Tag Archives: Pentecost

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 21, 2019

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated every year on the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The traditional name for the feast is Corpus Christi. It is one of the three doctrinal feasts celebrated during Ordinary Time, in addition to the Most Holy Trinity celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It emerged not only to give honor to Jesus present in the Eucharist but also to correct false teaching.

Corpus ChristiOver the centuries many nonbelievers have been skeptical of the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, while others have belittled the belief or rejected it altogether. A surprising number of Catholics even question the Real Presence. These divergent understandings have led to much debate over the centuries. While the Real Presence of Christ has always been a core Catholic doctrine, it was defined as an essential element of the Catholic faith by the Council of Trent in 1551.

Various devotions and practices emerged to strengthen the faith of the people regarding the importance of the Eucharist. In the Eleventh Century people began to spend time in adoration kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.

The featured event of the old Corpus Christi celebrations was an elaborate ceremonial procession, a practice that began in Cologne, Germany between 1274 and 1279 and spread rapidly to other countries. It was a religious parade. The people went to great expense to decorate the streets with draperies and banners in advance. Then on the festival day a large host, the consecrated bread, the Body of Christ or the Blessed Sacrament, was placed in a monstrance, a highly decorative receptacle, and it was carried under a canopy. The processions usually were quite long and arranged carefully according to a strict order of etiquette. The clergy and religious were positioned in front of the canopy, while civic officials, the lay faithful, other groups, residents, and visitors followed behind the canopy. The procession proceeded up and down the streets of the city or village with deep reverence. The participants sang hymns both while they were walking, and also at various places where the procession would stop. People lined up along the streets to witness the spectacle and adore the Blessed Sacrament, and the usual practice was to kneel as the Eucharist passed by. Also, at various points where the procession stopped, the minister used the monstrance and the Eucharist to bless the people.

Over time the crowds along the route grew increasingly diverse, and many nonbelievers were mixed in with devout Christians. Some were indifferent, but a few were downright hostile, heckling believers, hurling insults, and acting irreverently. In order to safeguard the Eucharist, the processions were restricted to the area in the immediate vicinity of the church or moved inside entirely.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a special opportunity to worship the Lord Jesus, the true and eternal priest, really present in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and the grace and divine life that Jesus gives leads to ever greater holiness and joy in this life and eternal salvation in the next.

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Unity in Diversity

June 9, 2019

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A while back I worked at a parish that had a tradition of reading the Mass readings in a variety of different languages on Pentecost Sunday.  This tradition points us to the first reading from Acts where it says, “At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”

The tragedy of the tower of Babel separated us by language. In Genesis 11:1-9 God looks down from heaven and sends his angels to confound the common language of his creation. People are attempting to make it to heaven with a man-made tower. God confuses their language so that they are no longer able to understand each other’s speech. The Pentecost event in Acts is a reversal of this confusion. The confusion of the Tower of Babel has been reversed through the Holy Spirit!

We live in a society where differences and diversity are celebrated. Our uniqueness is never in doubt in God’s eyes, after all, he knew us when we were formed in the womb. I worry that if our goal is to celebrate our differences, then we maybe have lost the message of unity.

In my home parish, I was witness to a consolidation of three churches forming one parish. The French, Irish, and German churches still stood and practiced the faith with their own identities.  Even though the French, Gallic and German languages were no longer spoken at these parishes, which were just blocks from each other, the separation that was once based on language continued and the grasps to this old culture were there just the same.

The transition to becoming one church was a difficult one for many members. It forced many to sacrifice control and to let go of an earthly identity that kept them separate. How can we be “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” church when we let our earthly identities keep us separate?  But spiritual growth and transition came when we let go of our control to allow “God’s will be done.” Amazingly, even just a year after the consolidation, a new growth and unity was formed! No longer did the national cultures of the churches separate us. We were one!

Today’s celebration reminds us to celebrate our unity in our diversity and not let cultural differences keep us separate, but to embrace the universality of the church.   When we identify as something other than the whole of the Catholic Church (and catholic means universal) , it creates division. We are an ancient church and a modern one; we are a Vatican II church and a Council of Nicene Church. We are a church with a history but are moving into the future!

