Father Donald Senior, CP

May 23: Pentecost Sunday

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

The Latin phrase “Veni, Sancte Spiritus (“Come, Holy Spirit”) is taken from an anonymous medieval poem that serves as the sequence for the feast of Pentecost. It is recognized as the most beautiful poetry incorporated into our liturgy and is often called the “golden sequence.” 

Once, when I was seated by chance next to Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, the famed president of the University of Notre Dame told me he recited this poem/prayer every morning when he began his day.

You can see why because some of its phrases are so captivating and so expressive of the meaning of Pentecost:

“You, of comforters the best; You, the soul’s most welcome guest; Sweet refreshment here below; In our labor, rest most sweet; Grateful coolness in the heat; Solace in the midst of woe. O most blessed Light divine, Shine within these hearts of yours, And our inmost being fill! Where you are not, we have naught, Nothing good in deed or thought, Nothing free from taint of ill. Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away; Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill.”

The opening Scripture reading for this feast is taken from the Acts of the Apostles and describes that moment when God’s Spirit descends on the disciples of Jesus. This is the Spirit sent by the risen Christ and the Spirit that will shape the early church in Jesus’ own image. Inflamed with this Spirit, the apostles leave their hiding place and burst out into the world, with Peter fearlessly proclaiming the Gospel message to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which was celebrated 50 days after the great feast of Passover.

Right from the start, we catch the expansive and inclusive nature of God’s Spirit. The Jewish pilgrims come from all over the Mediterranean world and yet each of them can understand Peter’s words, as if they were spoken in their own language.

This is the opening melody that will echo throughout the Acts of the Apostles as men and women fired by God’s loving spirit will bring the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” God’s Spirit is generous and expansive, reaching out to all the world to embrace it.

The other readings for this Pentecost carry a similar message, as we see in the psalm response from Psalm 104: “Lord, send us your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” That same infectious and bountiful Spirit is proclaimed in Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth, as he tries to harness their rambunctious energy into a sense of unity and common purpose.

Paul writes: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. … For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

The Gospel selection from John calls us back to the foundation of all this, as it narrates the appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples in Jerusalem. The same note is sounded as in Acts as the disciples huddled in fear, stricken by the death of the Jesus who embodied all their hopes.

Suddenly, the risen Jesus is present — bringing them peace and showing them his wounds — signs of his total love for them; commissioning them to proclaim the Gospel to the world: “As the Father has sent me so I send you.” And, above all, he breathes on them the power of God’s own Spirit.

This is the second Pentecost we have celebrated during this long time of pandemic. Much of the world is still stricken and confused, not unlike those early followers of Jesus, living in the shadow of death. This feast reminds us that the God we worship, and whose Spirit remains with us, is a God of life who endows us with the spiritual capacity to renew the earth.


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