*Feast of Pentecost
“Come, Holy Spirit, come!” The prayer of Pentecost. The Lord has given his disciples (us) the commission to be witnesses and agents of the breaking-in of the kingdom of God. When we embrace that mission as a community of faith and live it in all walks, areas, and stages of our lives, we discover that the risen Lord is present with us, in us and through us. Never as our own doing alone, but always as a gift to be received and lived gratefully. Why, then, this prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit? If the risen Lord is part of our life, why the extra need for the Spirit of God?
The simplest answer is that Jesus himself tells us to pray for the Spirit and to wait until we receive that Spirit before acting in Jesus’ name. More importantly, because Jesus could not experience everything in his life, but was limited by the time he lived in and the events he participated in, there is so much of human life that is not automatically connected to something Jesus experienced. He himself reminds the disciples that they will do even more than he does, only if they are guided by the Spirit. The Spirit of God is able to unite Godself to our human spirit(s) and form us in a way that allows our actions to be both our own freely chosen action and an action of the risen Lord. We experience this pre-eminently in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, but it is true in every aspect of life.
In terms of the Church’s faith in and doctrine about the Holy Spirit, it begins with the earliest disciples of Jesus. The disciples experience the Spirit as both intimately connected to the risen Lord and yet as something (someone) different. Just as there is one Lord and Savior (Jesus the Christ), so there is one Spirit that unites and animates any and all who are doing good and living as God would want. Guided by and trusting in the experience of the Spirit of God at work in their communities, the early Church organizes its worship, establishes its structure, forms its creed, determines what counts as Scripture, and much more. Over time, the Church faced various challenges: whether the Son and Spirit are lesser than the Father in terms of divinity, how there can be one God yet three personal realities, and how the mission of the Son and Spirit both differ yet complement each other. We celebrate the core of that faith next week, on the feast of the holy Trinity, and I will reflect more on that next week. This week the focus is on the Holy Spirit, the “breath” of God, who is sent by the Father and the risen Jesus to draw humanity, indeed the entire universe, into the unity God desires.
In essence, our Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit is that, apart from the Spirit we can do nothing good. Not just Christians. No human being. Put positively, all that humanity does, individually and collectively, which leads to greater truth and wisdom, goodness and well-being, beauty and harmony, is the work of God’s Holy Spirit. In that sense, our celebration of the Holy Spirit is a recognition that God is at work outside the visible boundaries of the Church and even outside the Christian faith. It is a recognition that all who work for truth or goodness can be guided by the Spirit of God. But for us Christians, we have a privileged understanding of the Spirit. We know that the Spirit of God is also the Spirit sent by the risen Jesus. We know that Jesus has asked us to be his body in the world. We know that he has entrusted his whole ministry to us. And so we know that we are in deep trouble on that score—proven over and over again in our Christian history—unless we wait for and are guided by the Spirit. We need to wait for the Spirit of God to enliven us and inspire us, to breathe into and onto us; to shape our desires and actions in a way that conforms them to the mission and ministry of Jesus, so that the risen Lord becomes present in what we do.
So we pray today on Pentecost, and again and again throughout the year, in some form or other: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.”
* Preparing for Teaching Masses (continued)
Last week I talked about how the Eucharist needs our full, conscious, and active participation and how it is structured into the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Within that two-fold structure of the Eucharist, however, are five movements which are designed to take us from our individual lives, form us into a community celebrating Eucharist, and lead us to become Eucharist in our daily lives. Each movement builds on the previous one in such a way that it becomes clear, from a liturgical perspective, that the high point of the Mass is not the consecration or the reception of Communion but being sent forth to be Eucharist—to be the Body broken and Blood outpoured—for the salvation and unity of all humanity. Each of these five dynamic movements requires, for the fullest experience of Eucharist, our conscious and active participation. The five movements are: 1) the risen Jesus invites us and so we gather in his name; 2) Jesus becomes for us a living Word which opens our minds and hearts and shapes us; 3) through thanksgiving and praise we join the offering of our lives to his once-for-all offering of himself in his death and resurrection; 4) he gives his Body and Blood to us in Communion and so we take and eat and drink; and 5) he sends us forth to be his living presence in the world.
The first movement, WE GATHER at the invitation of the risen Jesus. It is wonderful to get there a bit early and pray, but whenever we get there, just take a moment to say “Yes” to the Lord’s invitation, bless yourself with the holy water of discipleship, greet people, join in the Opening Hymn and responses. Everything up through the Collect (Opening Prayer) is designed to take the many who are there and gather us into one worshipping community. And remember: it is the risen Jesus who is inviting us!
The second movement, WE LISTEN to the Word of God who touches our heart during the Liturgy of the Word. We listen not so much with minds as with our hearts for the living Word that Jesus wants to plant within us. It is good to have prepared by reflecting on the readings ahead of time. We participate also through our responses, especially singing the Psalm Response and Alleluia. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the Eucharist to enter into. We too often simply go through the motions with the readings, waiting to hear the homily. If the homily helps us in some way, we are happy. If not, oh well. The homily is very important, but not essential. The liturgy envisions us to be so open to God’s Word that some image or phrase or message will directly spark a memory, a hope, or a reflection within us. Those of you who practice a lectio divina meditation on the Sunday Gospel know this preparation is valuable.
The third movement, WE OFFER A SACRIFICE OF THANKS AND PRAISE in the Eucharistic Prayer. We remember all that God has done for us, specifically in his Son, Jesus, and most especially at the Last Supper, on the night before he died for us. The priest speaks out this prayer, but the prayer belongs to the whole people. We actively participate in the various acclamations (Preface, Holy, Holy, Memorial, Amen) and, if we desire, by our posture and gestures. During the teaching Mass I will invite people to join in all the gestures—the hands raised in praise, the hands outstretched over the gifts, the deep bow after the consecration, and so on. These belong not just to the priest celebrant but to the whole community the priest is leading in worship.
The fourth movement, WE RECEIVE the very gift of our Lord’s sacramental Body and Blood in Communion. We actively participate by receiving Communion and joining in the hymn that surrounds us until all have received. We can receive under one or both forms (bread / wine), but I will be encouraging as many who are able, to receive under both forms at the Teaching Mass. The Church considers it so important to the Eucharist that we know each of us present is essential for that particular Eucharist that it asks us to receive from the bread and wine consecrated at that Mass, if at all possible, not to go to the tabernacle. Communion is not just MY Communion with the Lord but OUR Communion IN the Lord and WITH one another.
The fifth and final movement of every Eucharist, WE GO FORTH, sent by the risen Lord to bring his life to the world, to be the body of Christ broken and the blood of Christ poured out for the salvation and unity of the world. We participate through our Amen and Thanks Be to God, but mainly by trying to live and act as the Body of Christ throughout the week. The Eucharist is a continually intensifying action which builds higher and higher to this moment of being sent forth. If we do not become and live as that Eucharist for others, all we have celebrated is contradicted and lost. If we are willing to be the Eucharist in our daily lives, all that we have done at Sunday Eucharist accomplishes its fullest purpose. We then bring all the ways we have been and lived Eucharist during the week to the next Sunday, creating a rhythm of life that enables all that we experience—our successes and failures—and all to whom we are connected to become part of the eternal, ongoing, once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. More next time.