pentecost Pentecost

The nine days that the Apostles spent in prayer from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost provide not only the archetypal inspiration for all later novenas but the eagerly awaited build-up for what is often called the birthday of the Church, the Feast of Pentecost, or Whitsunday.

This is the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, giving them the grace and resolve to teach and convert all nations. The feast is fitting for a number of reasons. First, it corresponds to the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the great religious and agricultural festival of First Fruits. The Christian Pentecost, on the other hand, celebrates the first fruits of the Holy Spirit and of all our Lord's promises. (The Pentecost Octave is considered an ideal time to meditate on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.)

And just as the Jewish Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after Passover, the Christian Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after Easter ("Pentecost" is the Greek word for fifty). God also revealed the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai fifty days after the first Passover, and so it is fitting the New Law was promulgated by the Apostles fifty days after it was ratified by the Lamb of God's self-sacrifice.

Finally, the week after Pentecost constitutes the concluding stage of the Easter season, which quietly ends on the following Saturday afternoon.

One distinctive feature of this week that bears special mention are the Ember Days. It no doubt strikes us as odd that three days of the jubilant Octave of Pentecost are reserved for fasting. This befuddlement has much to do with a common misconception about fasting, which tends to see the practice as a sign of contrition and sorrow. As is clear from the Mosaic Law, however, fasting can be joyous as well as penitential. In fact, it can express a variety of moods and serve a number of purposes. In the case of the Whitsundaytide Ember Days (as Pope St. Leo the Great once explained), the Apostles were commissioned by the Spirit to embark on a great mission, but before doing so they readied themselves with a holy fast by which they could more effectively wage war against the forces of evil.

This was not a fast of mourning, but a fast of gladsome training and preparation. By following the example of the Apostles, St. Leo tells us, we too are joyfully preparing ourselves for our mission as witnesses of Christ to an unbelieving world. Having undergone the purgation of Lent and the sanctification of Paschaltide, we too are poised to burst out of the closed doors and speak the Good News of salvation.

These texts on the liturgical year are reproduced from the: Holy Trinity Latin Mass Website.