The History of Time after Pentecost
The Solemnity of Pentecost and its Octave are over, and the progress of the Liturgical Year introduces us into a new period, which is altogether different from those we have hitherto spent. From the very beginning of Advent, which is the prelude to the Christmas festival, right up to the anniversary of the descent of the Holy Ghost, we have witnessed the entire series of the Mysteries of our Redemption; all have been unfolded to us. The sequel of Seasons and Feasts made up a sublime drama, which absorbed our very existence; we have but just come from the final celebration, which was the consummation of the whole. And yet, we have got through but one half of the year. This does not imply that the period we have still to live is devoid of its own special mysteries: but, instead of keeping up our attention by the ceaseless interest of one plan hurrying on its completion, the sacred Liturgy is about to put before us an almost unbroken succession of varied episodes, of which some are brilliant with glory, and others exquisite in loveliness, but each one of them bringing its special tribute towards either the development of the dogmas of faith, or the furtherance of the Christian life. That year’s Cycle will thus be filled up; it will disappear; a new one will take its place, bringing before us the same divine facts, and pouring forth the same graces on Christ’s mystical body.
This section of the Liturgical Year, which comprises a little more or a little less than six months, according as Easter is early or late, has always had the character it holds at present. But, although it only admits detached solemnities and Feasts, the influence of the moveable portion of the Cycle is still observable. It may have as many as twenty-eight, or as few as twenty-three weeks. This variation depends not only upon the Easter Feast, which may occur on any of the days between the 22nd of March and 25th of April, inclusively; but, also, on the date of the first Sunday of Advent, the opening of a new ecclesiastical year, and which is always the Sunday nearest the Kalends of December. In the Roman Liturgy, the Sundays of this series go under the name of Sundays after Pentecost. That title is the most suitable that could have been given, and is found in the oldest Sacramentaries and Antiphonaries: but it was not universally adopted by even all those Churches which followed the Roman Rite; in progress of time, however, that title was the general one. To mention some of the previous early names :—in the Comes of Alcuin, which takes us back to the 8th Century, we find the first section of these Sundays called Sundays after Pentecost; the second is named Weeks after the Feast of the Apostles (post Natale Apostolorum); the third goes under the title of Weeks after Saint Laurence (post Sancti Laurentii); the fourth has the appellation of Weeks of the Seventh Month (September); and, lastly, the fifth is termed Weeks after Saint Michael (post Sancti Angeli), and lasts till Advent. As late as the 16th Century, many Missals of the Western Churches gave us these several sections of the Time after Pentecost, but some of the titles varied according to the special Saints honoured in the respective dioceses, and which were taken as the date-marks of this period of the Year. The Roman Missal, published by order of Saint Pius the Fifth, has gradually been adopted in all our Latin Churches, and has restored the ancient denomination to the Ecclesiastical Season we have just entered upon; so that the only name under which it is now known amongst us is, The Time after Pentecost (post Pentecosten.)
The Mystery of Time after Pentecost
That we may thoroughly understand the meaning and influence of the Season of the Liturgical Year upon which we have now entered, it is requisite for us to grasp the entire sequel of mysteries, which holy Church has celebrated in our presence and company; we have witnessed her Services, and we have shared in them. The celebration of those mysteries was not an empty pageant, acted for the sake of being looked at. Each one of them brought with it a special grace, which produced in our souls the reality signified by the Rites of the Liturgy. At Christmas, Christ was born within us; at Passiontide, He passed on and into us His sufferings and atonements; at Easter, He communicated to us his glorious, His untrammelled life; in His Ascension, He drew us after Him, and this even to heaven’s summit; in a word, as the Apostle expresses all this working, “Christ was formed in us” (Galatians iv. 19).
But, in order to give solidity and permanence to the image of Christ formed within us, it was necessary that the Holy Ghost should come, that so He might increase our light, and enkindle a fire within us that should never be quenched. This divine Paraclete came down from heaven; He gave Himself to us; He wishes to take up His abode within us, and take our life of regeneration entirely into His own hands. Now, it is during the period called, by the Liturgy, The time after Pentecost, that there is signified and expressed this regenerated life, which is to be spent on the model of Christ's, and under the direction of His Spirit.