Pope Francis shared in one of his daily homilies a few years back, “I ask you to do everything possible to not destroy the Church with divisions; they are ideological, they come from greed and ambition, they come from jealousy. And above all to pray, and to keep the founts, the very roots of the unity of the Church, which is the Body of Christ; which we, every day, celebrate [in] His sacrifice in the Eucharist.”

It is our earthly language that separates us, but it is the heavenly language that unifies us. The language of love. 

Question to ponder: What areas do you need to sacrifice control over so that you may more fully say “yes” to the Holy Spirit? 

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Different portrayals of the Holy Spirit as a dove

June 7, 2019

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A Dove and Holy Spirit. In religious art the Holy Spirit is most often depicted as a dove. The biblical basis for the dove symbolism is found in all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Each evangelist describes the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove coming down from heaven (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32). The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism and upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:4) is the same Holy Spirit that descends upon every believer at the time of their Baptism and Confirmation, as well as every time a person receives one of the other sacraments.

Holy Spirit DoveA Variety of Depictions. When the Holy Spirit is shown as a dove, it is depicted in a variety of ways. A common form is one dove alone. Sometimes the dove is shown with rays of light or flames emanating from its head or within its halo, and the number of rays or flames varies, typically three, seven, eleven, twelve, or thirteen, and the number is symbolic.

A Dove with Three Rays or Flames. Three signifies the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, and it is the Spirit who unifies the three Persons of the triune Godhead, and also serves as the presence of the Father and his Son Jesus. Three also signifies the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13:13), virtues that increase and flourish when a person submits to the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A Dove with Seven Rays or Flames. According to the Prophet Isaiah, there are six gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (Is 11:2), and to round the number up to the biblically complete number of seven, piety was added to the list. There is another version of the seven gifts of the Spirit in the Book of Revelation: “power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Rv 5:12).

A Dove with Nine Rays or Flames. The prevalent explanation for the symbolic value of the number nine is the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23); while an alternative explanation is the less-often mentioned list: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:8-10).

A Dove with Eleven Rays or Flames. Eleven represents the twelve apostles without Judas Iscariot (Mt 27:3-10; Acts 1:13). Each of them received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

A Dove with Twelve Rays or Flames. Twelve can be interpreted in two ways, either the eleven apostles with their new replacement, Matthias (Acts 1:26); or the eleven apostles with the Blessed Virgin Mary (Acts 1:14).

A Dove with Thirteen Rays or Flames. Thirteen represents the reconstituted Twelve, the Eleven plus Matthias (see Acts 1:26), as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary (see Acts 1:14). All thirteen miraculously received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.

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Pentecost

May 17, 2018

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PentecostThe Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is a solemnity, the highest ranking liturgical feast, and it celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. It serves as the grand and glorious conclusion to the fifty-day Easter Season, seven continuous weeks that celebrate the greatest mystery of the Christian faith, the Resurrection. It brings the Paschal Mystery to completion.

Special Liturgical Features. The vestments are red which symbolize the Holy Spirit. There are two special Masses for Pentecost, a vigil Mass for Saturday evening and the Mass during the day for Sunday. A sprinkling rite is optional. There is a Sequence between the second reading and the gospel which may be sung or proclaimed. Infant baptisms are highly appropriate within the celebration of the Mass. There is a special solemn blessing for the dismissal that ends with a double Alleluia. The Easter Season is finished at the conclusion of Evening Prayer or Vespers at which time the Easter Candle is removed from the sanctuary and taken to its regular place, usually near the Baptismal font. If Evening Prayer is not celebrated, the Easter Candle usually is moved after the last Mass.

A Magnificent Moment. Pentecost recalls how the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of a strong driving wind and tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest on each of them. Immediately they were filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:1-4). It was an outpouring of the Spirit on each apostle individually and the Church collectively. The Spirit imbued the apostles with great love, led them to the truth, set their faith ablaze, and filled them with great zeal. This immeasurable grace was the birth of the Church. Through the Spirit the Church is sanctified or made holy, and by the power of the Spirit each person is united to Christ and the peoples of every nation, race, and language are unified in the profession of one faith. The annual celebration of this feast makes the graces first bestowed upon the apostles available to every believer in every subsequent generation.

C+ Apostles in Need of Improvement. The apostles were average performers at best and they needed to make major upgrades. Jesus spent countless hours with them. He gave them his warm friendship and personalized instruction, invited them to be his companions and performed amazing miracles before them. In spite of this, the apostles were terrified during the storm at sea, failed to understand the parables, were unable to expel some demons, fought among themselves over who was most important, and abandoned and betrayed their Master. They were unable to comprehend who Jesus was or what he expected of them. Even after the Resurrection they remained bewildered, isolated, afraid, and silent.

The Transformative Moment. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit galvanized the apostles’ faith. It was a metamorphosis of epic proportions. The apostles emerged from the cocoon of the Upper Room completely remade. They were on fire with love for Jesus! Once fearful, they became bold and courageous. Once silent, they became assertive and outspoken. Once cautious, they took tremendous risks. Once followers, they became leaders. Once weak, they performed great and mighty deeds in Jesus’ name. Once concerned with safeguarding their own lives, they became willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.

Catch the Spirit! The Holy Spirit that transformed the apostles on the first Pentecost has the power to transform each of us. The Spirit outpoured on the first apostles is also outpoured on us in the celebration of Pentecost, the sacraments, prayer, and multiple other ways. Pentecost is an invitation to be bold! Catch fire! Shed inhibitions! Love! Forgive! Share! Serve! Speak the truth! Do great and mighty deeds! Make the name of Jesus known and loved!

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The theophany of Pentecost

June 2, 2017

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Pentecost

On Pentecost “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2).  It was sudden, startling.  It came up like a storm.  The noise was loud.   The wind roared.  Presumably, the house shook.  For the disciples, it was frightening yet awesome, glorious and enthralling.  They were immersed in a mystical experience, the powerful presence of almighty God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.  It was a theophany.

A theophany is an appearance of God accompanied by astounding signs and wonders that attest to God’s divine majesty, supreme authority, and infinite power.  A theophany involves one or more major forces of nature:  an earthquake, crushing rocks, dark clouds, storm, thunder, lightning, torrential rain, hail, howling winds, raging fire, billowing smoke, and blaring sounds.

The theophany of Pentecost recalls the great theophany of the Hebrew Scriptures, the appearance of God when Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.  The sequence of occurrences was phenomenal:  peals of thunder, lightning, a heavy cloud, and a very loud blast (Ex 19:16); rising smoke, fire, and a quaking mountain (Ex 19:18); and the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder, and yet more thunder (Ex 19:19).

The combination of natural signs pointed to a supernatural reality, that the omnipotent God was truly with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, and that this would be an encounter of epic proportions.  God created the world with a mighty wind (Gn 1:2) and put into place all of the forces of nature.  Then, with the forces of nature making a dramatic and impressive display, God confirmed Israel as the Chosen People and renewed the covenant through the conferral of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

On Pentecost the disciples were all together in one place for a theophany that was similar, yet different.  God had appeared in the desert.  This time God appeared in Jerusalem.  The former appearance took place at Mount Sinai.  This appearance took place on Mount Zion.  Previously the Lord came down upon the mountain in fire.  This time the Holy Spirit came down over the heads of the disciples as tongues as of fire.  The former appearance enabled Moses to speak on God’s behalf.  This appearance enabled Peter and the other disciples to serve as God’s spokesmen.  The former involved spectacular natural signs.  This appearance involved fewer and smaller natural signs.

Like the appearance at Sinai, this appearance would be an event of epic proportions.  The coming of the Holy Spirit established the Church as the People of God.  After Jesus, both priest and victim, sealed the new and eternal covenant with the blood that he shed on the Cross, the Holy Spirit joined the Son in the institution of an everlasting unbreakable covenant extended to all of the nations on earth.

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