Homily for Mass – Pentecost Sunday (Year C)
(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am; Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5.30pm)
19 May 2013
(Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 103; Rom 8:8-17; Jn 14:15-16, 23-26)
I was asked to say a few words about the arrangement of the altar [at Jimboomba] tonight. We understand the altar to be the primary symbol of Christ in a church. A church might lack many things but it isn’t a church if it doesn’t have an altar. The altar is either blessed if it is movable, or it is consecrated if its fixed to the floor. As a blessed or consecrated symbol of Christ, an altar is shown reverence whenever you approach or pass before it: and that is done by bowing to it. Furthermore it is kissed by the priest and deacon at the beginning and end of Mass. The altar should never be used for anything other than its purpose: when you’re carrying things in the church you should never use the altar as a convenient table or resting place. The rubrics of the missal (GIRM 117) outline how an altar is to be prepared. It is to be covered in at least one white cloth. The law also asks for candlesticks with lighted candles to be placed on or next to the altar: always at least two, or four, or six candles. A seventh candle is added when the diocesan bishop is the celebrant. Candles have an obvious symbolism of the light of Christ. Also a cross with the figure of Christ is to be placed on or next to the altar. The presence of the crucifix is a reminder that the altar is not only the table of the last supper, but also the altar of sacrifice: the cross was the altar on which Christ offered his life. As one of the prefaces reminds us: Jesus is at once the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice. The Last Supper and Calvary are intimately united. The body and blood that Jesus offers to be eaten and drunk, is the body that was nailed to the cross and the blood which flowed from his wounds. Pope Benedict XVI made popular an altar arrangement that had six candles across the front, and a crucifix in the centre. One of the reasons for the crucifix on the centre of the altar is for it to be a focal point, and to help everyone but particularly the priest, to focus on as the Eucharistic prayer is prayed to God the Father, with Christ, in the Holy Spirit. When Mass was more commonly celebrated with everyone facing the same way, the priest could see the crucifix behind the altar. But now that the priest normally faces the people, he can no longer see the crucifix behind the altar, and so it is useful to place one on the centre of the altar. I personally find it very helpful to have the crucifix on the altar to help me keep focused on Christ as I pray the prayers at the altar. The care and reverence that we show to an altar is reverence shown to Christ himself, of whom the altar is an important symbol.
One of the manifestations of God’s love for us is the sending of the Holy Spirit. On Monday this past week in the Liturgy of the Hours, there was a beautiful reading from the instructions to catechumens of St Cyril of Jerusalem from the 4th century. He speaks of the Holy Spirit as being the living water that Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman at the well, The water that I shall give will become in that person a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Water always comes down in rain in the same form, and yet its effects are many and varied.
The holy Spirit brings about many different effects of virtue among us: the Spirit uses the tongue of one person for prophecy; to another is given the power to drive out evil spirits; another person has the gift of interpreting scripture; the Spirit strengthens the self-control of one person, and teaches another how to be a generous almsgiver; the Spirit teaches another to fast and mortify himself, and yet another person is taught not to focus on the things of the body but rather on spiritual things. The Holy Spirit prepares one person for martyrdom, and another person for the slow and laborious work of many years.
Part of the manifestation of God’s loving design is that the Spirit is given to us in ways that we need. St Cyril says that the Spirit comes with the heart of a true protector: he comes to save, to heal, to teach, to admonish, to strengthen, to console, to enlighten the mind, first of the man who receives him, then through him the minds of others also.
This last sentence is important. God certainly cares for each of us personally. Our own individual person and needs matter to God, and He sends the Holy Spirit to us accordingly. But there is a superabundance of God’s love: the Spirit comes to us in the ways we need, but there’s more than enough to go out through us to others. We’re meant to be a channel, so that the living waters of the Spirit bring life and healing to us as they then flow out to other people. We’re not meant to be a dam, holding back the waters of the Spirit for ourselves!
As St Paul says, “to each is give the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” God’s gifts – as useful as they are for ourselves – are always gifts to be shared. At the first Pentecost, when the apostles were suddenly able to speak other languages – that gift of tongues was given to them not because “it’d be a neat thing to do.” No, they were able to speak foreign languages so that they could go to foreign peoples and be understood when they preached faith in Jesus Christ.
When we hear the words “New Evangelization” which we have been called to as a Church, this all about being open to the Holy Spirit, and being able to present the Christian faith in a way that people today can grasp; so that through us they’ll actually come to meet Jesus Christ and be moved to follow him in their lives.
Today on the Feast of Pentecost, let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to come to us in the ways we most need at this time, and let’s pray that the Spirit will help us to proclaim by our lives the Good News to the people of our times. Let’s conclude by praying together the Pentecost Sequence (which you can find on the sheets on the pews).
Holy Spirit, Lord of light,
From the clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.
Come, thou Father of the poor,
Come with treasures which endure;
Come, thou light of all that live!
Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
Light immortal, light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill:
If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
Thou, on us who evermore
Thee confess and thee adore,
With thy sevenfold gifts descend:
Give us comfort when we die;
Give us life with thee on high;
Give us joys that ever end.