The Vigil of Pentecost
By Dom Guéranger
The dazzling splendour of tomorrow’s Solemnity forecasts its beauty on this day of its Vigil. The Faithful are preparing themselves by Fasting to celebrate the glorious mystery. But, the Mass of the Neophytes, which, formerly, was said during the Night, is now anticipated, as on Easter Eve; so that by today’s Noon, we shall have already begun the praises of the Holy Ghost. The Office of Vespers, in the afternoon, will solemnly open the grand Festival. The reign of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, proclaimed by the Liturgy of this very day. Let us unite ourselves in spirit with the holy ones, who are awaiting the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise.
Whilst following the Mysteries of the past Seasons of the Liturgical Year, we have frequently been told of the action of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Lessons read to us, from both the Old and New Testament, have more than once excited our respectful attention towards this Divine Spirit, who seemed to be shrouded in mystery, the time of his being made manifest not having yet arrived. The workings of God in his creatures do not come all at once; there is a succession in their coming, but come they certainly will. The sacred historian describes how the heavenly Father, acting through his Word, employed six days in arranging, into its several parts, this world which he had created; but he also tells us, though under the veil of a mysterious expression, that the Spirit moved over the waters, which the Son of God was about to divide from the earth.
If, then, the Holy Ghost’s visible reign on our earth, was deferred until such time as the Man-God should be enthroned on the Father’s right hand, we must not conclude that this Divine Spirit has been inactive. What are the Sacred Scriptures, from which the Liturgy has selected so many sublime passages for our instruction, — what are they but the silent production of Him, who, as the venerable Symbol has it, “spoke by the Prophets?” It was He gave us the Word, — the Wisdom of God, — by the Scripture, who gave us, at a later period, this same Word in the Flesh of Human Nature.
He has never been a moment of all the past ages without working. He prepared the world for the reign of the Incarnate Word; he did so, by bringing together the various races of once separate nations, and by keeping up that universal Expectation of a Redeemer, which was held alike by the most barbarous and by the most highly civilised. The earth had not as yet heard the name of the Holy Ghost, but he moved over the universe of mankind, as he moved over the dead mass of water at the beginning of the world.
Meanwhile, the Prophets spoke of him in several of the prophecies wherein they foretold the coming of the Son of God. The Lord thus spoke by the lips of Joel: I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. He said to us, through Ezechiel: I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new Spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh; and I will put my Spirit in the midst of you?
But previously to the manifestation of himself, the Holy Ghost was to effect that of the Divine Word. When infinite power called into existence the body and soul of the future Mother of God, it was he that prepared the Dwelling for the Sovereign Majesty, by sanctifying Mary from the instant of her Conception, and taking possession of her as the temple into which the Son of God was soon to enter. When the ever blessed day of the Annunciation came, the Archangel declared unto Mary that the Holy Ghost would come upon her, and that the Power of the Most High would overshadow her. No sooner did the Virgin consent to the fulfilment of the eternal decree, than the operation of the Divine Spirit produced within her the most ineffable of mysteries: The Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us!
Upon this Flower that sprang from the branch of the tree of Jesse, upon this Humanity divinely produced in Mary, there rested complacently the Spirit of the Father and the Son: he enriched it with his Gifts, he fitted it for its glorious and everlasting des tiny. He that had so filled the Mother with the treasures of his grace, so that it seemed to border on infinity, — gave incomparably more to her Child. And as ever heretofore, so also then, the Holy Spirit worked these stupendous wonders silently; for the time of his manifestation had not come. The earth is to catch but a glimpse of him on the day of Jesus’ Baptism, when he will rest with outstretched wings on the head of the well-beloved Son of the Father. The holy Baptist, John, will understand the glorious vision, as he had felt, when yet unborn, the presence of the Blessed Fruit in Mary’s womb; but as to the rest of the bystanders, they saw but a dove, and the Dove revealed not his eternal secrets.
