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Holy Spirit, Life Giver
I was taught when I was young that the colors used at Mass correspond with the particular Mass being celebrated. Feasts of Our Lord and of Our Lady, as well as the memorials of most saints, call for white. Violet is prescribed for the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. When Our Lord's Passion is recalled, red is the appropriate color, as also on those days when the martyrs who shed their blood in witness of him are celebrated. On Pentecost, red reminds of how the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in tongues of fire and that the same Spirit empowers us to bear witness to Christ, like the martyrs, with our lives.
In my mind, as probably in yours, there is a strong association between Pentecost and the color red. Perhaps that factored into your choice of what to wear to Mass today. It brought me a special joy last year, when a certain Jesuit high school located up the road came into the Cathedral for their baccalaureate Mass on Pentecost Eve and the priests were obliged by liturgical law to wear vestments that one could describe as cardinal and gold. But I learned a few years ago that there is another color that is also appropriate both to this feast and to the Holy Spirit; and knowing this has added a new dimension to my understanding of the Holy Spirit and has enhanced my awareness of his presence and action in my life.
In the seminary, we had a priest on faculty who was a member of the Ruthenian Catholic Church, which follows the Byzantine rather than the Roman liturgical tradition, with which we are familiar. On Pentecost, I remember seeing the altar of the seminary chapel draped in red, the dozens of concelebrating priests all in red chasubles and there, at the back of the procession, was Father Ron, wearing green. At first, I thought it was awfully rude of the other priests not to tell him he had grabbed the wrong color. But as he explained to us, in the Byzantine rite, the color used for Masses of the Holy Spirit is not red, but green. And this hinges theologically on what all Catholics of every rite profess of the Holy Spirit in the Creed: that he is the Lord, the giver of life. What red is to fire and blood in West; green is to life in the East. Both colors, taken together, give us a more complete perspective on who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.
I spend most of my free time, in all seasons of the year, in the woods; and during the winter months you grow accustomed to seeing the same, familiar trails painted in bland shades of brown and grey, perhaps if you're lucky with a bit of white snow to make things interesting. However long those cold months may be, you know that spring will eventually come, and the green of life will again return. But each year as it happens, I find myself at a loss for breath at how green the new green of spring actually is. Biking through Loch Raven the other morning, I came to a verdant meadow, lush with trees, grass, and plants of the most vibrant green, so full of life, I couldn't believe my eyes.
And there I thought of the vision Ezekiel had of the valley of the dry bones. Ezekiel remembers, How dry they were! — dead and decaying. But the Lord asked him, Son of man, can these bones come to life? Ezekiel knows only the Lord could work such a miracle, and thus does the Lord speak to the bones: See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. And Ezekiel saw bone joined to bone, tendons and flesh coming upon them, and the Spirit breathing himself into them, raising those dead, decaying bones back to life.
We may never be given such a vision, but the new green of spring can remind us all of the new life the Holy Spirit alone brings; and the new life of the Holy Spirit is ours when we receive the Church's sacraments in faith and love. Sin causes the living water that should be welling up in our soul from the Holy Spirit to evaporate and leaves us gasping and panting for it to return. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Spirit is poured out among us for the forgiveness of sins, irrigating the dry valley of our heart to be filled again with the waters of life. This experience of new life, as I see it on both sides of the confessional, has become one of the most beautiful ways in which I see the Holy Spirit present and active in my life and in the lives of all his faithful.
While Pentecost is a special day on which to pray for and to receive a new outpouring of the Spirit, that same Spirit is sent among us each and every day and is delighted to make his home in whoever receives him as a guest.
The liturgical rubrics won't let me wear green on Pentecost Sunday, but as the Easter Season concludes today, we return tomorrow to that season in which green is once again in vogue. After the two great solemnities of the Trinity and the Eucharist, all the remaining Sundays that follow until Advent are green. The season that we now call Ordinary Time was once called Time after Pentecost, as Pentecost was considered less of day than it was an entire season. In the days ahead when the vestments turn to green, may our lives become a shade of green still more vibrant, filled with the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life.
Homily preached May 27/27, 2023 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen