Pentecost, Mass during the Day, Year B

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11; Response: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus; Gospel: John 20:19-23

Note: both the Second Reading and the Gospel have second options that may be chosen. They are Galatians 5:16-25 and John 15:26-27; 16:12-15, respectively.

First is the account (Acts 2) of Jesus’ disciples receiving the Holy Spirit at “the time of Pentecost.” Pentecost is a Jewish feast, which was being celebrated in Jerusalem at the time of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring. This Jewish feast is still celebrated today, known by its Hebrew name – Shavuot – or “the Feast of Weeks” in English. Greek-speaking Jews of Jesus’ time called it “Pentecost.”

Jesus’ followers “were all in one place together.” The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by “a noise like a strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire” that rested upon each of them. The gift of the Spirit enabled them “to speak in different tongues.” This anticipated that the Spirit would enable them to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.

The next verse notes that “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.” Considering that Pentecost/Shavuot is one of the most important Jewish feasts, it was normal that many Jewish pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem. They were each able to understand the words spoken in their own language — as the Spirit had enabled the disciples to proclaim. They were astounded by this miraculous event — which led many of them to come to faith in Christ Jesus.

Following today’s gospel passage is a speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-36). He explains how this outpouring of God’s Spirit was foretold by the prophets and the psalms. First, Peter cites the prophet Joel: “‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh’” (Acts 2:17). Next, Peter cites Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1. These psalm texts are attributed by Peter to King David – traditionally considered the psalms’ author. For consideration of when the various psalms were composed, consult commentaries on the Psalms.

Peter proclaims that the inspired writings of God’s covenant with Israel foretold both the coming of Jesus the Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. To those who had witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day, Peter said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). About three thousand persons were baptized on that day.

Next, in first Corinthians, Paul says: “No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.” This is a quintessential proclamation of faith in Christ — to say “Jesus is Lord.” This gift of faith in Christ is given by the Holy Spirit. Paul next speaks of “different kinds of spiritual gifts” – each given by the Spirit. This is within Chapter 12 of First Corinthians, which presents the Church as Christ’s Body. The Corinthians are later told by Paul: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:27). This well-known section compares the interdependence of the persons (members) in the Church to the interdependence of the members of the human body. Likewise in today’s section, the spiritual gifts received by the various members of the church are “given [to individuals] for some benefit” of the entire body of Christ, the Church.

Belonging to the one body of Christ is a consequence of our shared baptism in Christ, which causes us to share the “one Spirit.” Paul insists that the human divisions of his day — Jew vs. Greek and slave vs. free persons — are rendered meaningless by the union in Christ and the Spirit given to believers — members of the Church.

Pentecost is one of the few times in which the present Roman Catholic liturgy includes a “Sequence.” In the Middle Ages, many sequences were introduced into the liturgy. Shortly after the Council of Trent, the Missal of Pius V (1570) greatly reduced the number of sequences used in the Eucharistic liturgy. For Pentecost, the Sequence “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit) — a great liturgical jewel — continues to be sung. On the feast of Pentecost, we members of Christ’s body together beseech the Holy Spirit to come and fill us entirely.
Today’s Gospel contains one of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples – as recorded in John, chapter 20. Earlier, the empty tomb had been discovered by Mary Magdalene, by Peter, and by “the other disciple” (20:1-10). After this, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (20:11-18). In this encounter, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene: “go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (20:17). Mary obediently does this, but “on the evening of that first day of the week” the disciples have gathered behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.”

When Jesus appears to them, his first words are “Peace be with you.” With this, Jesus seeks to calm their fears. Jesus shows them his hands and his side — demonstrating his bodily resurrection — that he is truly alive. Jesus again says “Peace be with you,” but then adds “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus is incorporating them into his mission, for which he was sent by the Father into our world. For this purpose, Jesus likewise sends his disciples to proclaim God’s salvation. Jesus enables his disciples to carry forth his mission by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes on them and commands that they should receive the Holy Spirit. This action of “breathing upon them” accompanies Jesus’ gift of God’s life-giving presence to them — for the Holy Spirit will dwell within them.

Finally, this gift of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by these words of Jesus: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Jesus’ disciples are being entrusted with another element of his mission — that is, forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.