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Ave Maria!

Pentecost Sunday

12 June A.D. 2011

The Virgin Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Mass Text]
[Latin Mass Text]

“And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place:  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them:  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”[1]

    As far as we know from Scripture and Tradition, this Sunday of Pentecost commemorates the first public activity of the Church.  We know that the Apostles had the ability to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass since the night of the Last Supper, and it is reasonable to assume that they did so while they waited for Pentecost.[2]  The Mass is always the public worship of the Church, even when said by a priest all alone.  They had the ability to forgive sins since Easter Sunday night, but one has to assume that there wasn’t much sinning among the Apostles. and the Mother of God, and their associates.[3]  They had been given the command to preach and to baptize just before the Ascension, but it doesn’t seem to have been opportune to do that before the Holy Ghost descended upon them and made them “soldiers of Christ.”[4]  So, whether or not the Apostles did any of these things before Pentecost is purely a matter of conjecture.

But Sacred Scripture does record one very important public act of the Church.  Peter, as head of the Church, recognized that the twelve Apostles had been reduced by one due to the treason and suicide of Judas Iscariot.  There were men with them in the Upper Room who had been disciples since the time of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan—they selected one of them, a man named Matthias and made him one of themselves.[5]

    The Apostles recognized the great importance of the Holy Orders which they possessed.  The sacramental treasury of the Church depended upon the ministry of the Apostles, and upon those to whom the Apostles would pass this ministry on in the future.  These men possessed the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, a dignity and a power that simply had to survive until the end of time.  In the coming days, they would lay hands on other men, as the Church grew and the need arose—making some bishops with the same fullness of the priesthood, making others simple priests to offer Mass and most of the Sacraments, and making yet others deacons to conduct the charitable works of the Church and to help the simple priests in their ministries.  The replacement of Judas by Matthias—the guarding of the treasure of Holy Orders—may not have been the first official act of the Church before Pentecost, but its great significance is demonstrated by its being the only one recorded in the Scriptures.

    Yet there does seem to have been something missing before the “sound of the violent wind and the parted tongues of fire” came on this day.  One can make the case that the Apostles were in fear, and we read precisely that, a number of times in Saint John’s Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles.  They did “such and such” “for fear of the Jews.”  The Catechism reinforces this idea that the Apostles were in fear when it tells us that “Confirmation is the sacrament through which the Holy Ghost comes to us in a special way and enables us to profess our faith as strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.”—becoming a soldier suggests putting fear behind.[6]

    In the poetry read just before today’s Gospel, we read in part:

Bend the stubborn heart and will,
Melt the frozen, warm the chill

The Holy Ghost is the fire of love, to “melt” and to “warm.”

    Last Sunday, as we prepared for this feast, we heard Saint Peter urge a “constant mutual charity,” a constant mutual love—and I mentioned to you that Saint Augustine had theorized that the Holy Ghost proceeds before all eternity from the mutual love of the Father and the Son.[7]  So perhaps we can understand the success of the Apostles in preaching on the first Pentecost in terms of love.  Those of you who are parents will understand the idea that the love of your children could make you do things for them that could never be motivated by mere fear or by lack thereof.  Filled with the love of God and the love of souls, the Apostles were able to go forth among men, and exercise all those wonderful Sacramental gifts I mentioned earlier—the preaching, and baptizing, forgiving sins, and offering Mass, and even, in some cases, turning laymen into priests.  The love of God motivated them to carry out the divine plan of salvation that had been won for mankind by our Lord on the Cross.  The love of man, precisely because men and women are God’s creatures, caused the Apostles to put aside any fear they might have had of the Jewish or Roman authorities.

    The miracle of Love worked not only in the Apostles, but also in those who came by thousands to hear them.  The miracle of tongues was worked in the hearers, and not in the preachers:  “Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  Perhaps the fire of Love parched these men and women, making them so thirsty for the words of God, that mere language no longer remained a barrier.  Love made them eager for knowledge.

    In any event the miracle of Pentecost was worked in all that listened.  There were a few that stopped up their ears, and mocked those claiming to understand as being drunk—“full of new wine”—but it was too early to be drunk, and Peter demonstrated that all of this had been predicted in a prophecy by the Prophet Joel.[8]  And we learn that “they that received his word, were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.”[9]

    Now, we too have received the Holy Ghost—all of us who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation.  So in some way, Pentecost is our feast day as well as that of the Apostles and their first converts.  As the Catechism says we can “profess our faith as strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.”  But we also have received the Holy Ghost as a gift of Love.  We too should be motivated to love God and to love the salvation of mankind for the love of mankind’s Creator.

    All of us should profess our faith through good example in our daily lives.  Even those who never get preach a sermon can be apostles by living an exemplary Christian life—by “living a life that would make no sense if there were no God.”[10]  “They will know we are Christians by our love” goes that wonderful Bible-school verse— “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”[11]

    And we should all pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  Pray that some of you here will be inspired to devote your lives to God.  There is a great need, for the confusion of the past forty years has had a disastrous effect on religious vocations—both as to quality and to quantity.  The Church needs good men and women to replace those whose vocations were destroyed by the follies of Modernism,  and those vocations that were never fostered by the good example of good priests and good nuns.  Pray to the Holy Ghost that God will raise up many more like Matthias to take the place of modern day Judases!

    Let us pray:  O God, Who hast taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Ghost: grant that, by the gift of the same Holy Spirit, we may be always truly wise, and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.[12]


[1]   Epistle:  Acts ii: 1-11

[6]   Revised (1941) Baltimore Catechism #2, Q.330

[10]   Cf. Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard, “Priests Among Men,” Integrity reprint, undated.

[12]   Collect of Pentecost.




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