Pentecost at the Vigil Mass C
May 18, 2013
as a final celebration of the ingathering of the grain harvest,
which had begun at Passover. Later Judaism transformed it into
a feast of salvation history celebrating the giving of the
Law at Sinai and the establishment of Israel as God’s people.
All these associations were carried over into the Christian feast that
marked the conclusion of the great fifty days. The grain harvest and the
Law are replaced by the gift of the Spirit, and the constitution of the
old Israelis replaced by the constitution of the new. The feast of the
Law becomes the feast of the Spirit.
Reading I: Genesis 11:1-9; or Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20b;
or Ezekiel 37:1-14; or Joel 3:1-5
The Lectionary provides four alternatives for today’s first reading: the tower
of Babel (Genesis); the theophany at Mount Sinai (Exodus); the vision of the
dry bones (Ezekiel); the prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel).
The first two passages were undoubtedly in the mind of the author of Luke-Acts
when he wrote the Pentecost account. He sees the preaching with tongues, which
he interprets as the gift of foreign languages, as a sign of the gospel’s transcendence
of the divisions among humankind that resulted from the building of the tower
The gospel speaks to all people in their own language and so restores
the unity that had been broken by human sin. The catholic Church is the advance
guard of reunited humanity.
The Exodus theophany is probably alluded to in the symbolism of the tongues of
fire and the rushing wind. The feast of Pentecost was interpreted in later Judaism
as the celebration of the giving of the Law. The early Church sees a contrast
between the giving of the Law and the outpouring of the Spirit, a contrast already
suggested by Jeremiah and Ezekiel and expounded systematically in the Pauline
The prophecy of Joel is expressly cited in Peter’s speech at Pentecost (Acts
2:17-21 = Joel 2:28-32). In the prophet’s vision, the descent of the Spirit was
probably conceived in somewhat narrow, nationalistic terms. “All flesh” meant,
for Joel, all of Israel. His point is that in the renewed, eschatological community
the Spirit will not merely descend occasionally upon charismatic leaders, like
the judges, kings, and prophets of old, but will be shared by all members of
It is surprising that the passage from Ezekiel is never expressly utilized in
the New Testament, though it seems to underlie much of the New Testament thought
on the Spirit. Paul in particular associates the Spirit with resurrectionboth
Christ’s resurrection (Rom 1:4) and the future resurrection of the faithful (Rom
But nowhere does the New Testament speak explicitly of the resurrection
of the community as an event within history effected by the gift of the Spirit.
Yet, there can be no doubt that the New Testament does understand the Christian
community as the people of God, eschatologically renewed.
This is evidenced by
its appropriation of the titles and prerogatives used in the Old Testament for
the community of the old covenant. The vision of Ezekiel has a special appeal
today, when there is so much concern for the Church’s renewal.
Responsorial Psalm: 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
This is a hymn
of praise to God for his works in creation. The dominant
theology of the Spirit in the wisdom literature (“the
Spirit of God fills the world”) stresses the work of
the Spirit in the created order.
By contrast, the New Testament
concentrates almost exclusively on the eschatological work
of the Spirit. The pneumatology of the New Testament is conditioned
by its Christology.
When the psalmist speaks of the “renewal” of
creation through the Spirit, he is probably thinking of no
more than the renewal of nature at springtime.
But in Christian
use it can be reinterpreted to mean the eschatological renewal
of creation, a renewal of which the Church is the first fruits.
Reading II: Romans 8:22-27
The first paragraph of this reading picks up the suggestion of the cosmic dimensions
of the Spirit’s work emphasized in the refrain of the responsorial psalm: “Lord,
send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
The Christian community
is described as those who have the first fruits of the Spirit, which seems to
indicate that the whole cosmos is destined ultimately to be renewed by the same
Spirit. But because Christians still exist in the body, they are still part of
this creation, and as such they share its groanings, its longing for redemption.
passage does not explicitly say so, but it would be consistent with Paul’s apocalyptic
expectations elsewhere to infer that the redemption of our bodies
means being clothed (2 Cor 5) with the spiritual body (1 Cor 15) and will coincide
with the renewal of the whole cosmos, the new heaven and earth.
It is surprising to find Paul here equating “sonship” with the final
redeemed state instead of thinking of it as a status already granted in baptism
(contrast Gal 4:5-7). At first sight this looks like a flat contradiction, but
Paul probably means that the final redemption will make plain what is true of
the believers already here and now, though in a hidden way (see 1 John 3:2).
The second paragraph turns to the work of the Spirit within the community here
and now. The Spirit helps the infirmity of our prayers by making intercession
for us. What does Paul mean by “sighs too deep for words”? Some see
here a reference to speaking in tonguesglossolalialike that at Corinth.
Another, more plausible interpretation is that the Spirit takes our inarticulate
petitions, translates them into the divine language, and presents them to God
as prayer in his name and according to his will.
Gospel: John 7:37-39
On the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, there was a ceremony of drawing
water, accompanied by the reading of Isa 12:3. Some commentators think that this
provides the background for Jesus’ invitation: “If any one thirst, let him
come to me and drink.”
Two other interrelated questions are much discussed in connection with this passage:
What is the source of the quotation in verse 38 (“Out of his heart shall
flow rivers of living water”), and whose heart is referred to in the quotationthe
believer’s or Christ’s? It seems best, with Raymond Brown, to take the “his” as
Christ’s and to see an allusion to Moses’ striking the rock to produce water
in the wilderness (see 1 Cor 10:4: “the Rock was Christ”).
the whole pronouncement into line with John’s doctrine of the Spirit.
discourses tell us that Jesus dies to make the Spirit available to his own. When
his side is pierced after the crucifixion, water as well as blood comes out in
symbolic fulfillment of this promise, while his conferral of the Spirit upon
the Eleven after his glorification on Easter Sunday night is its actual fulfillment.
gospel reading reminds us that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is the outcome
of Christ’s redemptive work. Easter and Pentecost are inseparable.
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press.
1984 (Revised Edition), pp. pp. 95-97..
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