“Let us, all together, wake up to celebrate Pentecost. Let’s rejoice in honour of the Holy Spirit, through whom the whole Catholic Church is made holy, and every rational soul comes alive.” Thus did Pope St Leo the Great (d 461) preach to his flock.
Pentecost was once liturgically supercharged and for centuries upon centuries had a subsequent octave so that we could rest in and reflect on its mystery. Paul VI, under the spell of experts, eliminated the octave in the newer, post-conciliar calendar, but it is still observed where the older, traditional Roman Rite is used. In fact, until the mid-1950s Pentecost’s vigil was very much like the Vigil of Easter, with the singing of many prophecies and prayers, the blessing of the baptismal font and the litany. Alas Pentecost, so venerated by our forebears, has been liturgically pared down. We should resist the urge to take the liturgical low road. Indeed, let us wake up to the possibilities opened up for us by our liturgical worship of God.
Speaking of the octave of Pentecost, there was a tradition of reflecting on the gifts of the Holy Spirit from Sunday, with wisdom, through the next Saturday, respectively with understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
That last gift, fear of the Lord, is not in great evidence today. This fear is not cowering terror but awe-filled reverence. It is “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). It causes us to flee occasions of sin and to desire to worship God “in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 95:9). Modern Westerners fear little today, and many stand in awe only of celebrity. A casual approach to God and the soul has grown exponentially over the last 50 years or so. How else do we account for what we see and hear in churches and what we don’t see and hear but should?
Lack of fear of the Lord breeds pride and recklessness with sacred things, places and persons. Might we not consider waking up to Pentecost at least through an examination of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on each day of its octave? There are good online resources if you don’t have handy books at home. They are rather important. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1831) says: “They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.”
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