Holy spirit

Are your eyes looking to the Holy Spirit? | National Catholic Register

After Easter and Christmas, Pentecost is the most important feast of the Church. This is true not only for the liturgical calendar, but for our spiritual lives. Christmas marks the coming of Christ in the flesh, “for us and for our salvation.” Easter marks the triumph of Christ over sin and death – none of us are to be damned unless we freely will. Pentecost marks Christ’s sending of his Spirit to enable his Church to continue his work of salvation – to turn people from sin and bring them back to God – until he “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”.

Liturgically, Pentecost closes the Easter season. Seven was a number of perfection in ancient Israel (7×7=49). Perfect perfection plus one: “Easter joy” reaches its peak.

Liturgically too, it is difficult to predict what Gospel you might hear today. Due to the liturgical significance of Pentecost, it – like Easter – has a fully developed Vigil, which is too often truncated to “Saturday Evening Mass”. Parishes must consider its celebration in its fullness. (See here and here.) My commentary is based on the “daytime” Pentecost Mass, since this Mass incorporates the readings that will be heard on Pentecost Sunday morning.

The event of Pentecost does not appear in the Gospels. Like the Ascension, Luke details it in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading (2:1-11). The Gospels often speak of Jesus’ intention to send his Spirit upon the Apostles, a theme particularly prominent in John’s discourse at the Last Supper (eg John 16:1-15). Today’s Gospel, however, reinforces the link between Easter and Pentecost: it is John who recounts how, on Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared to his Apostles and conferred on them the Holy Spirit (John 20, 19-23).

The details of Pentecost are found in Acts. The disciples of Jesus are “all together in one place”. A strong wind shakes the house, fire appears above them, splits and lands on each of them. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” and began to talk about Christ. They burst onto the streets and began to evangelize, declaring the “mighty acts of God”.

Jesus’ disciples are where he told them to be — in Jerusalem, waiting and praying. In due time (not one foretold to the disciples) the Holy Spirit descends, in power. Like the Father (as we saw in last Sunday’s art), the Spirit is not visible except in the symbol of fire: remember, only Jesus reveals the invisible God to us. But the power of the Spirit is felt. The followers of Jesus are now beginning to carry out the commission he gave them nine days ago to “go and teach all the nations”, symbolically represented by the pilgrims gathered from the Mediterranean basin to Jerusalem for what was probably the Jewish holiday of Pentecost – the celebration of Shavuot – which was a major holiday that observant Jews of ancient times sought to celebrate in the holy city. The offspring of Christians who now speak to the “Parthians, Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia” will one day speak to the Polynesians, Amerindians and Chinese, inhabitants of the Slavic lands, Japan and Europe. ‘Africa.

The Gospel takes us back to the evening of Easter Sunday, when Jesus first appears to all his apostles (minus St. Thomas) at once. In this pericope, he breathes on them and commands them to “receive the Holy Spirit”, specifically in relation to the forgiveness or retention of sins. Today’s gospel is the scriptural guarantee of the sacrament of penance: Jesus specifically charged his apostles with the task of forgiving sins. If you are truly sorry for your sins, you necessarily want to address them as Jesus said.

So when did has the Holy Spirit come? At Easter? Today?

You could even say Good Friday. When Matthew (27:52) speaks of the resurrection of the dead after the death of Jesus, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit flows into the world from the pierced heart of Christ, but we time-limited creatures must share when things happen in the eternity of God.

So, yes, the Holy Spirit is given for the forgiveness of sins – the main thing is salvation and what Jesus before the Ascension told his apostles to preach (“repent to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem” -Luke 24:47). Today’s Gospel deals with the institution of the Sacrament of Penance. Today, at Pentecost, the Spirit is given to empower Christians to witness to God before the world with power, the institution of the Sacrament of Confirmation. All the sacraments “act” because the Holy Spirit works in them.

Today’s first reading is pictured by the great Spanish painter El Greco (1541-1614). As his name suggests, he was Greek (birth name Domenikos Theotokopoulos), but the vast majority of his work took place in Spain. The oil painting today is on display in the Prado Museum in Spain and was painted around 1600 as part of an altarpiece for a seminary in Madrid.

Anyone who has ever looked at the work of El Greco knows that he has a style of his own: he cannot be put into the categories of traditional art. This may be partly because, as a Greek, he combined Eastern iconography with Western techniques in his religious art. But it’s also because of the artist’s unique “vision” – the figures in El Greco’s paintings clearly belong to El Greco, in part because of their elongated, slender, candle-like bodies that rise upwards.

In Eastern icons, bodies are never truly “represented” as if they were a painted photograph. Bodies are spiritualized. El Greco does something about it in his own way, inimitable.

The Holy Spirit dominates this painting, in the form of a dove, at the top. He is the source of light that illuminates the rest of this otherwise dark tableau. Note that, although in the Gospels the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove (for example, at the Baptism of Jesus), Acts speaks only of tongues of fire at Pentecost. The scene is populated by 15 people, Mary — Mother of the Church (feast celebrated tomorrow) — in the middle. The gazes of fourteen people are all praying to heaven, connecting them to the Spirit who enlightens them (literally on the painting with tongues of fire and spiritually). El Greco’s reclining bodies also serve to draw our attention to the Spirit. (As one reviewer noted, this effect would have been pronounced on viewers looking at this painting on an altar, with them standing below).

The painting actually has two foci. Mary, Mother of the Church, is the second centre. While all but one of the gazes look upwards to connect us with the Holy Spirit, they also all form a circle with Mary at its center, her eyes and prayerful hands also directing us to the Holy Spirit. There are two traditions in Christian iconography related to Pentecost: one that includes Mary at its center, and one (apparently older) that only included the Apostles.

Fifteen people? Even assuming – according to the Acts of the Apostles (1:12-26) that Matthias had been chosen between Ascension and Pentecost to take the place of Judas – that still leaves us with 13. And we have two women in this chart. So the numbers don’t match.

One commentator notes that, given the prominent role played by women in the Easter Gospels (from Easter morning itself), the two women may be Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, known to be closely associated with Jesus. Their clothing is out of sync with the others, more resembling contemporary Spanish (for example, the veil which resembles a mantilla). As we noted last week, the Ascension occurred in Bethany, their hometown.

Most commentators also suggest that the only figure on the right with a white beard, whose gaze upon us (the only eyes averted from the event of Pentecost itself) actually draws us into this sacred circle, is El Greco himself. The painter is said to have inserted himself into his painting (which then leaves the question – where was Matthias?)

The painting actually has two foci. Mary, Mother of the Church, is the second centre. While all but one of the gazes look upwards to connect us with the Holy Spirit, they also all form a circle with Mary at its center, her eyes and prayerful hands also directing us to the Holy Spirit.

Like Mary, do our eyes look to the Holy Spirit? Many of us have had our own “Pentecost” in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Do we remember this event, thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and seek to make it real in our daily lives? Confirmation (like baptism and holy orders) imprints a sacramental seal – what it has done to your soul cannot be lost (although it can be tampered with by sin). So the follow-up question is: do I live up to my Pentecost?