The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-15, 22-28, 32-33, 36-38, 41-47)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.The Word of the Lord.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning....
"You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know--this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,"I saw the Lord always before me,This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.... Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad,
and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'...
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Thanks be to God.
After Jesus ascended into Heaven, His followers gathered in Jerusalem, and met in the Upper Room where He had first instituted the Eucharist, and had later appeared to the Apostles, breathing upon them the Holy Spirit as a foreshadowing of the full promise of the Spirit yet to come. In this Upper Room, the disciples met, and for nine days prayed the Church's first Novena to the Holy Spirit. Among the group were the Eleven Apostles, as well as Jesus' Mother, certain other women (likely those who had accompanied Mary while Jesus was crucified, as well as perhaps Mary and Martha of Bethany), some of Jesus' other relatives, who seem to have come to believe in Him after His resurrection, despite doubts they had expressed during His lifetime (cf. Mark 3:21), as well as many others, numbering around one hundred and twenty people.
During this time of waiting, Peter began to exercise his role as Chief of the Apostles and head of the new Church, and declared to them that, in light of Judas' betrayal and subsequent suicide, he must be replaced, in order that the number of Apostles would again be Twelve. For Jesus had come to inaugurate His Kingdom, which is the Church. The Church is the New Israel, and the Apostles represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
For the Jews, the feast of Pentecost (or Shavuot) was celebrated 50 days after the Passover, and commemorated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. It is one of the three Pilgrim Feasts, which mandated that Jews must make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast. This is why there were at that time so many people from so many nationalities present.
On Mount Sinai, the glory of God descended on the mountain with a great cloud and fire (Exodus 19:16-18). Here, the 10 Commandments were engraved by God on stone, and given to the people. Here, He covenanted to go with them through the wilderness, and lead them to the Promised Land. But, as we know from Scripture, the Israelites broke the Covenant with God (repeatedly). Thus, later, God would prophesy through Ezekiel,
I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements (Ez. 36:25-27).Through the Eucharist, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant in His Blood, which He shed for us on the Cross. Thus He began to fulfil this prophecy, and its completion came at Pentecost.
We see this fulfilment in the book of Acts, as the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, waiting and praying for the promised Holy Spirit. Like at Sinai, God the Holy Spirit descended in the form of wind (or cloud) and fire, but unlike at Sinai, where God descended upon the mountain, and spoke to the people at a distance and through Moses, the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire which came to rest on each person. Instead of a Law of Stone which was powerless to save (and thus produced nothing but hearts of stone), God gave the Church His Spirit, as Ezekiel prophesied, which brought the power of grace to save us and to make us able to obey the Law of Grace.
This same Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in new tongues and compelled them to go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the nations--the same nations who had come to Jerusalem just then to celebrate Pentecost! Thus Jews from all over the known world were there to hear the Gospel, being proclaimed to them in their own languages! Bewildered, amazed, and some still sceptical, the onlookers questioned the new, zealous Christians, and Peter again stood up in leadership, and proclaimed clearly and straightforwardly the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who died, and who rose again, and brings the forgiveness of sins for all who believe!
Just as Moses on Sinai mediated the Covenant to the people of Israel, so Jesus mediated the New and definitive Covenant with us! If Jesus is the New Moses, then Peter (and his successors), leader of the Church after Jesus left, is the New Joshua, who leads the Church onwards in her pilgrimage to the Promised Land, the New and Heavenly Jerusalem.
Filled with faith in the message that Peter brought, and in the Christ whom he proclaimed, the people asked what they could do to be saved, and Peter, in fulfilment of the rest of Ezekiel's prophecy, proclaimed repentance and baptism, so that they, too, would have clean water poured over them and be cleansed, and have God's Spirit put in them! And on this, the birthday of the Church, 3000 people came to embrace faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord!
Before leaving this meditation, I would like to reflect on one more aspect of the story of Pentecost, namely, Luke's particular mention of the presence of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, at these events. More than merely a parenthetical comment, I believe her mention is significant for several reasons. First of all, as I mentioned in my meditation on Jesus' Resurrection, Mary is not mentioned in the accounts of His post-resurrection appearances. I will not belabour the point here, but it does seem significant that in all those accounts, the theme was Jesus' abolition of the disciples' doubts and despair. Mary, who did not doubt her Son, does not reappear in the biblical narrative until the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room, where she is numbered with the believers in awaiting the Holy Spirit.
The second reason why I find her mention significant, is that her presence at Pentecost seems to be almost a bookend of sorts in the Gospel story. When we first encounter her in Luke's narrative (Luke, of course, authoring both the Gospel by his name, and the book of Acts), we see Gabriel telling her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her, thus bringing about Jesus' Incarnation. Just as the Spirit hovered over the seas (maria in Latin) of Creation, so He hovered over Mary (Maria) at the Incarnation. Just as He overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Law and the Manna, so He overshadowed Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, conceiving in her the Lawgiver and the Bread of Life. Thus, just as we see the Spirit coming down to begin Jesus' time on earth, so we see Him descending, permanently, to mark the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. And both times, Mary is central.
This parallel flows into the third reason why I find Mary's presence at Pentecost significant. At Pentecost, God appeared to Moses in cloud and fire, commissioning the Law as well as the Tabernacle and its furnishings, most notably the Ark of the Covenant previously mentioned. This holiest of artifacts was not only the reliquary which contained the Law (and later the Manna, and Aaron's priestly staff which budded demonstrating his authority), but it was also the locus for God's presence. For as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, God would go before them as the cloud by day and fire by night. And when God stopped, the Israelites would make camp, according to their tribes, surrounding the Ark of the Covenant in the midst of them. And God would descend upon the Ark, and while He remained there, the Israelites remained encamped, and when He rose up, they would move on.
And so we find, in the New Testament, Jesus reconstituting Israel with the Twelve Apostles for the Twelve Tribes, and like they waited for the Spirit of God to move, He commanded His Apostles and other disciples to wait for the Spirit of God. And so the Twelve Apostles, with one hundred and twenty others, encamped, like the ancient Israelites, with the New Ark of the Covenant, Mary, the Mother of God, in their midst. And when the Spirit came down, the Church rose up, with Mary, the New Ark, in their midst, and began its pilgrimage, beginning in Jerusalem, and going out to the ends of the earth to bring others into the Kingdom of God, and conduct them to the Promised Land of the Heavenly Jerusalem, bestowing on them, and on us, that same promised Holy Spirit. "For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39).
Come Holy Spirit. Come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Your well-beloved spouse. Amen.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)