The reign of the Son of God, our Emmanuel, is established upon its predetermined foundations. In him, we have a Brother, for he has assumed our weak human nature; a Teacher, for he is the Wisdom of the Father, and leads us into all truth; a Physician, for he heals all our infirmities; a Mediator, for by his sacred Humanity he brings all creation to its Creator. In him we have our Redeemer; and in his Blood, our Ransom; for sin had broken the link between God and ourselves, and we needed a divine Redeemer. In him we have a Head, who is not ashamed of his Members, however poor they may be; a King, whom we have seen crowned with an everlasting diadem; a Lord, whom the Lord hath made to sit on his right hand.
But if he rules over this earth for all ages, it is from his Throne in heaven that he is to rule, until the Angel’s voice is heard proclaiming that Time is no more, and then he will return again to crush the heads of sinners. Meanwhile, long ages are to flow onwards in their course, and these ages are to be the reign of the Holy Ghost. But, as we learn from the Evangelist, the Spirit was not given until such time as Jesus was glorified. So that our beautiful mystery of the Ascension stands between the two Divine Reigns on earth; — the visible Reign of the Son of God, and the visible Reign of the Holy Ghost. Nor is it only the Prophets who announce the succession of the second to the first; it is our Emmanuel himself, who, during the days of his mortal life, heralded the approaching Reign of the Divine Spirit.
We have not forgotten his words: It is expedient for you that I go; for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you. Oh! how much the world must have needed this Divine Guest, of whom the very Son of God made himself the precursor! And that we might understand how great is the majesty of this new Master who is to reign over us, Jesus thus speaks of the awful chastisements which are to befall them that offend him: Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come. This Divine Spirit is not, however, to assume our human nature, as did the Son; neither is he to redeem the world, as did the Son; but he is to come among men with a love so immeasurable, that woe to them who despise it! It is to Him that Jesus intends to confide the Church, his Spouse, during the long term of her widowhood; to Him will he make over his own Work, that he may perpetuate and direct in all its parts.
We, then, who are to receive, in a few hours hence, the visit of this Spirit of Love, who is to renew the face of the earth? — we must be all attention as we were at Bethlehem, when we were awaiting the Birth of our Emmanuel. The Word and the Holy Ghost are co-equal in glory and power, and their coming upon the earth proceeds from the one same eternal and merciful decree of the Blessed Trinity, who, by this twofold visit, would make us partakers of the divine nature. We, who were once nothingness, are destined to become, by the operation of the Word and the Spirit, Children of the heavenly Father. And if we would know what preparation we should make for the visit of the Paraclete, let us return, in thought, to the Cenacle, where we left the Disciples assembled, persevering, with one mind, in prayer, and waiting, as their Master had commanded them, for the Power of the Most High to descend upon them, and arm them for their future combat.
Formerly, this Vigil was kept like that of Easter. The Faithful repaired to the Church, in the evening that they might assist at the solemn administration of Baptism. During the night, the Sacrament of Regeneration was conferred upon such Catechumens as sickness or absence from home had prevented from receiving it on Easter Night. Those, also, who had then been thought insufficiently tried or instructed, and had, during the interval, satisfied the conditions required by the Church, now formed part of the group of aspirants to the New Birth of the sacred Font. Instead of the Twelve Prophecies, which were read, on Easter Night, whilst the Priests were performing over the Catechumens the rites preparatory to Baptism, — six only were now read; at least, such was the usual custom, and it would lead us to suppose that the number of those baptised at Pentecost was less than at Easter.
The Paschal Candle was again brought forward during this Night of grace, in order to impress the newly baptised with respect and love for the Son of God, who became Man that he might be the Light of the World. The rites already described and explained for Holy Saturday were repeated on this occasion, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, at which the Neophytes assisted, began before the break of day. In later times, when the charitable custom of conferring Baptism on children immediately after their birth passed into a general law, the Mass of Whitsun- Eve was said early in the morning, as was done in the case of Easter-Eve. The six Prophecies, of which we have just spoken, are now read before the celebration of the holy Sacrifice; after which, the Baptism Water is solemnly blessed. The Paschal Candle is used at this ceremony, and the Faithful should consider it a duty to assist at it.