Monday, June 01, 2020

Correlations between the Sacraments and the Readings for the Octave of Pentecost

Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
If I had a perfect memory, I would be able to remember where, in the vast forest of online postings, someone first pointed out this beautiful correlation. Whoever you are, thank you for sharing it to begin with, and giving me the opportunity to flesh it out here.

In the traditional Latin rite’s Octave of Pentecost — present since at least the late sixth century but tragically excised by a liturgical reform bent on hypersimplification, in spite of a professed love of ancient things — we find a sequence of readings that, by the sweet arrangement of the Holy Ghost, bring to mind each of the seven sacraments of the Church, through which, in this “Age of the Spirit” that stretches from Pentecost until the Parousia, the members of Christ are sanctified. Each year, the “Time after Pentecost” reminds us of the gifts and opportunities of our present condition, suspended, as it were, between creation ex nihilo, when only God’s righteousness reigned, and the creation of a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home (cf. 2 Pet 3:13).

During the week of Whitsuntide, the Mass readings exalt the sacraments. In fact, multiple sacraments are exalted each day, in an intertwined manner that I will not here be able to expound fully (see Guéranger, Parsch, and Schuster).

In Monday’s Epistle (Acts 10:42–48), the Holy Spirit falls on all who heard Peter, and he commands that they receive baptism. The Gospel (John 3:16–21) is taken from the discourse where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus. the offertory antiphon continues the theme: “The Lord thundered from Heaven, and the Highest gave His voice; and the fountains of waters appeared, alleluia” (Ps 17:14,16).

Tuesday’s Lesson shows Peter and John laying hands on the baptized, strenghtening them in the Holy Ghost: confirmation. “In those days, when the apostles that were in Jerusalem had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John; who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: for He was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:14–17).

Pentecost Ember Wednesday’s Gospel gives us part of the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:44–52), highlighting the Eucharist: “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is My flesh for the life of the world.”

Thursday’s Gospel (Luke 9:1–6) describes the authority of the priesthood to cast out devils, cure the sick, and to preach the Gospel: “At that time, Jesus calling together the twelve apostles gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.”

In the Gospel of Pentecost Ember Friday, Christ forgives the sins of the man lowered down on a pallet (Luke 5:17–26), a power exercised in Confession. The verse of the Introit highlights the liberation won through the sacrament of penance: “In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be put to confusion: deliver me in Thy justice, and rescue me” (Ps 70:23).

In the Gospel of Pentecost Ember Saturday, Christ is shown healing the sick (Luke 4:38–44), reminding us of the power of extreme unction. “At that time, Jesus rising up out of the synagogue, went into Simon's house: and Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever, and they besought Him for her. And standing over her He commanded the fever, and it left her: and, immediately rising, she ministered to them. And when the sun was down, all they that had any sick with divers diseases, brought them to Him: but He laying His hands on every one of them, healed them.” The offertory antiphon begins with the words: Domine, Deus salutis meae… O Lord, the God of my health/salvation.

But where is holy matrimony?

We might offer a practical and a speculative reason why marriage is not featured in this series. The practical reason is that there are only six days to work with: Monday through Saturday. The next Sunday is the feast of the Most Holy Trinity and, as it were, the octave day of Pentecost. (It is, however, interesting to note parallels between the Introit and Communion antiphons from Tobias on Trinity Sunday and the Introit from Tobias of the Nuptial Mass.)

The speculative reason is that marriage, uniquely among the sacraments, is already a natural institution existing from the time of creation, which Christ elevated to the dignity of a sacred sign that effects in the spouses what it signifies, namely, the union of Christ and His Church. Unlike matrimony, the other six sacraments, while they had prefigurations in the Old Law, had no proper existence before their institution by the Lord. They are altogether new — like the newness of the atonement that canceled out our debt, like the newness of the resurrection of Christ that abolished death in the new supernatural Head of the human race, the second Adam. The Pentecost octave stresses the newness of the gifts of Christ: His six “ex nihilo” sacraments, through which the grace and charity of the Holy Spirit is poured out into our hearts.

I had almost said: May we never take these sacraments for granted. But the strange Coronatide though which we have passed, and from which we are still suffering, has purged many Catholics of this fault: we do not take for granted what is taken away from us for a time. May that deprivation come to an end, and may our longing for these ineffable mysteries never end until we draw our last breath.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website, SoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

A little humor, courtesy of Dom Hubert van Zeller

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