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Scripture & Tradition: Pentecost

Editor’s note: Here 1P5 presents the new “Scripture and Tradition” series, courtesy of Eric Sammons, one of our regular contributors. These short reflections on the readings of the upcoming Sunday Mass are not intended to replace the homily, but instead to help Traditional Catholics prepare for the liturgy. With so much of the Catholic internet world taking for granted the readings of the Novus Ordo, 1P5 is pleased to offer the faithful a venue centered on the traditional lectionary and its many riches.

Epistle: Acts 2:1–11

Gospel: John 14:23–31

O God, who this day hast taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that by the gift of the same Spirit we may be always truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation.
—From the Collect for Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast, celebrating the giving of the Law fifty days after the killing of the paschal lamb (cf. Ex. 31:18). The Church Fathers saw a deep connection between the giving of the old Law and the coming of the Holy Spirit at the new Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ.

St. Leo the Great preached, “For as of old, when the Hebrew nation were released from the Egyptians, on the fiftieth day after the sacrificing of the lamb the Law was given on Mount Sinai, so after the suffering of Christ, wherein the true Lamb of God was slain, on the fiftieth day from His Resurrection, the Holy Ghost came down upon the Apostles and the multitude of believers, so that the earnest Christian may easily perceive that the beginnings of the Old Testament were preparatory to the beginnings of the Gospel, and that the second covenant was founded by the same Spirit that had instituted the first” (Sermon 75).

St. Augustine noted that while the original Pentecost was a preparation for the Christian Pentecost, it was but a shadow of the reality of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He writes, “There it was on tables of stone that the finger of God operated; here it was on the hearts of men. There the law was given outwardly, so that the unrighteous might be terrified; here it was given inwardly, so that they might be justified” (On the Spirit and the Letter 17.29).

At the Christian Pentecost, the promise of Christ that “the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name … will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind” is fulfilled. Before this coming, the apostles were cowering in fear, afraid that they would meet the same fate as their master. But after Pentecost and led by St. Peter, they boldly proclaimed the truth of Christ’s Resurrection in spite of persecution. The old Law, written on stone, had no power to change hearts; it only revealed the depths of human depravity and our need for a Savior. But the coming of the Holy Spirit writes a new law in the hearts of Christ’s followers, as prophesied by Ezekiel centuries before the time of Christ (cf. Ez. 36:26).

The promise of Pentecost is not just in the past — it is given to every Catholic at his Confirmation. In that sacramental mystery, we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit and are given His gifts; we no longer need to cower in fear, but can proclaim that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

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