Monday, May 20, 2024

The Mass of Pentecost Monday

From the most ancient times, Pentecost has been celebrated in the Roman Rite as one of the Church’s great baptismal feasts, and it therefore shares some important characteristics with Easter, the baptismal feast par excellence. One very notable point on which they differ, however, is the relationship between the texts of the Mass and the station churches at which they are celebrated. The stations of the Easter octave are arranged according to the hierarchical order of their dedication: first, the vigil at the cathedral of Rome, which is titled to the Lord, then St Mary Major on Easter Sunday, followed by the tombs of the city’s three Patron Saints, Peter, Paul and Lawrence, and then the basilicas of the Twelve Apostles and of all the martyrs. With the exception of Easter itself, the Masses of the octave contain many references and allusions to those Saints. During Pentecost week, on the other hand, the station churches are arranged in deliberate imitation of those of the first week of Lent, since both weeks include the celebration of the Ember days. The Masses celebrated at them contain almost no references to their station churches, with one notable exception, that of Pentecost Monday, when the station is kept at the church of St Peter in Chains.
The Introit, which begins with the words “He fed them with the finest of the wheat”, might seem more appropriate for Ember Wednesday, when the Gospel, John 6, 44-52, is taken from the passage known as the Bread of Life discourse. And indeed, St Thomas Aquinas would later borrow this same introit for the Mass of Corpus Christi. In this case, however, the second part of it, “and filled them with honey out of the rock,” is a reference to the very ancient tradition that when St Peter was jailed in the Mamertine prison in Rome, held with the very chains that the church was built to house and honor, he converted his jailers, Ss Processus and Martinian. For lack of any water with which to baptize them, Peter, like Moses before him, knocked on the solid rock of the prison walls, making water flow from them. This also refers to the baptismal character of Pentecost, since those who had been newly baptized on the vigil the previous Saturday would then, of course, also have partaken of the Bread of Life for the first time.
An ancient Christian sarcophagus known as the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers, made in the second quarter of the 4th century, now in the Vatican Museums. The episode of St Peter making water run from the rock is at far left of the lower register.
The Collect of this Mass is the only prayer within the week that refers to the Apostles. “O God, Who gave the Holy Spirit to Thy Apostles, grant to Thy people the (desired) effect of their devout prayer; that Thou may bestow also peace upon those to whom Thou hast given faith.”
On Easter Monday, when the station is at the church of St Peter in the Vatican, the Epistle, Acts 10, 37-43, is taken from the Apostle’s discourse in the house of Simon the tanner, and refers to both baptism and the Resurrection.
“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 Epistle repeats the last two verses from Easter Monday (beginning at the star noted above), then continues to verse 48, with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon all those who hear Peter speaking, and their subsequent baptism.
“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 the Centurion Cornelius, 1658 by Michel Corneille l’Ancien (1601-64); Museum of the Hermitage, St Petersburg.
The reference to “the gentiles” in a Roman station church reminds us that Ss Peter and Paul both came to Rome as the ideal place from which to preach of the Christian faith to people from every corner of the world.
The first Alleluja verse paraphrases the end of the Epistle of Pentecost Sunday, in words which also appear repeatedly in the Divine Office: “In varied tongues the Apostles were speaking the wondrous deeds of God.” The second Alleluja and the Sequence that follow are sung at every Mass of the octave.
(A particularly good motet of the words “Loquebantur variis linguis” by Thomas Tallis.)
The Gospel, John 3, 16-21, clarifies the words of St Peter in the Epistle that speak of Christ as the one “appointed by God to be 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.”
The Offertory is repeated from Easter Tuesday: “Intónuit de caelo Dóminus, et Altíssimus dedit vocem suam, et apparuérunt fontes aquárum, allelúja. – The Lord thundered from heaven, the Most High gave forth His voice, and the fountains of waters appeared, alleluja.” (Psalm 17, 14 and 16)
This was clearly chosen in reference to the story of St Peter making water run from the rock noted above, but also perhaps because the station on Easter Tuesday is kept at the basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls, which houses the tomb of the Roman church’s other Apostolic founder. Just as the two Apostles share a feast day, and almost always appear together in early Christian and medieval art, likewise, the church of St Peter in Chains was originally dedicated also to St Paul.
A modern copy of a dedicatory inscription placed in the basilica of St Peter in Chains by Pope St Sixtus III (432-40), who says that he adorns the church with the names of Peter and Paul together (“Petri Paulique simul ... nomine signo”), and asks them both to receive it from him as a gift (“pares unum duo sumite munus.”) - Image from Wikimedia Commons by Luciano Tronati, CC BY-SA 4.0.
An ancient commentary on the Psalms, attributed with uncertainty to Rufinus of Aquileia, says that the “fountains of water are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (Commentarius in LXXV Psalmos; Ps. XVII, 16; PL XXI, col. 705D). Another commentary on the Psalms, uncertainly attributed to Rufinus’ friend and correspondent St Jerome (with whom he later had a very sharp and long-running theological dispute), says that “the fountains” are the Apostles themselves. “The fountains are the Apostles, as if (to say that) they were given to drink from the one fountain… which is Christ… as it says in the Gospel, ‘He that shall drink the water which I shall give him will not thirst forever.’ (John 4, 14) And in another sense, the fountains of water are those who through the sacrament of baptism have become a fountain of the living water springing up for sinners unto eternal life.” (Breviarium in Psalmos, Ps. XVII; PL XXVI, col. 866D) Either interpretation makes this Psalm an appropriate choice in light of both the baptismal character of the feast and the celebration at this particular station.
Finally, the Communio is also taken from the Gospel of Pentecost, words addressed by Christ to the Apostles. “The Holy Spirit will teach you, alleluja, all things whatsoever I shall say to you, alleluja, alleluja.” The plural “you” is perhaps also reminiscent of the church’s ancient dedication to both Peter and Paul.

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