05.20.18 – Pentecost Sunday (Year B)

Welcome Back to Banquet of the Word!
Join us every week for background on the Sunday readings.
Our mission is simple: We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Buckle up! Today is packed with meaning.

liturgical calendar

Where in the liturgical year are we?

Today we celebrate Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season. In the image above, we are at the black line between “Easter” and “Ordinary Time.” “Ordinary” does not mean plain, it means ordinal, as in, “in a numbered fashion.” After today,  we return to Old Testament readings for R1, and for Reading 2 we will hear from one of St. Paul’s letters. Because we are in year A, we will continue to hear from Matthew.

Pentecost originated in the Old Testament; it was called the Feast of Harvest. “Pente” + “Cost” translates loosely to “fiftieth (50th).” Here’s why that matters:

Fun fact:
For the Jews, Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. This is when the people gave an offering to the Lord from their first fruits (from the best, heartiest foods they’d grown).

For us today, Pentecost is  celebrated 50 days after Jesus was crucified. This begs the question, how was Jesus’s death considered a first fruit? Well, if a first fruit is an offering, then Jesus’s death certainly was an offering of his life for our sins.

Reading 1: Acts 2:1-11
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel. During the Easter season the 1st reading is Acts of the Apostles.)

Today we see the gift Jesus left for his people after He Ascends into Heaven – the Holy Spirit. It comes as boldly as ever – in the form of fire. You may recall that in the OT, God’s presence is represented by both Cloud & Fire. Today is all about FIRE.

  • God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.
  • When Moses led the Israelites through the desert he was guided by a fire at night.
  • God signed a contract with Abraham using fire.

There are many examples. Fire is not always destructive, but as in this case, fire is a sign of God’s intense love for his people.

The reading begins by stating “they were all in one place together.” This is similar to the Feast of Pentecost from the OT, which was a pilgrim feast. Then we hear that a noise like a strong driving wind, and “there appeared to them tongues as a fire which came to rest on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the spirit enabled them.” People from all lands were able to speak their own native languages and yet … understand everyone around them.

This is the complete opposite of the Tower of Babel story from the OT. In that story, God’s people tried to build a tower that would reach the heavens so that they could be more like God. In response to this sinful act, God mixed up their languages so they couldn’t understand each other. Today’s reading is the resolution of that story. The Tower of Babel story is flipped on its head, and now as the Holy Spirit comes down upon the apostles. Everyone can understand one another and there is peace and harmony among the people, as well as great joy. A perfect example of how the OT is the “question” and the NT is the “answer.”

Responsorial Psalm 104:
(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)

“Lord send out your spirit and renew the face of the Earth.”

For the Lord has indeed sent his Spirit to abide with us on Earth for ever.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
(The 2nd reading is usually one of Paul’s letters. The 2nd reading speaks to how the early church built The Church after the, death and resurrection).

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is written to help the early church understand the need for Unity. Many of the Corinthians used to be pagans and idolaters.

The reading encourages them to remember that despite our differences we are one in God’s Holy Spirit. That Spirit has been poured out upon the apostles today – the Feast of Pentecost. Paul takes note of the differences we all have and says they all are good. Importantly, these differences do not negate our oneness because all of our ministries are inspired and guided by God.

Reflect:

What are your specific gifts from God?
How are you using those to bring glory to God?

(At this point during the mass, many parishes will sing the Veni sancte spiritus which translates Come Holy Spirit. This is also frequently song during confirmation masses.)

Gospel: John 20: 19-23
(The Gospel is the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word. That’s why we stand.

We are about to hear from and be instructed by Christ Himself.)

It begins, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst. He said to them “Peace be with you.’ when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. He said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so I send you.’ When he said this he breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Two things happen in this reading: 1) The sacrament of penance is instituted, and 2) We see a “sending forth” of Jesus’s first priests. The apostles were asked to carry Christ’s message to the whole world, including His forgiveness. These priests and all priests today are ambassadors for Christ in a special way.

I’ve struggled with John 20:23 – the part about retaining sins. Maybe you have too, and maybe this will help. From Catholic.com:

  • “Q: Does a priest always have to forgive a person’s sins?
  • A: No, the priest does not always have to forgive your sins. For example, if you confessed the sin of adultery, and the priest asks, “Have you ended the affair?” If you reply, “No, I’ll continue seeing her,” then forgiveness would not be possible because there is no purpose of amendment. A contrite heart – true sorrow for having offended God – is the key.

The advantages of reconciliation are many. From Catholic.com:

Is the Catholic who confesses his sins to a priest any better off than the non-Catholic who confesses directly to God? Yes. First, he seeks forgiveness the way Christ intended. Second, by confessing to a priest, the Catholic learns a lesson in humility, which is avoided when one confesses only through private prayer. Third, the Catholic receives sacramental graces the non-Catholic doesn’t get; through the sacrament of penance sins are forgiven and graces are obtained. Fourth, the Catholic is assured that his sins are forgiven; he does not have to rely on a subjective “feeling.” Lastly, the Catholic can also obtain sound advice on avoiding sin in the future.

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Author: Cindy Skalicky

Background: While enrolled in coursework at the Denver Catholic Biblical School (CBS), I developed a passion for scripture. Prior to CBS, I knew so little about the bible. I was in a complete "fog", unable to see what I heard at mass or make any connections (even though I have been a lector for 20 years). The climax of every Mass is the banquet of the Eucharist. But before that, we attend the banquet of the Word - a "4-course meal" that includes the 1st Reading, Responsorial Psalm, 2nd Reading, and Gospel. At this "Banquet of the Word", we encounter Christ through His Word before we meet Him at the Eucharistic table. Increasing my knowledge of scripture has brought me out of the fog and into the light. I invite you to visit weekly. If you have limited scriptural knowledge, Be Not Afraid. Scripture is God's voice; in It, He speaks to you personally. Believe me, I know from experience how intimidating the Bible can be - in its length, the numerous styles in which it's written, and the messages therein. This is why I find it works well to explore scripture through the Sunday readings, which cover Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, the Pastoral Letters, and the Gospels. Join me on this journey, one week at a time.

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