This Sunday the Church celebrates Pentecost, one of the most important feast days of the year and that which concludes the Easter season.
The timing of this feast is where the devotion of praying a Novena – nine days of prayer -derives. The word “novena” comes from the Latin for “nine; ” (novem/noveni).
After Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin, and some of Christ’s other followers all “joined in continuous prayer” (Acts 1:14) until the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We know it was nine days, because the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3), and Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after the Passover. The Resurrection happened the day following Passover, so we can do the math: 50-40-1=9. This period in which the fledgling Church “joined in continuous prayer” in anticipation of the promised coming of the Holy Spirit is the first “novena.”
There is a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavu’ot, which falls 50 days after Passover. Shavu’ot is sometimes called The Festival of Weeks referring to the seven weeks since Passover. Originally a harvest feast, Shavu’ot now commemorates the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. (“All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” Ex 19:8) Every year, the Jewish people renew their acceptance of the gift of the Law on this feast. Read more about this in the reflections included in this week’s Liturgy of the Word celebration.
Typically, on Pentecost, our clergy wear red vestments, symbolic of the burning fire of God’s love and the tongues of fire that descended on Mary and the apostles. An Italian Pentecost tradition is to release rose petals from the ceiling of the church to recall the descent of the fiery tongues; thus Pentecost is called Pascha Rosatum (Easter roses). In France, it is tradition to blow trumpets at some point during Mass to recall the sound of the driving wind of the Holy Spirit.
Also on this Solemnity adults, who have been going through the RCIA, ritually conclude their Initiation process. They now transition from disciples to apostles—people sent out into the world with a mission! Our newly baptized and received, who have been gathering for the 11am Mass, will do so for the last time, as a group, this Sunday; pray for them.