A Plea for the Proper Celebration of Pentecost

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In apostolic times, Easter and Pentecost were not two distinct festivals, for Pentecost is the culmination of Easter. Easter is the glorification of the redeemer Christ which includes his exhalation upon the cross and his exaltation at the right hand of the Father in a single festival. Easter is the fulfillment of Christ’s mission and marks his being taken away from the world. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Christ’s word in John’s Gospel, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you… When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will speak not on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16: 7-13). Because the Easter of Christ’s death and resurrection has come, therefore Pentecost has come. The gift of the Spirit from God the Father and God the Son will never more be wholly withdrawn from the world until the end of time.

Pentecost, the powerful and mysterious descent of God the third person of the blessed Trinity, brings about the birth of God’s Church in the preaching of Peter and the baptism of the 3,000 on Pentecost Sunday. Indeed, Easter and Pentecost are not two distinct festivals, but the one revelation of God’s plan of redemption. The work of redemption, death and resurrection, is the mission of the Eternal Word of God, the second person of the Trinity. The birth of the church and its work though history is the mission of the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity. With the event of Pentecost, the work of redemption is effectively continued in time until the end of the world as the Spirit of God now fills the whole world.

All this is not to say that every redemptive action of God outside his intimate inner nature is not common to all three persons. As St. Paul wrote, “God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to himself.” We also must say that the redemptive actions of the Spirit of God in time are also done in union with the Father God and his Son. But just as we must say that it is the Eternal Word of God and not the Father or Spirit that become man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so we must say that the post Resurrection work of redemptive is the peculiar work of God the Holy Spirit. Yes, we cannot separate the three persons of the One God in the work of man’s redemptive, but we do and must distinguish the work proper to each person in the mystery of salvation. As God the Son deserves our worship and attention in the Incarnation and Redemption, so God the Spirit deserves our worship and attention in the continuing work of the Body of Christ, the church of God. As we grow in love and knowledge of God the Son at Christmas and Easter, so must we grow in love and knowledge of God the Spirit at Pentecost and all the days leading to the end of the world.

All of this we summarize by saying that without Pentecost there is no church. Or as St. Paul reminds us in his letters, there is no sanctification in baptism without the Spirit, no enactment of the Eucharist and the sacraments of the church without his invocation, no forgiveness of sins and no proper prayer life and prose of the church.

Certainly, whether in apostolic times or in present times, Pentecost is a great festival of the Christian people. Yet seldom locally do we see much preparation for celebrating the feast. We spend weeks of penance and prayer preparing for Easter, but little or no time preparing for its twin festival of Pentecost. The urging of Jesus after his resurrection was that his followers should pray and bind themselves together in preparation for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Knowing what we know from the reaching of Peter and Paul, we must conclude that we have been negligent in preparing for the great gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. It is not a one day celebration of an event of old history; it is a fifty day preparation for the culmination event of salvation history.

The Spirit of God is given to the church. And as Iranaeus wrote, “Where the church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the church and every grace.” And where the Spirit is active, there is the construction of the visible body of the church. All this is to say that Pentecost is not about religious excitement but about the fulfillment of God’s plan for the salvation of the human race. As St. Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of God dwells in you, then the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will also raise you to eternal life.” That’s the excitement of Pentecost that in the gift of the Spirt of the word, wonder and promise of Jesus is being fulfilled and shall be fulfilled. It is a feast worth preparing for, a festival of life worth celebrating. Maybe not with lilies and eggs, but with warm fire and cool wind. The Spirit of God in its mission to the world deserves a celebration similar to the one we offer to the Son of God at Easter. Blessed be God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit whom we have come to know and love through the mission of God’s eternal Word and his powerful Spirit.