“The word of the Lord has become… in my heart as it were a burning fire…” This passage from the Prophet Jeremiah, which I read at about 3:00 on Pentecost morning, expresses something of my experience of this holy feast, some of which I’d like to share with you, if only to testify to the grace of the Holy Spirit. I should say from the beginning that, in accordance with apostolic tradition, the “word of the Lord” includes, but is not limited to, what is written on the pages of the Bible. That is because the “word of the Lord” is to be understood as the Word of the Lord, the Person of the Eternal Word, and hence it includes everything He is and does, i.e., all of Sacred Tradition, the liturgical worship of the Word, the Sacraments, the Communion of Saints, and all the ineffable mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The graces I experienced on that blessed feast day centered mainly on the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It began with the solemn re-introduction (actually begun at Vespers the night before but included now in the Liturgy) of the invocation of the Holy Spirit which is ordinarily done at every hour of the Divine Office, but which is not prayed between Easter and Pentecost: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who are everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of all blessings and Giver of Life: Come, dwell within us and cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord!”
Already I could sense that this Liturgy was going to be especially filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. It seemed as if the little chapel in which I was celebrating the Liturgy was packed with angels, all gathered to adore the Divine Spirit, who is, as the Byzantine Office proclaims, “Light and Life, the Living Spring mystically gushing forth… Fire proceeding from Fire…” I wept through about half of the Liturgy, because somehow (well, I know how; it was the grace of the Holy Spirit) my awareness of heavenly realities was heightened, and it was all too beautiful to contain.
It seemed that every time the Holy Spirit was mentioned in the Liturgy (and this is quite often), the tears would flow. I could hardly manage to do all that was required for the celebration of the Liturgy. I felt as if a warm spiritual anointing was flowing all over me. Things just became so clear, and being clear, were all the more beautiful, and being beautiful, caused me to weep with joy and gratitude. Like when I prayed this part of the prayer of the thrice-holy hymn: “You have allowed us, your lowly and unworthy servants, to stand at this time before the glory of Your holy altar and to offer you the adoration and praise due You…” I realized that I was really standing, as it says in another part of the Liturgy, before God’s “holy and mystical altar in Heaven,” and not merely before an altar in a little monastery in South San Francisco.
One of the antiphons from the Liturgy, quoting psalm 19(20), reads: “May He send you help from his sanctuary, and from Zion may He sustain you.” At this moment I looked up at the statue of Our Lady (remember I’m in a Roman Catholic community,though bi-ritual), manifesting her Immaculate Heart, and light came forth from the Spirit again: Her Heart is the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit! And the tears flowed anew. This understanding of Mary is not my own, but that of the Church. Even Vatican II, which tends to minimize the traditional Catholic devotion to the Mother of God, does not hesitate to call Mary the “Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit” (Sacrarium Spiritus sancti). As I read in an article recently, “In accordance with the saving design of the Father, [the Word] took up the human flesh from the virginal immaculate womb. Thus the Virgin Mary becomes an abode in which dwells the divine fecundity, that is, the seed of the Father and the love of the Holy Spirit. From the Virgin this fecundity will extend itself to the entire Church… that she may generate spiritual sons in the Son. The whole incarnation process has still to take place in the Church and in her very Heart, namely, the sacrarium spiritus Sancti.” I didn’t have to reflect on all this in the Liturgy, however. It just hit me instantly with the force of a vistatio ab altissimo (a visitation from on high).
In one of the prayers the priest prays with raised hands, before the offering of the holy gifts, he says to Our Lord: “It is You who offer and are offered… O Christ our God, and we give glory to You…” I became aware of the presence of Christ, raising his hands just like I was, not alongside of me but within me. This is an experience of the theology of the priesthood, in which the priest acts in persona Christi. I know someone who, in the Holy Spirit, often sees Christ superimposed, as it were, upon the priest at the altar: the priest’s hands, or his whole self, disappearing into that of the Lord. I realized more clearly that Christ is present all over the world, standing in our midst, standing at every altar, perpetually presenting his Sacrifice to the Father, for that Sacrifice stands before the Father at all times at the “holy and mystical altar in Heaven,” since that Sacrifice must be the source of mercy and salvation for all people of all times and places. It is not a thing of the past. Christ is ever before his Father with outstretched arms, with pierced hands and feet and side—though glorified now in Heaven—offering Himself and simultaneously being offered by his priests, so that the faithful can experience the fruits of their redemption, eating and drinking his precious Body and Blood.
I share as much as I have here, though it’s not the whole of it (I wasn’t going to say anything at first, being as personal as it is), simply because I think people need to know that it is all real. Pentecost isn’t just another day on the liturgical calendar; it is truly a renewal of the coming of the Holy Spirit, a time of special grace, which we will experience in one way or another if we long for it and prepare ourselves for it. I don’t know what the fruits of all this will be for me, so I continue to take it to prayer, so that the fire in my heart will not diminish or go out altogether!
The day after Pentecost is also a feast day on the Byzantine calendar, so I was sort of hoping for a replay of the previous day’s blessings. My heart was open, but the experience wasn’t the same (though the sun did break through the clouds at all the right moments!). This tells me that grace, and the experience of it, is not something that can be self-produced, only received, and God is the one who decides what to give and when and how. To Him be the glory!
Finally, a word from Heaven that I read on Pentecost. She who is the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit says: “Allow yourself to be formed by me in a very particular and personal way… I want you humble, silent, recollected, and burning with love for Jesus and for souls… I want you mortified in your senses, persevering in prayer, gathered about Jesus in the Eucharist… Your life will be transformed… allow yourself to be enclosed in my Immaculate Heart…”