Friends, as I noted last week we have the great opportunity this Saturday evening to celebrate the extended vigil of Pentecost--a wonderful liturgical treasure of the Church revived in the most recent revision of the Roman Missal. A brief history: the Pentecost Vigil arose from an early Church practice of celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism during vigil Masses. There were three particular vigils when baptisms were celebrated: Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. Each of these vigils prepared those to be baptized and the faithful for a powerful manifestation of the Lord: Jesus's birth on Epiphany, his Resurrection at Easter, and his Spirit alive in the Church at Pentecost. Most of these baptisms would have been adults. Now that infant baptism is the norm, the Easter Vigil is usually the only time when adult baptism is celebrated. Pentecost focuses mostly upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and, in many dioceses it is used as an opportunity for adults seeking to complete their Christian Initiation to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Pentecost is viewed in the calendar as the eighth and final Sunday of the Easter season, and one could easily argue this “octave Sunday” (symbolizing perfection and completion), is a fitting end to the celebration of the resurrection and the fulfillment of the promised sending of the Spirit. Thus the Pentecost Vigil provides a suitable bookend to the first Mass of the Easter season: the Easter Vigil. However, unlike the Easter Vigil which is required to take place after dark on Holy Saturday, the Pentecost Vigil can be celebrated at any time on the evening before Pentecost.
Following the Entrance Chant and the Penitential Act, the priest prays the Collect and then addresses the congregation with a brief instruction about the vigil. All are then seated and the Liturgy of the Word begins. Like the Easter Vigil, there are multiple readings from the Old Testament. These readings emphasize the working of the Holy Spirit throughout salvation history and the power of the Spirit to redeem humankind. In these four readings, we hear of the outpouring of the Spirit:
1) overcoming sin (Genesis 11 - The Tower of Babel),
2) giving the law and shaping the covenant with God's people (Exodus 19 - The Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai),
3) communicating true life through the prophets (Ezekiel 37 - The Dry Bones), and,
4) allowing people to speak in the name of God (Joel 3 - the Spirit of God turning the faithful into prophets).
After the proclamation of each reading, a responsorial psalm is sung: Psalm 33, Daniel 3 or Psalm 19, Psalm 107, and finally Psalm 104. Following the fourth psalm, the Gloria is sung and the Collect of Mass is prayed. Mass continues in the usual way with the reading of the Epistle, singing of the alleluia, and reading of the Gospel. The Gospel is from John 7 when Jesus and the Apostles are in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost (The Feast of Weeks). Christ proclaims that anybody who believes in him will receive the Spirit and have rivers of living water flowing within them.
To close this article, it is most fitting that Psalm 104 with its response of "Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth," is the final psalm of the Vigil (and also on Pentecost Day). This same psalm is the first psalm sung at the Easter Vigil following the reading from Genesis 1 (the creation of the world). By proclaiming this psalm first and last in the Easter season, the acts of creation and redemption are liturgically connected. The same spirit which hovered over the waters at creation, came to rest upon the Apostles, Mary, and each of us! May the coming of the Spirit this Pentecost fill our hearts with the fire of God’s love and send us out into the world to participate in the Lord’s renewing of the face of the earth. Veni, Sancte Spiritus!