Treasures of the Liturgy: Pentecost

From Liturgical Catechism by Rev. M. S. Canon McMahon (1930)

What is the meaning of the word Pentecost?

Pentecost comes from the Greek word, pentecoste (hemera), meaning "fiftieth" ("day"), the Feast of Pentecost being celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter.

Why is the Feast of Pentecost called Whit Sunday?

“Whit” stands for "white", and the name White Sunday was given to the feast on account of the white garments worn by the neophytes who had been baptised on the Vigil (cf. the liturgical name for Low Sunday, Dominica in Albis).

What is the origin of the feast?

The Jews celebrated the harvest feast at the conclusion of seven weeks from the offering of the wave sheaf on second day of Passover. The fiftieth day was subsequently celebrated in addition as the anniversary of the promulgation of the ten commandments from Mount Sinai.

How is the feast regarded in the Church's liturgy?

The Church celebrates on this day the visible sending of the Holy Ghost to the disciples together with the establishment of the Church founded by Christ on Peter. It is, thus, a harvest-feast of Christ in the highest sense, for this day witnessed the birth of His Kingdom upon earth. Henceforth the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, the Soul of the Church, assists and guides the Church and guards it from error. This day a new Lawgiver, the Spirit of God, descends upon the hearts of men.

Why is this feast considered as a mystery of Christ’s?

The coming of the Holy Ghost was the necessary complement of Christ’s work of Redemption, “Who (Christ) going up above all the heavens and sitting at Thy right hand on this day sent forth the Holy Ghost, as He had promised, on the children of adoption” (Preface of the feast). In His Ascension Christ prepared for us a place in heaven. He sent the Holy Ghost to teach us how to gain that place and to strengthen us in our earthly struggle towards it.

He will teach you all truth. (John 16:13)

And I send the promise of my Father upon you: but stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high. (Luke 34:49)

In what sense is the mystery ours?

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles and Disciples who “stayed in the city” for the coming of the Holy Ghost represented the whole Church. The Spirit of God abides with that Church for ever, and we, as members of that Church, are subject to His guidance and sanctifying power. The Spirit of God dwells in us as in His Temple. “Without Thy Godhead nothing can Have any price or worth in man: Nothing can harmless be.” (Sequence)

In what terms does the Church invoke the Holy Ghost in the Mass of Pentecost Sunday?

Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created; and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of thy love. (Alleluiatic Verse)

Oh, come, thou Father of the poor. Oh, come thou source of all our store: Come, fill our hearts with love. Oh, blessed light of life Thou art, Fill with Thy light the inmost hearts of those that hope in Thee. (Sequence)

May our hearts be cleansed, O Lord, by the inpouring of the Holy Ghost. (Post-communion)

To what conclusion do these petitions lead?

That the mystery of the coming of the Holy Ghost is renewed in us interiorly during the holy days of Pentecost.

The Feast of Pentecost should remind us yearly of our Confirmation when we received the Holy Ghost in an especial manner and evoke in us a spirit of thanksgiving for the wondrous graces and gifts of that great Sacrament.

How is the Sequence of the Masses of this feast and its Octave called?

In the Middle Ages it was known as the “Golden Sequence", for its beauty and simplicity constitute it one of the masterpieces of sacred song. In it the Church declares its faith in the Divine promises and prays for the perpetual coming of the Holy Ghost Who is its life. No more effective and inspiring prayer to the Holy Ghost can be committed to memory.

Its authorship is attributed to Pope Innocent III (☩1216), or to Stephen Langton, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury (☩1228).

What is the liturgical colour proper to Pentecost?

Red, which is the symbol of fire and of love.

How is the Feast of Pentecost introduced?

By the privileged Vigil of Pentecost—a day that, like Holy Saturday, was set apart for the Baptism of Catechumens.

What survival of this ancient ordinance is extant?

The Blessing of the Font which takes place in every parochial church on this day. The ceremony of Blessing is the same as that of Holy Saturday.

When does the festival of Pentecost conclude?

After the recitation of the canonical hour of None on the Saturday after Pentecost Sunday—and with the conclusion of that festival the Paschal Cycle closes. With the Descent of the Holy Ghost the great work of man’s Redemption is completed, the historical and sanctifying drama of the world’s salvation is fully presented.

The Period after Pentecost

How is the remainder of the liturgical year named?

It is called the period after Pentecost. The Sundays are described as Sundays after Pentecost— the First, Second, Third Sunday, etc. after Pentecost. There is no special cycle centring round a great feast or mystery.

What does the period symbolise?

The period after Pentecost symbolises man’s pilgrimage on earth till the second coming of Christ on the day of Judgment. The description of Christ’s coming in judgment, given in the Gospel of the last Sunday after Pentecost, rounds off the period.

What is the liturgical colour of this period?

Green, which is the symbol of hope. Through the operation of the Holy Spirit the faithful look forward with confidence to the second advent of Christ, and hope for the eternal reward He will confer on His good and faithful servants.

Over how many weeks may this period extend?

It may last from 23 to 28 weeks, according to the date on which Easter Sunday falls.

At one time the Sundays of this period were arranged into groups attached to the leading feasts: Sundays after Ss. Peter and Paul, Sundays after the Feast of St. Lawrence (the Mass of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost bears striking traces of its former connection with this martyr’s feast), Sundays after the Feast of St. Cyprian, after the Feast of St. Michael.

When the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity was attached in the fourteenth century to the First Sunday after Pentecost, the remaining Sundays were counted as Sundays after Trinity Sunday in some countries, e.g. in Germany, but the older enumeration of the Sundays was continued in Rome and now prevails, save for a few exceptions, throughout the whole Roman rite.

What is to be noted in the Masses of the period?

  1. The Collects are amongst the best to be found in the Missal for style and for thought. To give one or two examples: the Collect for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost is a veritable treatise on prayer, the Collect for the Tenth Sunday brings out in wondrous wise the infinite mercy of God and the ideal that men should pursue.
  2. The proper Preface of these Sundays (called technically Sundays per annum — literally, “throughout the year:) is the Preface of Trinity Sunday.
  3. This period took some centuries to develop, and for a long period of time there were not distinct Masses for each Sunday. And even now on the Sundays from the twenty-third on, the same chants are used—the same Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communio (see Sundays after Epiphany).

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