When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together (Acts2:1). 53 days ago, the Church led us, with our Lord and the Apostles, to the Upper Room. Here, they were to witness the depths of God’s love for humanity for Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. (John13:1). In word and deed, Jesus revealed the love which God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has for mankind both individually and as a whole, for it was on that sacred night that Christ would institute the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist as the perpetual memorial of HIs One saving Sacrifice, and the Holy Priesthood as the way to make this Sacrifice truly present until the end of time. Both of these Sacraments, in their own way, would bring about the saving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world until Christ’s final return in glory.
3 days later (50 days ago), we were again in the Upper Room, this time with the 11 Apostles, Judas having ended his life after becoming aware in some limited way of what he had inflicted on the Lord. The 11 were in that place where they had last been with Christ before the turmoil of the Passion began. St. John, as an eyewitness, confesses: On the evening of that first day of the week,…the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews (John20:19). They found themselves paralyzed with fear of what they thought would be their own impending death, but the appearance of the risen Lord in that holy place transformed their fear into faith and joy.
Today, the Church again leads us with the Blessed Mother and the Apostles to that sacred place that is the Upper Room. Here, according to tradition, the disciples of the Lord, guided by the Blessed Mother, prayed that first novena for the outpouring of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Mary would be their guide for she was already intimately aware of the workings of the Holy Spirit, Who had come upon her at the Annunciation when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. At the conclusion of those 9 days of prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit was unleashed on the Church and the world.
As the Spirit hovered over the waters prior to the creation of the world (Gen1:2), so the Spirit would come upon the Church, gathered in the Upper Room to renew the face of the earth (Psalm104:30) through the New Creation that is the Church. A strong driving wind shook the room in which they were praying, filling them, as God once filled creation with countless creatures (Gen1 & 2). The Holy Spirit would descend upon Mary and the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire, for it is fire that burns off impurity and actualizes the energy within things, transforming them into itself. This fire, however, was not destructive, for it was a fire of love, a fire that burns within in a gentle manner, so that we are moved by the love of God to freely respond in love.
Today, at the conclusion of the joyful and glorious season of Easter, we recall these moments with fondness and gratitude for God’s love which endures forever. We remember that these moments are not relegated to the past, but continue to impact our daily lives for it is the same Lord who gives us Himself in the Eucharist, through the hands of His priests. It is the same risen Lord, who is still alive and communicating that risen life to us in countless and varied ways. It is the same God, Who sends out His Spirit upon the faithful not only in the Sacrament of Confirmation, but day-by-day and moment-by-moment that we might be continually renewed and transformed by His love.
As an expression of this ongoing reality, the Church in numerous ways, brings these realities to life before our eyes. One such expression of that is the annual celebration of Pentecost at the Basilica of Santa Maria ad Martyres (the Pantheon) in the center of historic Rome. This once pagan temple, built in honor of all the gods of the Roman religion, has been transformed into a church for the worship of the One, True God. Unique to the construction of this 2,000-year-old building is the “eye” at the top, an 27-foot-wide opening that allows natural light and even rain – don’t worry, there are drains in the center of the Basilica to get the water out easily – to enter into this magnificent structure.
Here, on Pentecost, the faithful gather for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Following the Mass, as part of a long-standing tradition, the fire department of Rome lets fall thousands upon thousands of rose petals through this “eye” to make concrete that ancient moment when the Holy Spirit first descended on Christ’s faithful. This all takes place, at the conclusion of the Mass, during the singing of the Veni, Creator Spiritus, a 9th-century hymn, attributed to Rabanus Maurus. The standard English translation is not exact, but conveys the basic message:
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.
Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God’s hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.
Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o’erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.
Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.
Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven.
How beautifully this tradition makes visible for us the Holy Spirit, Who wishes to come into our souls as a Gentle Guest, bringing with Him gifts that will lead us to Christ for, as we heard in today’s Gospel, Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that [the Holy Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you (John16:15) and ultimately, will lead us back to the Father, from whom every good gift comes (James1:17). As we celebrate that great moment in the history of salvation and as the Easter season draws to a close for another year, we pray:
O God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation, pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth and, with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.