Pentecost Sunday (Year A)
AT THE VIGIL MASS
Reading 1: Gn 11:1-9;
or Ex 19:3-8a, 16-20b;
or Ez 37:1-14;
or Jl 3:1-5;
MASS DURING THE DAY
1Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13;
Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
The God’s Mission continues
The liturgical celebration of Pentecost is not merely a remembrance of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Mary and the apostles in the Cenacle in the past, but the actual realization of the Event, in which God the Father, “in his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1082). It is about the mystery that is also fulfilled now in those who celebrate it in faith. In this context, the readings and the Gospel of today’s Mass help us to understand and open ourselves even more to the gift of the Spirit that we receive in our lives as disciples, sent by Jesus to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
1. A Strong Driving Wind – A Mysterious Event and Eventful Mystery
What really happened with Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost?
Firstly, as the reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us, while “they were all in one place together,” that is, in the Cenacle, the “Upper Room”, “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.” The emphasis on the words “noise,” and “strong driving wind,” seems to go beyond the physical description of a weather phenomenon. Such a strong wind was mentioned at key moments in biblical history: in the night of creation, with “a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” of chaos, where the Hebrew expression can also mean “the Spirit of God” (cf. Gn 1:2); on the night of the Red Sea crossing, there was a “strong east wind all night long,” which separated the waters of the sea into two walls to leave a dry ground for God’s people (cf. Ex 14:21-23); in the vision prophet Ezekiel’s vision, the four winds come, which are the Spirit of God, the dead bones of the people come to life again (cf. Ez 37:9-14). Thus, as seen in the past, on this day of Pentecost came a strong driving wind that heralds a pivotal event in the salvation history of humankind, an event that brings a new creation, liberation, resurrection of humanity.
Secondly, on the other hand, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The term ‘Spirit’ translates the Hebrew word ruah, which, in its primary sense, means breath, air, wind. Jesus indeed uses the sensory image of the wind to suggest to Nicodemus the transcendent newness of him who is personally God’s breath, the divine Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 691). Thus, in the wind we can glimpse the Spirit in action, or rather, His “descent” from heaven. We must feel all this, in heart and mind, to enter with fear and trembling into the solemn and grandiose atmosphere of the moment and to relive the mystery of Pentecost in all its fullness.
2. Tongues as of Fire – The Mystery of the Outpouring of the Spirit
After the noise, “appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” Here is the moment of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as it is explained immediately afterwards, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” However, an interesting detail should be pointed out: what did the apostles see at that moment? Flames of fire over their heads, as we usually see in various paintings in churches? No, the sacred author was subtle in his description of what happened: not “tongues of fire,” but “tongues as of fire”, where the meaning of the word “as” is precisely “as, like,” and not instead “equal, exactly the same!” Again, one must keep this in mind to understand that we are dealing with an unspeakable, inscrutable mystery, and any description will always be approximate. (After all, if there had really been fire on their heads, their hair would have all burned off!). On the other hand, one wants to associate the visible image of fire with the invisible reality of the Spirit with which “they were all filled.” As the Catechism said again, “While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. […] John the Baptist […] proclaims Christ as the one who ‘will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Lk 1:17; 3:16).’ Jesus will say of the Spirit: ‘I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! (Lk 12:49)’ In the form of tongues ‘as of fire,’ the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself (Acts 2:3-4). The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions. ‘Do not quench the Spirit’ (1 Thess 5:19).” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 696). The Spirit is the fire that transforms life, enlightens the mind, and makes love for God burn in the heart.
3. The Holy Spirit “Will Teach You Everything”
Descending on the apostles, the Holy Spirit immediately enabled them to “speak in different tongues” to everybody “of the mighty acts of God.” It is almost a fulfillment of what Jesus had told his disciples at the Last Supper, as today’s Gospel reminds us, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.” From the Catechism we know that, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the ‘Paraclete,’ literally, ‘he who is called to one’s side,’ advocatus (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). ‘Paraclete’ is commonly translated by ‘consoler,’ and Jesus is the first consoler. The Lord also called the Holy Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’ (Jn 16:13).” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 692). Moreover, “everything” that the Spirit will teach certainly does not refer to all the possible knowledge in the world, but to the knowledge of God and Christ and the ability to proclaim to others the divine truths, revealed in Christ, for their salvation. So much so that, after “[the Holy Spirit] will teach you everything” it follows at the conclusion of the thought “and remind you of all that I told you.”
To better understand the Jesus’ words about the role of the Spirit it is worth recalling the authoritative teaching of St. John Paul II in his Encyclical Dominum et vivificantem:
The Holy Spirit will be the Counselor of the Apostles and the Church, always present in their midst-even though invisible-as the teacher of the same Good News that Christ proclaimed. The words “he will teach” and “bring to remembrance” mean not only that he, in his own particular way, will continue to inspire the spreading of the Gospel of salvation but also that he will help people to understand the correct meaning of the content of Christ’s message; they mean that he will ensure continuity and identity of understanding in the midst of changing conditions and circumstances. The Holy Spirit, then, will ensure that in the Church there will always continue the same truth which the Apostles heard from their Master.
Thus, the Holy Spirit continues in the Church and in Christ’s disciples the mission of God. As Pope Francis also mentioned, “it was precisely following the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples that the first act of witnessing to the crucified and risen Christ took place. That kerygmatic proclamation – Saint Peter’s “missionary” address to the inhabitants of Jerusalem – inaugurated an era in which the disciples of Jesus evangelized the world. Whereas they had previously been weak, fearful and closed in on themselves, the Holy Spirit gave them the strength, courage and wisdom to bear witness to Christ before all.” Moreover, the Pope further explains, “Just as “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), so no Christian is able to bear full and genuine witness to Christ the Lord without the Spirit’s inspiration and assistance. All Christ’s missionary disciples are called to recognize the essential importance of the Spirit’s work, to dwell in his presence daily and to receive his unfailing strength and guidance. Indeed, it is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Let me emphasize once again that prayer plays a fundamental role in the missionary life, for it allows us to be refreshed and strengthened by the Spirit as the inexhaustible divine source of renewed energy and joy in sharing Christ’s life with others” (Message for World Mission Sunday 2022)
Let us pray that all of us, missionary disciples of Christ, may experience Pentecost well, indeed fully, today, and that it will give us new impetus to continue Christ’s mission in the power of the Spirit. This is especially true for those who directly engage in mission and missionary animation as in the Pontifical Mission Societies. Blessed Paolo Manna, when planning to found the Missionary Union of Clergy, which later became the present Pontifical Missionary Union, had a clear vision, “an authentic, genuine, missionary movement must be above all spiritual, since it is the work of the Holy Spirit; it must be a Pentecost: then, and only then, will it convince, penetrate, sanctify, inspire and leave lasting fruits of prayer, works, sacrifices; only then will true missionary vocations flourish” (Le Missioni Cattoliche LX , 24 may, p. 323ff.) Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Missions, pray for us all and for the whole Church!