The Trifecta: A Gateway to (Extra)Ordinary Time
Consecutive solemnities reaffirm God’s gifts to the Church
The liturgical year offers us a kind of holy door to take us back into Ordinary Time after the Easter season. Opening that great entrance means unlocking the solemnities of Pentecost, the Most Holy Trinity and the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord. In my mind, these great occasions share certain scriptural and liturgical features that might be nicely deployed for prayer or preaching; taken together they disclose characteristics of a passageway into God’s house, a place where the Christian community and its ministerial leaders have been invited to dwell.
It is probably a legitimate question to ask if there would be any viable community at all in the days of the early Church. Although Jesus himself gathered disciples by preaching the kingdom of God, teaching and eating with his disciples, they scattered after his death.
That community was about to shift at Pentecost when they “were all in one place together” and “began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:1, 4). The expansion of Jesus’ community, originally centered around Galilee and Jerusalem, was brought about by a crisis of dispersion and doubt but transformed into a diverse assembly by the sending of the Spirit when Jesus breathed on them (cf. Jn 20:19-23), and in the Pentecost event itself. The kind of community that radiated the Trinity would be multicultural; it was built, crucially, on reconciliation and healing. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23).
This is the model we have been given for ekklesia: forgiveness and reconciliation. We might notice that the Acts of the Apostles articulates the universal comprehension of language, consequently dissolving national boundaries. Community is established not on tribes or even natural affections, but mutual forgiveness, understanding and proclamation. All of these qualities have come from the Spirit. As Paul understands the Church in 1 Corinthians 12:13, there are many parts, but one body: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and were given to drink of one Spirit.”
In the Roman Missal, the second epiclesis makes it clear that when the Church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, it does so as one body. Therefore, in the First Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation, for instance, the priest says, “Look kindly, most compassionate Father, on those you unite to yourself by the Sacrifice of your Son, and grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they partake of this one bread and one chalice, they may be gathered into one body in Christ, who heals every division.”
The life-giving action of the Holy Trinity draws into itself the community of the blessed, the baptized assembly. Christ continues his work on earth to establish the community of love, even as we are re-created in the Father’s image through the Spirit, crying “Abba, Father!”
No wonder that the beautiful sequence for the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Lauda Sion, evokes for the faithful that it is in remembering the Lord, in anamnesis, that we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. “What he did at supper seated/Christ ordained to be repeated/His memorial ne’er to cease.” When it comes to community, we gather in Jesus’ name, whose life-giving breath continues to animate the Church, his living Body, healed of all division. We are diverse but one, even as we proclaim the wonders God has done. Should we find ourselves fractured, recall that the Spirit heals and draws us ever deeper into a community of faith as we partake of the same table of word and Sacrament.
There is a marvelous twist of social conventions in John’s Gospel used for Pentecost Sunday (Year A) that convey God’s hospitality while Jesus takes the initiative as a somewhat intrusive, albeit welcome, guest (cf. 20:19-23). For centuries we have known that it is customary in the Middle East for the host to welcome a guest with a greeting such as, “Peace be with you.” But John’s account of this visit borders on comical: The guest becomes the host. It is the Lord who offers his followers peace, not only once but twice. If the disciples have hidden themselves, Jesus will not let fear hinder his presence; he comes without knocking.
In bestowing peace on his disciples, Jesus grants them a blessing, “not as the world gives [peace]” (Jn 14:27). This is the priceless still-point of divine hospitality, the totality of which he already has accomplished in the Pascal Mystery and now the treasure released by the Spirit and evoked by the Son in the Father’s name. We receive this Spirit of reconciliation at baptism, “the soul’s most welcome guest,” as the sequence for Pentecost puts it, the Veni, Sancte Spiritus. It is the unique mission of ordained ministers to breathe absolution, which is Christ’s own life, on to those who implore the Spirit to “Wash the stains of guilt away:/Bend the stubborn heart and will;/Melt the frozen, warm the chill;/Guide the steps that go astray.”
The Wisdom tradition of Israel knows divine hospitality well and imagines the wisdom of God as a companion from the beginning of creation “beside him as artisan;/I was his delight day by day,/playing before him all the while,/Playing over the whole of his earth,/having my delight with human beings” (Prv 8:30-31). The Christian tradition would read that “artisan” as Christ the Logos, present from the beginning and who was co-creating with the Father in the Spirit. Indeed, from a poetic point of view, the Hebrew text in Genesis 1:26 rather suddenly deploys the second person plural to describe the creation of the first human being: “Let us make human beings in our own image, after our likeness.” Trinitarian indwelling comes to fashion the human subject as imago Dei. The promise of Pentecost is that the Father will love us and the Trinity will make their home with us (cf. Jn 14:15ff.).
