Commentary

Come Holy Spirit

Originally Appeared in : 9810-5/10/18

The last phase of the Easter Season, from the Ascension to Pentecost, is supposed to be an intense period—a “novena” (nine days)—of prayer to the Holy Spirit, whom the Risen Lord sent upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Father, on the dies pentecostes, the 50th day of his new and risen life. There are nine days between the traditional “Ascension Thursday” and Pentecost Sunday and so the Church has given us this nine-day novena of prayer to prepare us to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

 

Our Christian celebration of 50 days is based on the Jewish 50-day celebration that begins with Passover and concludes with the Festival of Weeks (Hebrew Shavu`ot, Greek Pentecostes). The latter feast, also called “First fruits,” was celebrated at the end of the grain harvest, seven weeks (50 days, counting inclusively) after the celebration of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Shavu`ot, was an “unpretentious” holiday, a simple thank offering of bread to God. Only much later, shortly before the time of Christ, was the Festival of Weeks related to salvation history: It became the festival commemorating the Covenant of Sinai, a feast of thanksgiving for the gift of the Law of Moses.

 

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel in the New Testament, Shavu`ot seems to have been the occasion for the Sermon on the Mount, in which the Lord Jesus gave us his new law of love. In the Matthean tradition, Pentecost is a celebration of the gift of the New Law of Christ.

 

In Saint Luke’s Gospel, Pentecost is the occasion for the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Following Luke, the Church has long celebrated the season of the Risen Christ as the season also of the Holy Spirit, especially towards the end, from Ascension to Pentecost.

 

In order to emphasize the full 50 days of the Easter Season, the Paschal candle, which in the prior rite was snuffed out after the Gospel on “Ascension Thursday” since 1970, the Roman Missal specifies that it should continue to burn at all Masses celebrated during the full 50 days of the Easter Season, from Easter through Pentecost. Thus the 50 days of Easter feasting are seen to “overbalance” the 40 days of Lenten fasting in preparation for the Easter Triduum. 

Photo illustration: Southern Cross Archive - One in the Spirit Banner, 2008. 
Original Photograph by Paul H. Camp.

 

Since the Ascension may be transferred in place of the Seventh Sunday of Easter in those nations (or in the United States, those ecclesiastical provinces, including Atlanta) whose bishops so decree, in order to make it possible for more people to attend Mass on the Ascension. One downside of this transfer is that would shorten this pre-Pentecost novena from nine to six days—unless we were to begin it on “Ascension Sunday” and conclude it on the Vigil of Pentecost, as I will do. This year, I invite you join with me in praying the Sequence for Pentecost Sunday (Veni, Sancte Spiritus) over these seven days, broken down as follows:

 

On Ascension Sunday, May 13: “Come, Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.” Our dark world desperately needs radiance—light—from on high.

 

On Monday, May 14: “Come, father of the poor, come giver of gifts, come, light of the heart.” The Spirit is the loving and protective father of the poor, the generous giver of the spiritual charismas or gifts that “energize” believers, and the light of all our hearts.

 

On Tuesday, May 15: “Greatest comforter, sweet guest of the soul, sweet consolation. In labor, rest, in heat, temperance, in tears, solace.” The Spirit comforts in our labors, accompanies us with his sweetness in the heat of our days, and gives us solace when we are in tears.

 

On Wednesday, May 16: “O most blessed light, fill the inmost heart of your faithful. Without your grace, there is nothing in us, nothing that is not harmful.

 

On Thursday, May 17: “Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded. bend that which is inflexible, fire that which is chilled, correct what goes astray.”

 

On Friday, May 18: “Give to your faithful, those who trust in you, the seven-fold gifts”: wisdom, understanding, fear of the Lord (wonder and awe), right judgment, knowledge, courage (fortitude), and reverence (piety).

 

On Saturday, May 19: “Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation, grant eternal joy.” After a life in the Spirit, may our virtues, which begin as his gifts, be rewarded, may we be delivered and saved from our sinfulness, and enter into the eternal joy of heaven.

 

Then when we sing the entire Sequence on Pentecost Sunday, we will already have prayed each stanza in preparation.

 

Lord, by the light of the Holy Spirit you have taught the hearts of your faithful.

In the same Spirit, help us to relish what is right and always to rejoice in your consolation.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor of St. Matthew Church in Statesboro.

 

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