Pentecost, the celebrations at St Saviour and the Cenacle

Pentecost, the celebrations at St Saviour and the Cenacle

Fifty days after Easter, on the day of Pentecost, Jerusalem remembers the effusion of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave to his disciples gathered in the Cenacle. The Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton, presided over the celebrations of the vigil in St Saviour’s church and those of the day at the Cenacle.

St Saviour and the Cenacle

St Saviour’s church and the Cenacle have a special bond. The Cenacle, on Mount Zion, is and was the first seat of the Custody, from 1342, when the Franciscans received it as a gift from the royal family of Naples. The official title of the Custody of the Holy Land is still “Guardian of Mount Zion and of the Holy Sepulchre.” After having been expelled from the Cenacle, in 1559 the Franciscans established their seat at St Saviour, where it still is today. As early as 1561, Pope Pius IV granted the same indulgences to this church as those granted to the Cenacle: Institution of the Eucharist, Apparition of the Lord to Thomas and Descent of the Holy Spirit. The indulgences were confirmed by Leo XIII.

The Vigil on the model of Easter

On the evening of the Vigil, the friars celebrated the Station Mass in St Saviour's. The Vigil Mass has the form of a vigil on the model of the Easter one, to emphasize the deep bond between Easter and the day of Pentecost, when what is promised by Jesus is carried out: the gift of the Consoler, the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

The first part of the Mass was characterized by a long Liturgy of the Word, with four readings and as many psalms: from Babel to Mount Sinai, where the Lord appeared to Moses and gave His law to the people of Israel (this is what the Jews celebrate on their feast-day of Shavuot, 50 days after Pesach). And then the “valley of bones” described by the prophet Ezekiel, revitalized by the Spirit of the Lord, and the announcement of the effusion of the Spirit by the prophet Joel.

The groanings of the Spirit

The reading of the New Testament is the letter in which St Paul speaks of the “inexpressible groanings” with which the Spirit intercedes for us.  The Custos lingered on this passage in his homily , in which he recalled the many conflicts and the many “plains full of bones” of the present day, with 70 countries in the world at war. “The Spirit groans and we also groan when we become aware of so much horror.” The Spirit, however, “transforms all this groaning into a prayer without words.”

Fra Patton recalled the conflict in Gaza and prayed for the visit of the Patriarch, Card. Pierbattista Pizzaballa – who celebrated Pentecost there -, that it may be a sign of hope for the Christians who are still in that land. “Lord, send your Spirit and infuse in us your breath of life, so that the many, too many, plains full of bones and corpses become a warning to lay down weapons and repudiate war as an instrument to solve conflicts. Do something so that one day we can see the whole of humanity gathered into a single family capable of living in peace and in fraternity.”

The celebrations at the Cenacle

At the  Cenacle , the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land celebrated the Mass of the day (in private) and the Second Vespers of the solemnity. 

The Gospel according to John which was proclaimed during the Mass is set in the Cenacle, where Jesus, during the Last Supper, promises the disciples the gift of the Spirit. “With Pentecost the time of the Spirit is inaugurated, which is also the time of the Church,” the Custos  emphasized. “It is precisely the Spirit that makes possible the testimony of the Church and our personal testimony and makes this testimony comprehensible, significant and inculturated in the various periods and in the various places.”

Desire the Spirit above everything 

In the afternoon, the friars met again at the Cenacle for the Second Vespers, which close the day of Pentecost and the Time of Easter. At the entrance and during the singing of the Magnificat, the adjoining room was incensed as was that of the Last Supper of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit is believed to have descended on the Apostles and the Virgin Mary, gathered there in prayer.

The Friars Minor have a particular devotion for the Holy Spirit, the Custos recalled in his short homily: “St Francis reminds us: ‘(The friars must) Desire above all things to have the spirit of the Lord and its holy activity, and pray always with a pure heart. (...)’”. It is the Spirit that “allows us to communicate, enter into relations and construct communion,” said the Custos, recalling the gift of languages, which turned the disorder of Babel upside-down. Underscoring this universality, the friars and the faithful present recited the Lord’s Prayer in all their languages.

Marinella Bandini