Monday, May 24, 2010

Dulcis hospes animae:
Meditation on the Interior Pentecost

Pentecost is one of my favourite liturgical solemnities. It's been a long haul: On the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the date of Pentecost was announced; the Church began her pilgrimage on Ash Wednesday, and across the forty days of Great Lent, the days of Holy Week, and fifty days of Easter, we come to it--the Solemnity of Pentecost. Since we began our Lenten discipline, it's been ninety-six days. As I prepared to celebrate Second Vespers of Pentecost last night, a certain sadness came over me, because the Easter Season was coming to a close. In some parts of the blogosphere, there was a Traditionalist furore over the loss of the so-called "Pentecost Octave."

Yet, even if the liturgical commemoration of Pentecost is over, the Mystery of Pentecost remains. We are members of the Church born on Pentecost Sunday and continues to grow younger, despite the suffering she is now experiencing. At each Eucharist, during the epiclesis, the priest invokes the Holy Spirit over the Holy Gifts to change them into the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, "Quo ibo a Spiritu to? Et uo a facie tua fugiam? Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your Presence" (Ps 139:7).

As I was reflecting on the Mystery of Pentecost, a line from the Golden Sequence, the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, came to mind: "dulcis hospes animae" or, in the famous English rendition Holy Spirit, Lord of Light, "Thou, the soul's delightsome Guest." In our baptism, we become children of God, co-heirs and siblings of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 4:4-7; cf. Jn 1:12).

Visiting our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is a venerable custom, and the Church wholeheartedly commends this practise. But do we visit God the Holy Spirit who is present in our souls? Do we adore the Holy Spirit who indwells us who have been baptised? Do we understand that we are living tabernacles? Under the Old Dispensation, the children of Israel carried the Ark of the Covenant which carried the Law, the observance of which reminded them of God's presence. The later Jewish understanding of Pentecost or the "Week of Weeks" was that it commemorated the gift of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But with the New Dispensation (2 Cor 3:7-11), the Law has been abolished (Eph 2:15); in place of the Ark of the Covenant which housed the tablets of the Law is the Church, the People of God, who house the gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:21).

There is more. On the Feast of Weeks or Shauvot, the children of Israel offered to God the first-fruits of their harvest (Ex 23:16, 32:44; Deut 16:10). In this New Dispensation, we no longer offer to God tokens of ourselves; rather we offer our very own selves to God. The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost--the birthday of the Church--places that "indelible mark" on our souls whereby we are given to God. In the gift of piety is our growth in this very self-gift to God, a self-gift which is enabled only by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Pentecost, then, is about the "total abandonment to the Divine Providence."

For those who have been invited to the priesthood or religious life, the Mystery of Pentecost takes on an even more urgent meaning. Their state of life deprives them of legitimate goods such as marriage and childbearing, and so there is a certain measure of loneliness experienced by the priest or religious. But if, as St Thomas Aquinas says, religious profession is akin to a "second baptism," then the Holy Spirit indwells the religious in such a way that she is able to imitate the Mother of God who is the "spouse of the Holy Spirit." The anointing of the hands of priests--and of the heads of bishops--indicates an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that enables them to serve the Church with the same self-donation as the Incarnate Word. Thus when the priest or religious sings "...dulcis hospes animae", it should be remembered that the Holy Spirit is a Guest of a different sort; the commitment to celibacy means that our loneliness is meaningless: both in virtue of baptism and confirmation as well as religious profession and ordination, the Holy Spirit presents himself as that Guest always ready to visit his gracious host.

The Mystery of Pentecost, in order for it to remain, consists of all of us Christians--baptized, ordained, and vowed--being gracious host to the Holy Spirit, the "soul's delightsome Guest." This is our interior Pentecost.

For magisterial teaching on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, see H.H. Pope +John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem (18 May 1986) and H.H. Pope +Leo XIII, Divinum illud munus (9 May 1897).

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