The Liturgical Year
The Liturgical Year: the time after Pentecost
The Fire of God’s Presence
In the Holy Bible, fire is a symbol of God’s presence. God speaks to Moses from the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai, and commissions him to go and free the people of Israel from Pharaoh. God guides and guards the people of Israel during their exodus from slavery in Egypt by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud during the day.
Pentecost and the Fire of the Holy Spirit
In the New Testament, fire once again symbolizes God’s presence. As more people came to listen to the preaching of John the Baptist and to be baptized in the River Jordan, so they began to wonder if he was the promised Messiah. He tells them that he is not the Messiah, and tells the people that the one to come after him, Jesus, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
The Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 3, verse 16
Later during the ministry of Jesus when He was preaching to the people, Jesus also speaks of fire that He wishes to cast upon the Earth.
“I came to cast fire upon the Earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.”
The Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 12, verses 49-50
The baptism Jesus speaks of is that of His Passion and Death by which He atones for our sins and opens the gates of Heaven to those who believe in Him, have faith in Him, hope in Him, and love Him, and in loving Him follow His commandments. After the Resurrection of Jesus and His Ascension to Heaven, Eastertide closes with the celebration of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descends on Our Lady and the apostles in tongues of fire. Once again, fire symbolizes the presence of God. The fire of God’s love – the Holy Spirit – is breathed into the apostles and they become emboldened to begin the work Jesus had commissioned them to do: to preach the good news of His Gospel and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And so, on the Sunday after Pentecost, in honour of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we celebrate The Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity. The time after Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time in the liturgical year and it is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles and by the numerous epistles written to the early Christians by St. Paul, St. James, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude.
From fearful to fearless
Before the Holy Spirit arrives, the apostles were gathered in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus and had also been witness to some of his appearances to them after His Resurrection. They were in awe of the Resurrection of Jesus and His Ascension to Heaven, but they were still fearful of the Jews. But the descent of the Holy Spirit changed all that. The Holy Spirit filled them with His powerful gifts and their fear was transformed into courage – suddenly, they had the courage to go out and preach the Gospel with great passion, clarity, and boldness to the people of Jerusalem.
The first Christians
Filled with the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit, the apostles began speaking in tongues, so that people of all different nationalities and languages could understand the words of the apostles. St. Peter went out and preached to the people of Jerusalem about Jesus, and in just one day 3000 people became convinced by the power of St. Peter’s speech that Jesus Christ was their long-awaited Messiah spoken of in the Scriptures, that He is true God and true Man, their Lord and Saviour.
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, verses 41–42
The first Christian communities carefully followed the teaching of the apostles, led by St. Peter, who were now filled with the Holy Spirit, and these communities were known for their love and fellowship, and for their celebration of the Holy Mass – the breaking of the bread and the prayers. The breaking of the bread, the great gift which Jesus gives to us in the Blessed Sacrament – that of His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – is celebrated in early June by The Solemnity of Corpus Christi (which means the Body of Christ), and this year this beautiful celebration takes place at the same time as our children will be receiving their First Holy Communion.
St. Peter and St. Paul
Other great celebrations in this part of the liturgical year include: The Sacred Heart of Jesus, and The Immaculate Heart of Mary, the two Hearts which radiate love for each other and show the abiding love of God for His people; and then at the end of June we celebrate two great saints of our faith with The Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul.
St. Peter led the apostles in their mission to evangelize the Jewish people. Many signs and wonders marked the acts of the apostles, but with it came great persecution as the Jewish leaders sought to quell the rise of the Christian communities. St. Peter was imprisoned by the Jews but then escaped when an angel came to free him from his prison chains.
St. Stephen, one of the first deacons, became the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for his faith in Jesus. His death was watched over by a passionate Jewish man called Saul. Saul sought to bring Christians across Jerusalem to trial and imprisonment, and was on his way to Damascus to find more Christians to bring to trial when Jesus appeared to him as Light from Heaven and asked Saul to stop persecuting Him. Saul spent three days blinded by the Light from Heaven until his baptism in Damascus. Thereafter, and now known as Paul he became a passionate apostle for Jesus, preaching the Good News across the land of Israel and travelling far and wide over land and sea, battling persecution, imprisonment, and shipwreck to take the Good News of His Lord and Saviour to the Gentile nations and even to Rome.
After many years of preaching and witnessing to the faith and building up the Church in Rome, St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred for their faith in Jesus. But the Catholic Church continued to grow and flourish, as the traditions and prayers and the celebration of Holy Mass were passed down from generation to generation.
The Holy Spirit today
Empowered by the fire of the Holy Spirit, the apostles took the message of salvation to the people of Israel and then the nations beyond Israel. Today the same Holy Spirit is at work within the Church, most especially in and through the Sacraments, and those who receive them with an open heart, and He seeks to fill our souls with His gifts to allow us to become courageous witnesses, like the apostles, of our faith in Jesus Christ to those whom we meet.
Breathe in me Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may be all holy;
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my work, too, may be holy;
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
That I love what is holy;
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy;
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy.
Moses and the Burning Bush
The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost