Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(for the Liturgical Year 2021)

May 23 2021
Pentecost Sunday

1st Reading: Acts 2:1-11

The Spirit of God gives energy to the apostles and sends them out on their mission

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

Responsorial: Psalm 103: 1, 24, 29-31, 34

R./: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth

Bless the Lord, my soul!
  Lord God, how great you are,
How many are your works, O Lord!
The earth is full of your riches. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
  returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
  and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

May the glory of the Lord last for ever!
  May the Lord rejoice in his works!
  May my thoughts be pleasing to him.
I find my joy in the Lord.
  Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.(R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13

It is through the Spirit that Christ works in his community, the church

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Alternative (Year B): Galatians 5:16-25

Living by the Spirit of God

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Alternative (Year C): Romans 8:8-17

You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Gospel: John 14:15-16; 23-26

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever….

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."

or: John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

The Spirit who will lead believers to the complete truth

Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

or: John 20:19-23

They disciples receive the Holy Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."


The Centrality of Pentecost

The NT Apocalypse repeatedly invites (admonishes?) us to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. It was never more urgent. How do we do that and what is the Spirit saying? The feast invites four areas of reflection:

1. The Spirit and the future of the earth (service)
2. The Spirit and the (re)discovery of the Word of God (catechesis)
3. The Spirit and Christian meditation (spirituality)
4. The Spirit and the community of faith, the Church (community)

All four dimensions are connected. What is the church unless grounded in the Word and in the Spirit? What is the church for, unless for the service of all and, especially today, of our threatened world?

(Kieran O’Mahony) For Kieran’s exegetical notes on Pentecost, click here.

Who were present at Pentecost?

The Roman Lectionary version of Acts 2:1 (“…the apostles were all together in one place…”) gives a particular interpretation to the text, suggesting that only the twelve apostles were the recipients of the Spirit at Pentecost. The actual text says that when the day of Pentecost had come, ἦσαν πάντες ὁμοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, (literally “THEY WERE ALL together in one place”). Who were those “ALL” who were present?

The preceding chapter lists eleven of the Lord’s chosen Twelve, now gathered in the Upper Room (ὑπερῷον), “constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (1:14). The next verse refers to a much larger group of believers (about 120 persons in all) among whom Peter stood up, to propose selecting a replacement for Judas (Ac 1:15).

It is true that after the selection was made (by group election, followed by drawing of lots) the final words of that chapter say that Matthias “was added to the eleven apostles” ( μετὰ τῶν ἕνδεκα ἀποστόλων, Acts 1:26). But it is not clear from the story that follows, whether the THEY who were all together in one place, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit,  refers only the restored circle of the Twelve.

The answer to this puzzle could have important implications for our ecclesiology. Might not the group who experienced the first Pentecost include the whole faith community of a hundred and twenty persons, or at least the smaller group (perhaps twenty in all) — consisting of the apostles, plus certain women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers? Most paintings of the Pentecost event include Our Lady, flanked by the Twelve, but without any other recipients. But St  Luke may intend us to understand that spiritual empowerment was given to the whole group who still treasured the memory and message of Jesus. It could diminish the impact of his story, were we to limit his Pentecost scene only to the inspiriting of the Twelve, who, of course, became the founding leaders of a structured church.

 Source of our best impulses

The Holy Ghost (der heilige Geist) used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps from being a spirit, since for many people today, only tangible, material things are the whole of reality. The Father and Son could be imaged as tangible because one took flesh and the other was portrayed with a venerable beard, reflecting the vision about “the Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians the Holy Spirit is often overlooked. But there are good reasons not to neglect the Spirit. The first is the promise of Jesus. At the Last Supper, he promised to send the Spirit, to be an ever-reliable helper, advocate, counsellor, teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. “Unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7).

For the earliest Christians, the Spirit sent by Jesus a vital source of energy and missionary spirit. They never forgot his first coming. Beforehand, they were timid and afraid, like children huddling in an attic. When the Spirit came over them in a whooshing of wind, fire and speech, they were transformed, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), suddenly, mysteriously, eloquent. Some bystanders were less poetic in their reaction and sneered, “They’re drunk” (Acts 2:13). In a sense they were right, for drunk they were, spiritually, intoxicated with the Spirit of Christ’s love and eagerness to proclaim his message.

The Spirit was breathing among them, and from now on the prayer “Jesus is Lord” would be their motto. They stayed spiritually drunk in this sense, never to be soberly timid again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit coursed in their bloodstream. Every decision they made was Spirit-guided: the choice of seven deacons; the admitting of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. Nor was the influence of the Spirit confined to the apostles. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at the grassroots. They recognised charisms, gifts of the Spirit, given for service in the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, and ordinary gifts too, that helped to build up the community: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control” (Ga 5:22).