Two objects here offer themselves to our consideration: the Church and the Christian soul. As to holy Church, the Bride of Christ, filled as she is with the Paraclete Spirit, who has poured Himself forth upon her, and, from that time forward, is her animating principle—she is advancing onwards in her militant career, and will do so till the second Coming of her heavenly Spouse. She has within her the gifts of Truth and Holiness. Endowed with Infallibility of Faith and Authority to govern, she feeds Christ’s flock, sometimes enjoying liberty and peace, sometimes going through persecutions and trials. Her divine Spouse abides with her, by His grace and the efficacy of His promises, even to the end of time; she is in possession of all the favours He has bestowed upon her; and the Holy Ghost dwells with her, and in her, for ever. All this is expressed by this present portion of the Liturgical Year. It is one wherein we shall not meet with any of those great events which prepared, and consummated the divine work; but, on the other hand, it is a season when holy Church reaps the fruits of that holiness and doctrine, which those ineffable mysteries have already produced, and will continue to produce, during the course of ages. It is during this same season, that we shall meet with the preparation for, and, in due time, the fulfilment of, those final events which will transform our Mother’s militant life on earth into the triumphant one in heaven. As far, then, as regards holy Church, this is the meaning of the portion of the Cycle we are commencing.
As to the faithful soul, whose life is but a compendium of that of the Church, her progress, during the period which is opened to her after the Pentecostal feasts, should be in keeping with that of our common Mother. The soul should live and act according to that Jesus, who has united Himself with her by the mysteries she has gone through; she should be governed by the Holy Spirit, whom she has received. The sublime episodes, peculiar to this second portion of the year, will give her an increase of light and life. She will put unity into these rays, which, though scattered in various directions, emanate from one common centre: and, advancing from brightness to brightness (2 Corinthians iii. 18) she will aspire to being consummated in Him whom she now knows so well, and whom death will enable her to possess as her own. Should it not be the will of God, however, to take her as yet to Himself, she will begin a fresh year, and live over again those mysteries which she has already enjoyed in the foregoing first halves of the Liturgical Cycle, after which, she will find herself, once more, in the season that is under the direction of the Holy Ghost; till at last, her God will summon her from this world, on the day and at the hour which He has appointed from all eternity.
Between the Church, then, and the Soul, during the time intervening from the descent of the divine Paraclete to the consummation, there is this difference—that the Church goes through it but once, whereas the Christian soul repeats it each year. With this exception, the analogy is perfect. It is our duty, therefore, to thank God for His providing thus for our weakness, by means of the sacred Liturgy, whereby He successively renews within us those helps, which enable us to attain the glorious end of our creation. Holy Church has so arranged the order for reading the Books of Scripture during the present period, as to express the work then accomplished, both in the Church herself, and in the Christian soul. For the interval between Pentecost and the commencement of August, she gives us the Four Books of Kings. They are a prophetic epitome of the Church’s history. They describe how the kingdom of Israel was founded by David, who is the type of Christ victorious over his enemies, and by Solomon, the king of peace, who builds a temple in honour of Jehovah. During the centuries comprised in the history given in those Books, there is a perpetual struggle between good and evil. There are great and saintly kings, such as Asa, Ezechias, and Josias; there are wicked ones, like Hanasses. A schism breaks out in Samaria; infidel nations league together against the City of God. The holy people, continually turning a deaf ear to the Prophets, give themselves up to the worship of false gods, and to the vices of the heathen; till, at length, the justice of God destroys both Temple and City of the faithless Jerusalem: it is an image of the destruction of this world, when Faith shall be so rare, as that the Son of Man, at His second Coming, shall scarce find a vestige of it remaining.
During the month of August, we read the Sapiential Books—so called, because they contain the teachings of Divine Wisdom. This Wisdom is the Word of God, who is manifested unto men through the teachings of the Church, which, because of the assistance of the Holy Ghost permanently abiding within her, is infallible in the truth. Supernatural truth produces holiness, which cannot exist, nor produce fruit, where truth is not. In order to express the union there is between these two, the Church reads to us, during the month of September, the Books called Hagiographic; these are, Tobias, Judith, Esther, and Job, and they show Wisdom in action.
At the end of the world, the Church will have to go through combats of unusual fierceness. To keep us on the watch, she reads to us, during the month of October, the Book of Machabees; for there we have described to us the noble-heartedness of those defenders of the Law of God, and for which they gloriously die; it will be the same at the last days, when power will be given to the Beast, to make war with the Saints, and to overcome them (Apocalypse xiii. 7).
The month of November gives us the reading of the Prophets: the judgments of God impending upon a world which He is compelled to punish by destruction, are there announced to us. First of all, we have the terrible Ezechiel; then Daniel, who sees empire succeeding empire, till the end of all time; and, finally, the Minor Prophets, who for the most part, foretell the divine chastisements, though the latest among them proclaim, at the same time, the near approach of the Son of God.
Such is the Mystery of this portion of the Liturgical Cycle, which is called The Time after Pentecost. It includes also the use of green vestments; for that colour expresses the hope of the Bride, who knows that she has been intrusted, by her Spouse, to the Holy Ghost, and that He will lead her safe to the end of her pilgrimage. Saint John says all this in those few words of his Apocalypse: The Spirit and the Bride say: Come! (Apocalypse xxii. 17).