The Christian sacramental tradition underlines our awareness of God’s hospitality in Eucharistic celebration. God sets our table on the Holy Thursday of Our Lord’s Supper, where he is both host and banquet. But the Church uses another aspect of divine hospitality in Year C for the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: God’s charity to the marginalized (cf. Lk 9:11-17). The Gospel begins with Jesus answering the needs of those who need it most when he spoke “to the crowds about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed to be cured” (Lk 9:11). Strikingly, it is the Twelve who want to dismiss the crowd so that the poor folks can fend for themselves, all the more appalling since Luke tells us a few verses earlier (v. 10) that the apostles just returned from their mission. Didn’t they learn anything? Jesus challenges his followers to dig into their own resources, looking beyond their doubt, and offer the poor a sign of God’s gracious hospitality. Befriending the marginalized will come later in Luke-Acts, after the coming of the Spirit, but for now Jesus demonstrates the love of God for his people by his example. As the Shepherd who smells like the sheep, he feeds his flock as they sit and wait upon the hand of the Lord. “They all ate and were satisfied” (9:17). Nourishing and sustaining the guest is the host’s duty, and God has done so lavishly in Christ through the working of the Spirit.
God’s hospitality only can be seen as a gift — the grace that has been poured out on all creation from the beginning. The account of Wisdom’s presence at the dawn of time recalls that there was a moment when the earth did not exist: “The Lord begot me, the beginning of his works,/the forerunner of his deeds of long ago;/From of old I was formed/at the first, before the earth” (Prv 8:22-23). The community that authored Proverbs asks the reader to contemplate the vastness of time and the One who is timeless. Leaning into the mystery of the fear of the Lord, or that God is present to us well past the horizon of anything we can imagine, we discover God as self-gift, who loves beyond all telling. Creation was born of such love and continues to be recreated by God’s initiative in the unlimited power of the Holy Trinity. In this regard, God’s gifts to us are characterized by excess, largesse and grace that is undeserved.
The Spirt of the Lord that hovered over chaos, which ordered creation and became the gift of the Creator to humanity, comes again to refashion us as a Church at Pentecost through a stunning abundance of gifts. Somewhat reminiscent of Jesus’ gate-crashing the disciples, as well as the promise for the Trinity to abide in our dwelling, the Spirit comes as “a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were” (Acts 2:2). Appearing as tongues of fire and filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to proclaim and be understood by a global community. If that is not divine excess, then I don’t know what is. Paul understands the gift of the Spirit of Christ as divine presence that enables the disciple to belong to the Lord. That is the Spirit of one who raised Jesus from the dead, giving life to our mortal bodies. Further, in Paul’s mind we cannot contain the gift of the Spirit because, since we have “received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs” (Rom 8:15-17). Living in the Spirit and not the flesh, then, will always be fruitful and show forth in abundance as God’s children and “joint heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17).
Servants Gifted by the Spirit
The Father grants endless gifts to his beloved, such that the Spirit cries out in Christ to the Father in intercession on our behalf. That definitive Word speaks no more eloquently than at the Eucharist — Christ’s gift to the Church. We receive this gift of gifts from the giver of all good things as an eternal blessing. A colorful icon of God feeding his people in the Hebrew Scriptures is the representation of Melchizedek, King of Salem (who is referenced, of course, in the Roman Canon), who comes forth from battle, seemingly out of nowhere, offering gifts of bread and wine to Abram, and blesses God Most High. For centuries Melchizedek was read allegorically as prefiguring Christ, beginning with the Letter to the Hebrews. Interpreted as a type of Christ, this “King of Peace” is aligned with a priesthood that does not pass away and is an eternal gift for those who ask: “He is always able to approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them” (7:25). Christ, then, is the first and definitive gift from the Father — the Angel at the altar who continues to intercede and accomplish the work of redemption through the Spirit sent to the Church.
What an invitation to ordained ministry as we meditate on the excess of God’s gifts to the Church! As servants of God, we are gifted by the Spirit who has called us to say “Jesus is Lord” through ordained ministry. As we proclaim the kingdom of God and heal those who are in need of cure (cf. Lk 9:11), we manifest the Spirit “for some benefit,” as Paul explains the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians. Gifting that Body of Christ through the spirit of reconciliation, healing and distributing God’s bountiful blessings at the Eucharist has claimed his members as children of God. Missioning in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit becomes part of our pastoral identity as we cry “Abba, Father!” for the sake of his people: “Give them virtue’s sure reward;/Give them your salvation, Lord;/Give them joys that never end./Amen. Alleluia” (Veni, Sancte Spiritus).
FATHER GUERRIC DEBONA, OSB, is a monk and priest of St. Meinrad Archabbey and a professor of homiletics.
‘Gift of the Risen Jesus’
“The Holy Spirit, gift of the risen Jesus, conveys divine life to us and thus lets us enter into the dynamism of the Trinity, which is a dynamism of love, of communion, of mutual service, of sharing. A person who loves others for the very joy of love is a
reflection of the Trinity. A family in which each person loves and helps one another is a reflection of the Trinity. A parish in which each person loves and shares spiritual and material effects is a reflection of the Trinity.
“True love is boundless, but it knows how to limit itself, to interact with others, to respect the freedom of others. Every Sunday we go to Mass, we celebrate the Eucharist together, and the Eucharist is like the burning bush in which the Trinity humbly lives and communicates; for this reason the Church placed the feast of Corpus Domini after that of the Trinity.”
— Pope Francis, Angelus message, June 15, 2014