Whenever we exercise our charisms we honour the Spirit. When we are loyal to a demanding partner, or console the bereaved, support the old or encourage the young, we are being led by the Spirit. When we resist temptation, we honour the Spirit. When we respond to our better impulses, the Spirit is working in us. The Spirit of God is the rising sap moving all that is best in us. It is through our better instincts that the Spirit works. Our part is to work with him to reach our fullest selves.

The Spirit Is For Everyone

[adapted from Jose Antonio Pagola]

Our life is made up of multiple experiences. Joys and troubles, successes and failures, are woven together in our daily life, animating or weighing us down. But often we are hardly aware of what’s deepest in our own selves. What we grasp in our self-awareness is just a small island amid the wide and deep sea that is life. Sometimes, even what’s most essential and decisive eludes us.

In his precious book Spiritual Experience, Karl Rahner invites us to consider the inmost “experience” that occurs within us, though often unperceived: the living presence of God’s Spirit who works from within our being. This experience can easily be smothered by many others that occupy our time and attention. It is a quiet presence that can be drowned out by other impressions and worries that take hold of our heart.

Mostly, we seem to think that what’s great and gratuitous must be something rare, but God’s grace is not like that. There’s a tendency in certain parts of Christianity to consider the living presence of the Spirit as something reserved to chosen and select people. But Rahner reminds us that God’s Spirit is always alive in the human heart, since the Spirit is God’s own communication in the innermost part of our existence. This Spirit of God is communicated and given even where apparently nothing is happening. The Spirit is there, wherever life is received and the duties of each day are carried out. God’s Spirit works silently in the heart of regular and simple people, in contrast to the pretension of those who feels themselves the sole possessors of the Spirit.

Pentecost invites us to seek that presence of God’s Spirit in our own selves, not to imagine it as a trophy granted only to the elite. We need to welcome the Spirit of God who is the font of all life. This Spirit is for everyone, because the immense Love of God is present to all the joys and groans, efforts and yearnings that spring from the heart of all God’s children.

The Spirit who bears fruit

In our churches there is no shortage of images, mostly statues, paintings or stained glass. They are mostly images of Jesus, Mary and the saints. There are also images of some Old Testament figures like Abraham and Sarah, or Moses an Miriam. There is a long tradition of images within the church, beginning with the paintings in the Roman Catacombs. The Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate on Pentecost, does not lend itself easily to imagery. The traditional image of the dove is drawn from the scene of the baptism of Jesus. But the language in that passage is rather vague; the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, or in the way that a dove might descend. There are two other images of the Holy Spirit in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke says that all who gathered in one room heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven; he goes on to say that something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. Just as the evangelists do not portray an actual dove at the baptism of Jesus, Luke does not say that the wind and fire at Pentecost were tangible phenomena. The Holy Spirit is impossible to visualise, because the Spirit cannot be seen as such. Yet the Holy Spirit is profoundly real.

Many things in our universe are real even though invisible to the naked eye. What we see with our eyes is only a fraction of our physical world. The Holy Spirit belongs to the spiritual world, and it naturally cannot see the Spirit with our eyes. Yet, there are helpful ways of imagining the Holy Spirit. St Paul uses an image drawn nature when he says that the Spirit bears fruit. He means the visible effect of the Spirit on one’s life. We may not be able to see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the effect of the Spirit in our life, just as we cannot see the wind but can see the effect of the wind on people and objects of various kinds. Paul is saying that wherever we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control, the Spirit is there at work. The Spirit becomes visible in and through these qualities and virtues. The person who most of all had those qualities was Jesus because he was full of the Holy Spirit, full of the life of God. The Holy Spirit is essentially the very life of God, and that life is a life of love. It is that divine life, that divine love, which was poured out at Pentecost, initially on the first disciples but through them on all who were open to receive this powerful and wonderful gift. Paul expresses it simply in his letter to the Romans, ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’. It is that Spirit of God’s love we have received who bears the rich fruit in our lives that Paul speaks about in today’s 2nd Reading. The Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, making us more like Jesus. The ordinary, day to day expressions of goodness and kindness, of faithfulness and self-control, of patience and gentleness, are all manifestations of the Spirit that has been given to us by God. We can recognize the Spirit’s presence in the common happenings of everyday life. The spiritual is not something other-worldly; it is humanity at its best.

Humanity is at its best in today’s first reading. Pentecost brought about a wonderful bonding of people from all over the Roman Empire. They were united in admiring and praising the marvels of God. In spite of differences of language and culture there was a real communion among them. Wherever communion of heart and mind exist among people of different backgrounds, the Holy Spirit is at work. Unity in diversity is the mark of the Spirit. Jesus points out another manifestation of the Spirit: the pursuit of truth. Only the Spirit can lead us to the complete truth. If someone is genuinely seeking for truth, and willing to engage in good works with others, there the Spirit is at work. Fullness of truth and love is always beyond us; but the Spirit is given to lead us towards the complete truth and love, in all its height and depth.