The Practice of Time after Pentecost
The object which holy Church has in view by her Liturgical Year is the leading the Christian soul to union with Christ, and this by the Holy Ghost. This object is the one which God Himself has in giving us His own Son, to be our Mediator, our Teacher, and Redeemer, and in sending us the Holy Ghost to abide among us. It is to this end that is directed all that aggregate of Rites and Prayers which we have hitherto explained: they are not a mere commemoration of the mysteries achieved for our salvation by the divine goodness, but they bring with them the graces corresponding to each of those mysteries, that thus we may come, as the Apostle expresses it, to the age of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians iv. 13).
As we have elsewhere explained, our sharing in the mysteries of Christ, which are celebrated in the Liturgical Year, produces in the Christian what is called in Mystic Theology, the Illuminative Life, in which the soul gains continually more and more of the light of the Incarnate Word, who, by His examples and teachings, renovates each one of her faculties, and imparts to her the habit of seeing all things from God’s point of view. This is a preparation which disposes her for union with God, not merely in an imperfect manner, and one that is more or less inconstant, but in an intimate and permanent way, which is called the Unitive Life. The production of this Life is the special work of the Holy Ghost, who has been sent into this world that He may maintain each one of our souls in the possession of Christ, and may bring to perfection the love whereby the creature is united with its God.
In this state, in this Unitive Life, the soul is made to relish, and assimilate into herself, all that substantial and nourishing food which is presented to her so abundantly during the Time after Pentecost. The mysteries of the Trinity and of the Blessed Sacrament, the mercy and power of the Heart of Jesus, the glories of Mary and her influence upon the Church and souls—all these are manifested to the soul with more clearness than ever, and produce within her effects not previously experienced. In the Feasts of the Saints, which are so varied and so grand during this portion of the year, she feels more and more intimately the bond which unites her to them in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. The eternal happiness of Heaven, which is to follow the trials of this mortal life, is revealed to her by the Feast of all Saints; she gains clearer notions of that mysterious bliss, which consists in light and love. Having become more closely united to Holy Church, which is the Bride of her dear Lord, she follows her in all the stages of her earthly existence, she takes a share in her sufferings, she exults in her triumphs; she sees, and yet is not daunted at seeing, this world tending to its decline, for she knows that the Lord is nigh at hand. As to what regards herself, she is not dismayed at feeling that her exterior life is slowly giving way, and that the wall which stands between her and the changeless sight and possession of the sovereign Good is gradually falling to decay; for, it is not in this world that she lives, and her heart has long been where her treasure is (Matthew vi. 21).
Thus enlightened, thus attracted, thus established by the incorporation into herself of the mysteries, wherewith the sacred Liturgy has nourished her, as also by the gifts poured into her by the Holy Ghost, the soul yields herself up, and without any effort, to the impulse of the divine Mover. Virtue has become all the more easy to her, as she aspires, it would almost seem, naturally, to what is most perfect; sacrifices, which used, formerly, to terrify, now delight her; she makes use of this world, as though she used it not (1 Corinthians vii.31) for all true realities, as far as she is concerned, exist beyond this world; in a word, she longs all the more ardently after the eternal possession of the object she loves, as she has been realising even in this life, what the Apostle describes, where he speaks of a creature’s being one spirit with the Lord (1 Corinthians vi. 17) by being united to Him in heart. Such is the result ordinarily produced in the soul by the sweet and healthy influence of the sacred Liturgy. But if it seem to us, that, although we have followed it in its several seasons, we have not, as yet, reached the state of detachment and expectation just described, and that the life of Christ has not, so far, absorbed our own individual life into itself—let us be on our guard against discouragement on that account. The Cycle of the Liturgy, with its rays of light and grace for the soul, is not a phenomenon that occurs only once in the heavens of holy Church; it returns each Year.
Such is the merciful design of that God, who hath so loved the world, as to give it His Only Begotten Son (John iii. 16); of that God, who came not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him (John iii. 17). Such, we say, is the Design of God; and holy Church is but carrying out that design by putting within our reach the most powerful of all means for leading man to his God, and uniting him to his sovereign Good; she thus testifies the earnestness of her maternal solicitude. The Christian who has not been led to the term we have been describing by the first half of the Cycle, will still meet, in this second, with important aids for the expansion of his faith and the growth of his love. The Holy Ghost, who reigns, in a special manner, over this portion of the Year, will not fail to influence his mind and heart; and, when a fresh Cycle commences, the work thus begun by grace has a new chance for receiving that completeness, which had been retarded by the weakness of human nature.