we might share in the divinity. Representing all men he gave perfect obedience and reverence to the Creator “even unto death on a cross,” and thus merited sonship for us. The Holy Spirit, the “fruit of divine love,” came from Father and the Son to bring to perfection the work of our sanctification. Thus the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity have cooperated in the great work of infinite love and condescension which opens for us a future of unending happiness, if only we have the common sense to appreciate wha that been done for us, and the simple common decency to do in return the few relatively easy little tasks asked of us.
May the Holy Spirit today fill us with gratitude for all that God has done for us.
Excerpted from The Sunday Readings, Cycle A by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan, OFM