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 gone through but one half of the year. This does not imply that the period we have still to live is devoid of its own mysteries; but, instead of keeping our attention by the ceaseless interest of one plan hurrying on to 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. This 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.
The Season after Pentecost may have as many as 28 or as few as 23 Sundays. This variation depends not only upon Easter, which may occur between March 22 and April 25, but also on the date of the first Sunday of Advent, which is always between November 27 and December 3.
In the Roman liturgy the Sundays of this Season are called "Sundays after Pentecost" – a title found in the oldest liturgical books, but not universally. Even some churches which followed the Roman rite used to divide this Season according the feasts of Saints. In the Comes of Alcuin (8th century), we find a few "Sundays after Pentecost;" then Sundays "after the Feast of the Apostles," "after St. Laurence," and "after St. Michael." The Roman Missal, published by order of Pope St. Pius V, restored the ancient denomination – "after Pentecost" – to this season.
That we may thoroughly understand the meaning and influence of this season, it is requisite for us to grasp the entire sequel of mysteries which Holy Mother Church has celebrated; 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 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" (Gal. 4, 9).
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. The liturgy of this Season after Pentecost signifies and expresses 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. It is during this same season that we shall meet with the preparation for, and in due time the fulfillment of, those final events which will transform our Mother the Church's militant life on earth into the triumphant one in Heaven. It is a season when Holy Church reaps the fruits of the holiness and doctrine which those ineffable mysteries have already produced, and will continue to produce during the course of ages. As to the faithful soul, the sublime episodes peculiar to this second portion of the year will give her an increase of light and life. Advancing from brightness to brightness, 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.
The Season after Pentecost includes the use of green vestments on most Sundays and ferias, for that color expresses the hope of the Bride, who knows that She has been entrusted by Her Spouse to the Holy Ghost, and that He will lead Her safe to the end of Her pilgrimage. St. John says all this in those few words of his Apocalypse: "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!" (Apoc. 22, 17)
While the penitential Seasons of Advent and Lent pertain to what mystical theology calls the purgative life, our sharing in the mysteries of Christ, which are celebrated in the liturgical year, produces in the Christian 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. In this state, 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 Season after Pentecost. The Mysteries of the Holy Trinity and 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. Virtue becomes all the more easy to her as she aspires, it would seem almost 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 Cor. 7: 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 realizing, even in this life, what the Apostle describes where he speaks of a creature as being "one spirit with the Lord" (1 Cor. 6: 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 God, "Who hath so loved the world as to give it His only-begotten Son" (John 3: 16) – of God, "Who came not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him" (ibid. 17). 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 half, 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 of receiving that completeness which had been hindered by the weakness of human nature.
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