The Fiftieth Day Feast, Hebrew Shavuot or Greek Pentekosté, for the Jews commemorated the descent of God’s Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, wreathed in fire, fifty days after the Exodus. Fifty days after Our Lord’s Resurrection (the perfect number 7×7 + 1 for the day itself in ancient reckoning), the tenth from His Ascension (on a Thursday), the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and first disciples to breathe grace-filled life into Christ’s Body, the Church.
This magnificent Sunday (which in the Roman Rite’s Extraordinary Form retains its Octave along with the special Communicantes and Hanc igitur) has in the Ordinary Form a Collect rooted in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary.
Deus, qui sacramento festivitatis hodiernae universam Ecclesiam tuam in omni gente et natione sanctificas, in totam mundi latitudinem Spiritus Sancti dona defunde, et, quod inter ipsa evangelicae praedicationis exordia operata est divina dignatio, nunc quoque per credentium corda perfunde.
Cor is “heart” and corda “hearts”. Sacramentum translates Greek mysterion. Sacramentum and Latin mysterium are often interchangeable in liturgical texts. Defundo means “to pour down, pour out”. Perfundo, is “to pour over, moisten, bedew”, and “to imbue, inspire” as well as “to dye”.
Exordium means “the beginning, the warp of a web”. Exordium invokes cloth weaving and selvage, the cloth’s edge, tightly woven so that the web will not fray, fall apart. Exordium, also a technical term in ancient rhetoric, is the beginning of a prepared speech whereby the orator lays out what he is going to do and induces the listeners to attend. From Pentecost onward Christ the Incarnate Word, although remote by His Ascension, is the present and perfect Orator delivering His saving message to the world through Holy Church. “He that heareth you, heareth me”, Christ told His Apostles with the Seventy (Luke 10:16). Much hangs on exordia.
O God, who by the sacramental mystery of today’s feast do sanctify Your universal Church in every people and nation, pour down upon the whole breadth of the earth the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and make that which divine favor wrought amidst the very beginnings of the preaching of the Good News to flow now also through believers’ hearts.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God our Father, let the Spirit you sent on your Church to begin the teaching of the gospel continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation, pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth and, with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers.
Unity and continuity are keys to this Collect.
The Holy Spirit pours spiritual life into the Body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit wove the early Church together through the preaching of the Apostles and their successors and, in the Church today, extends their preaching to our own time.
The Holy Spirit guarantees our unity and continuity across every border and century.
The Holy Spirit imbues and infuses, tints and dyes the fabric of the Church as He flows through it.
When the Holy Spirit poured over the Apostles, they poured out of the upper room and began to preach in public speeches to people from every nation. The Holy Spirit, in the preaching of the Apostles, began on Pentecost’s exordium to weave together the Church’s selvage, that strong stable edge of the fabric, through the centuries and down to our own day.
The bonds of man and God symbolically unraveled in the Tower of Babel event, when languages were divided (Gen 11:5-8). Ever since the Pentecost exordium’s “reweaving”, though here and there and now and then there may be rips and tatters, Holy Church’s warp and weft hold true.
Let our hearts and prayers be raised for unity. Sursum corda! In our Collect we pray that our corda may be imbued with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let them be closely woven into, knit into Holy Church and even over-sewn with her patterns, not ours. Let our hearts be bounded about by her saving selvage, dyed in the Spirit’s boundless love.
Let us also pray for the unwitting agents of the Enemy of the soul, hanging onto Holy Church’s edge but in such a way that they tear at and fray the Church’s fabric. Pardon my homographs, but though they be on the fringe, they endanger necessary threads, precious souls of our brothers and sisters who through their work of unraveling can be lost in the fray. When we mesh with the Successor of Peter and remain true in the Faith and charity, our holy selvage and our salvation will not be undone.