So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Octave of Pentecost

Since joining with the Ordinariate folk for daily Mass during an ongoing recovery of physical health and mental well being, I have encountered the profound blessing of being focussed on the Holy Spirit during the Masses of the Octave of Pentecost.

Since becoming Catholic several decades ago, I have harboured the thought that the liturgical cycle associated with the Ordinary Form somehow misses giving due emphasis to the Holy Spirit. Sure, the Eucharist Prayers offer a wealth of prayers invoking the Holy Spirit, and, of course, the Spirit is mentioned every time we raise our hands to make the Sign of the Cross and every time the priest-celebrant concludes a prayer mentioning the Holy Spirit. It seems strange, however, that in the Ordinary Form of the Mass the Octave of Pentecost has been suppressed. One could argue that all of Ordinary Time (Tempus Per Annum) is a season of the Holy Spirit. Of course, an obvious response to that defence could be that we live in the post-Resurrection era and every Mass is a celebration of the Resurrection, yet we have a season specifically dedicated to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Octave of Pentecost was an ancient observance that has its origin in the Fourth Century. So why have we allowed such a profoundly meaningful observance to fade from our liturgical consciousness?

You would think that we Romans, given centuries of tenacious commitment to the filioque in the Nicene Creed, would express our enthusiasm for said doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit by retaining a liturgical cycle that acknowledges the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. It should be noted that the filioque has always been part of the Church's treasury of orthodox theology, and its addition to the Creed—though not its theology since it was known and appreciated, too, in orthodox eastern Christian theology before the Great Schism—still irks many of our non-Catholic eastern brethren. Unfortunately, there isn't time and space here to discuss further the tortured history of the filioque.

The beauty of the Octave of Pentecost is that our minds and hearts are offered a prolonged feast saturated with theologically rich hymns, chants and spoken prayers invoking the Holy Spirit. In the Ordinariate, and of course in the Extraordinary Form, too, the Octave celebrates the Holy Spirit in a way that makes the liturgical cycle of the Ordinary Form seem impoverished.

The Ordinary Form of the Mass, however, has its own way of disposing the soul to the action of the Spirit, though the worshipper must seriously invest himself in the OF Liturgy to really appreciate the subtle nuances which offer the soul formation in the Holy Spirit. The average celebration of the Ordinary Form Mass would be greatly enhanced if the Proper chants were included in every celebration. The Propers are Spirit-rich. Sadly, because the Proper chants are under appreciated in most Ordinary Form parishes, parishioners will never know the theological richness of the music of the Mass that immerses the worshipper in the song of the Holy Spirit.

If ever there was a music of the Holy Spirit, it is Gregorian chant, the music which has pride of place in the Mass. So saith Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church's constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The following excerpt is from an excellent essay by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, states this about Gregorian chant:
116. Ecclesia cantum gregorianum agnoscit ut liturgiae romanae proprium: qui ideo in actionibus liturgicis, ceteris paribus, principem locum obtineat.
The Latin of SC 116 is often rendered as
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.
Let’s pry open SC 116 with a literal rendering:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as characteristically belonging to the Roman liturgy, with the result that, therefore, other things being equal, in liturgical actions it (Gregorian chant) takes possession of the first place.

If you aren’t praying with Gregorian chant, 50 years after the Council, then you are 50 years out of step with the Council mandated in the strongest terms.
Charismatic Catholics might seek a modification to any statement which promotes the idea that the Holy Spirit does not receive enough attention in contemporary Catholic spirituality. In charismatic communities attention paid to the Spirit certainly figures prominently, much more it seems so than in your average parish celebration of the Ordinary Form of Holy Mass.

Why not the Spirit too?

Mary, the most holy Mother of God has liturgies dedicated to her. Though not part of an official liturgical cycle, we offer an entire month to her—the month of May—and rightly so! November is the month of holy souls.

So then, a proposal: bring back the Octave of Pentecost! The least we can do is offer the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity His own big feast! Then, after restoring the Octave, let's call the Sundays after Pentecost by their former names. E.g., the Third Sunday of Pentecost and so on until Christ the King. The date or position of Christ the King can be retained as the last Sunday before Advent begins. That is, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, in keeping with the revised liturgical cycle.

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Recommended reading: I Believe in the Holy Spirit by Yves Congar (1997). Translated by David Smith. Published by Crossroad, NY.

Postscript: The Holy Spirit in architecture.
Holy Ghost Hole
In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and great churches throughout Western Europe were fitted with a peculiar architectural feature known as a Holy Ghost hole; a small circular opening in the roof that symbolized the entrance of Holy Spirit into the midst of the assembled worshippers. At Pentecost, these Holy Ghost holes would be decorated with flowers, and sometimes a dove figure lowered through into the church while the story of the Pentecost was read. Holy Ghost holes can still be seen today in European churches such as Canterbury Cathedral.
Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Söll | Wikipedia
And, check out the following video that captures the Pentecost Sunday la pioggia di petali di rose (the rain of rose petals) as the choir chants Veni Creator Spiritus at the Basilica of Santa Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon) in Rome.

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