Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Monday, 28 May 2012

Celebrating Pentecost


Were I to invited to suggest liturgical, or at very least calendric changes, in the cause of the "Reform of the Reform" I would give priority to amending the celebration of Pentecost.

In the current Missal we go from Pentecost straight into Ordinary Time, there no longer being an Octave. This is, in my opinion, to be regretted. Not only was the Octave an ancient feature of the liturgy but it provided a week to reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit day by day, and to assign time to reflect on the scale of the gift poured out upon the Church. So there are good practical and teaching arguments for extending the observance of the feast.

There is in the present arrangement, despite the renewed emphasis in recent years upon the role of the Holy Spirit, a constraint on observing the gifts and rejoicing in them which seems to be a result of stressing the unique, but enclosed period of fifty days from Easter to Pentecost. This is now all designated as Eastertide, with only the Easter Octave surviving as a sub-division. So the hinge of the Ascension, stressed by commentators such as Dom Gueranger, loses something of its significance - all the more so with its transference as a solemnity to the Sunday following. Pentecost can appear to be no more than the rounding off of Easter rather than the beginning of the next phase in Salvation-history.
My pre-1955 St Andrew's Missal begins its description of the rites of Whitsun with a clear reference to the discrete fifty days, but goes on to stress the significance of the established, interlocking liturgical components to it - Ascension and its Octave, the original novena of Penetcost and so on.


Restoring its Octave would redress that balance, as indeed would the restoration of the pre 1955 Whitsun Vigil. This would emphasise the solemnity of the feast and give it a symmetrical relationship with Easter, whose night time Vigil has become very popular since the liturgical changes under Pope Pius XII. Here a restored Pentecost Vigil would allow reflection on the nature of Christian initiation and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and emphasise the importance of the feast.

I have drawn attention recently to the restored Vigil celebrated at Blackfriars in Oxford, and many priests will no doubt be celebrating votive Masses of the Holy Spirit this week - and may even keep red hangings in place for part of the former Octave. I heard of one church which began its celebration of Pentecost with Solemn Terce - that being the Hour at which the Spirit descended. There is an appetite for such renewal.


The emphasis by many in recent decades on the action of the Holy Spirit has at times disturbed and confused others within the Church. A revival of ancient practice and custom could serve as a reminder, along the lines of long established understanding, that the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is not, as it not infrequently appears to be seen, an ecstatic personal religious experience but rather that it is the baptism of the Body of Christ which is the Church and its sanctification. It is through the medium of the Church that we as individuals receive Grace, and through our membership our incorporation into it as a living Body and, hopefully our ultimate divinisation.

3 comments:

  1. Have you seen the texts of the 'extended form' of the Vigil of Pentecost that is an option in the new English version of the Missal? I'm wondering how closely their typical Latin approximates the pre-1955 V of P, although I guess it could have been created just for the English version....

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  3. 'Ordinary time' is rather strange terminology. There's no such thing - at least since the Incarnation of Our Lord. We live in the time of grace, in Anno Domini, in the Age of the Spirit. Ordinary time sounds to much like 'Common Era' or some other such secular term to be comfortable in the mouth of a Catholic.

    Maybe this is a consequence of translating a Latin term into English. Does 'ordinary' in Latin mean something slightly different to the English 'bog standard' or the French 'ordinaire' I wonder?

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