Monday, June 06, 2022

“God So Loved the World” - The Gospel of Pentecost Monday

As noted last month, the first part of the Nicodemus Gospel, John 3, 1-15 or 16, was said at two other Masses before it was assigned to the Finding of the Cross. On the other hand, the second part, verses 16-21, is found in the very oldest Roman lectionaries on Pentecost Monday, and remains there to this day. This may seem an odd choice, given that it speaks entirely about the mission of the Son, without reference to the Holy Spirit. It is assigned to this day as a compliment to the Epistle of the Mass, which is determined by its Roman Station church.

On Easter Monday, the Station is at St Peter’s Basilica, and the Epistle, Acts 10, 37-43, is part of Peter’s discourse in the house of the centurion Cornelius.
You know the word which hath been published through all Judea: for it began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, Jesus of Nazareth: how God anointed him with the Holy Ghost, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things that he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed, hanging him upon a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he arose again from the dead; And he * commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is he who was appointed by God, to be judge of the living and of the dead. To him all the prophets give testimony, that by his name all receive remission of sins, who believe in him.
On Pentecost Monday, the station is at the basilica of St-Peter-in-Chains; the Epistle repeats the last two verses of the Epistle of Easter Monday, (beginning at the star noted above,) and continues to verse 48.
While Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. And the faithful of the circumcision, who came with Peter, were astonished, for that the grace of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the gentiles also. For they heard them speaking with tongues, and magnifying God. Then Peter answered: Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Baptism of Cornelius, represented on the bronze baptismal font of the church of St Bartholomew in Liège, by Reiner de Huy, completed by 1118.  Image from wikipedia by Jean-Pol Grandmont.
The second part of the Nicodemus Gospel, therefore, clarifies Peter’s statement that Christ is “judge of the living and of the dead.”
For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.
In the post-Conciliar lectionary, with the abolition of the Octave of Pentecost, this passage has been moved to the Wednesday after Low Sunday, as part of the lectio continua of the Gospel of John in Eastertide, broadly imitating the custom of the Byzantine Rite. A longer version, John 3, 14-21, is read on the 4th Sunday of Lent in the second year of the three-year cycle, and a shorter version, only verses 16-18, is read on Trinity Sunday in year A. Part of the Gospel is also assigned to the Exaltation of the Cross, verses 13-17. The first sentence is frequently used as an Alleluia verse in the new lectionary, although it is not part of the historical chant repertoire.

In the Byzantine Rite, this verse has a particularly prominent place, since it is cited at the celebration of every Divine Liturgy when the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom is used. During the Sanctus, the priest reads as follows.
We also with these blessed powers, o Lord and lover of mankind, cry out and say, ‘Holy art Thou, and all-holy, and Thy only-begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit. Holy art Thou and all-holy, and magnificent is Thy glory. Who did so love the world, that Thou gavest Thy only-begotten Son, that everyone that believeth in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.
This anaphora was created as a substitute for the much lengthier Anaphora of St Basil the Great, in which, by the word-count in Greek, the parallel prayer is almost exactly five times as long. Where St Basil recounts the whole history of our salvation, from the creation and fall of man to the Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming of Christ, with many citations of the Sacred Scriptures, St John Chrysostom sums up the whole economy of salvation with a single verse: “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.”

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