On the Hebrew Shavuot or Greek Pentekosté the Jews commemorated the descent of God’s Law on Mount Sinai, wreathed in fire, 50 days after the Exodus. Fifty days after Our Lord’s Resurrection, and 10 days after His Ascension (10 symbolising perfection), the fiery Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and first disciples to breathe life into Christ’s new Body, new Temple, our Church.
This magnificent Sunday (which in the Roman Rite’s Extraordinary Form retains its Octave – absurdly abandoned in the Novus Ordo – along with the special Communicantes and Hanc igitur) has in the Ordinary Form a Collect rooted in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary:
Deus, qui sacramento festivitatis hodiernae universam Ecclesiam tuam in omni gente et natione sanctificas, in totam mundi latitudinem Spiritus Sancti dona defunde, et, quod inter ipsa evangelicae praedicationis exordia operata est divina dignatio, nunc quoque per credentium corda perfunde.
Defundo means “to pour down, pour out”. Perfundo is “to pour over, moisten, bedew” and “to imbue, inspire” as well as “to dye”. Exordium means, “the beginning, the warp of a web”. The word choice invokes cloth weaving and selvage or edge, tightly woven so that the web will not fall apart.
Exordium is also a technical term in ancient rhetoric for the beginning of a speech whereby the orator lays out what he is going to do. From Pentecost onward Christ the Incarnate Word, although remote by His Ascension, is the present and perfect Orator delivering His saving message to the world through Holy Church. “He that heareth you, heareth me,” Christ told His Apostles with the Seventy (Luke 10:16).
The current ICEL translation (2011): “O God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation, pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth and, with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers.”
The Holy Spirit still weaves together the early Church, through the preaching of the Apostles, with the Church of our time, through their successors. He imbues and dyes and cleanses the fabric of the Church as He flows through it. From that first Pentecost’s exordium, Holy Church’s selvage, that strong stable edge of the fabric, binds us safely.
And speaking of our exordium, our fabric has borne some rips and stains, but Holy Church’s warp and weft hold true.