First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
or St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:8-17
Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Gospel: According to St. John 20:19-23
Or According to St. John 14:15-16, 23-26
When I was in the eighth grade and a lector in the chapel of the good Sisters of the Incarnate Word in beautiful Parma Heights, Ohio, I was honored to have been chosen to proclaim the first reading on Pentecost Sunday. When I went to practice this reading my heart sank:
“We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia…”
Well, the Holy Spirit was certainly with me on Pentecost Sunday 1973 as I made my way through that minefield of words that to my 13-year-old mind were at best semi-pronounceable.
Even at that age it hit me that what Sr. Mary Raymond, S.I.W., taught us about the word “catholic” – that it meant universal or worldwide – was what this reading was all about. People came from so many places to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses and the Chosen People fifty days after Passover that the capital of Judea was literally about as ‘catholic’ as a city could be.
And with the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead the Apostles to preach the Gospel on their own for the very first time, Jerusalem also became a very ‘Catholic’ city. No longer was the Church only for those who were followers of Jesus while He was physically present on earth, but here on this day the second generation of Christians was born. And just as the Paschal Mystery of Christ undid the events in the Garden of Eden, so did the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost undo the events of the Tower of Babel.
When God confused the languages of those at the Tower of Babel He did so not to punish, but to save – just as He saved Adam and Eve from themselves when He evicted them from the Garden. The eviction kept them, theologically speaking, from eating from the other tree, the Tree of Life, and thus spared them the fate of living forever in this life with no chance of experiencing the Beatific Vision in Heaven.
And so too with the confusion of languages: those who were plotting to become like gods at Babel were thwarted when they could no longer understand each other. The unity of languages at Pentecost is a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit which undoes Babel and enables the Apostles to spread the Good News with the authority of the gift of tongues.
Today, you would be hard pressed to find a place where the Mass of Pentecost Sunday is not celebrated – the fruits of the Holy Spirit having given us the universal language of the Gospel. A language so sublime that the greatest minds in history have been spellbound by it, and a language so simple that even an eighth grader from Parma, Ohio, could instinctively understand its truth and beauty.