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A Scripture Reflection for Pentecost Sunday

by Richard E. McCarron | May 19, 2018

A Scripture Reflection for Pentecost Sunday
May 20, 2018



First Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3B-7, 12-13 or

Galatians 5: 16-25

Gospel: John 20: 19-23 or John 15: 26-27, 16: 12-15




On this Pentecost--the fiftieth day after Easter--we sing Psalm 104 with the refrain, "Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth!" This refrain provides us with both a key and plea to all our readings for this feast. Psalm 104 extols God as creator and as caretaker of all creation. We attend to just a snippet of the psalm today, but we do include the verse that sings that we are still dependent on God: "If you take back their breath, they perish and return to dust." We who are formed from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7) become living beings through the breath, the ruach, of God.

Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth! This refrain is a key to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Jewish people "from every nation" would gather for one of the three pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem. It is the celebration of Shavuot (Weeks), which was called the pentecostê among Greek speakers. The disciples who were in one house were filled with the Spirit and then left that one place to go out to all who were in the city.

Imagine the scene: a noise like a driving wind, tongues of fire, bewilderment. The crowds were amazed when they heard these disciples proclaiming the good news with a conviction set on fire by the Spirit. The good news of the Resurrection touches all these people to the quick, recognizing where they have come from and speaking to where they can go. The crowds from many nations hear the good news, and what could be confusion gives way to recognition and renewal of their imagination of what great things God can do.

There are options for our second reading and gospel today. Yet still, the psalm provides us a key. The first option is from 1 Corinthians. Paul extols the way charismata--spiritual gifts--are to serve our becoming one body in Christ. Paul speaks of different gifts, different forms, different workings; but they are all inspired (filled with breath) by the Spirit. In our diversity, we all contribute to the convivencia--the living together--of the Body of Christ in mutual respect, honest encouragement, and transforming interaction in our diversity. Paul offers a vision of what the Spirit can do when we open ourselves to the inspiration of the Spirit. We can become what we pray in the third Eucharistic Prayer, "one body, one spirit in Christ."

In the letter to the Galatians, the second option, the Spirit sent to renew the face of the earth can guide us to love, joy, and peace. To follow the Spirit is indeed to collaborate to renew the face of the earth in the face of disunity, dissensions, and divisions. It is to move from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

The psalm is a key to our options from the Gospel of John. In John 20, the disciples hide in fear, having locked themselves in. (And please note the translation in our lectionary remains problematic: What is rendered at 20:19 as "fear of the Jews" [phobon tôu Iudaiôn] should be understood as "fear of the Jewish authorities.") Hiding, fearing, having locked themselves in, the disciples encounter the Risen One who brings them a message of peace. The Risen one inspires them--breathes on them the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is sent out to bring peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. The gifts of peace, presence, and forgiveness blow open our locked doors of fear and hiding. The gift of the Spirit, the gift of peace and reconciliation, does not allow us stay in a locked room but sends us out through the doors that have been opened by Christ's presence. The psalm is also a key to the option of John 15/16. This Spirit sent out to the renew is our advocate, our paraclêtos--our helper, our intercessor. This Spirit of truth will guide us in the way of truth and testimony.

 Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth! The refrain is also a plea. In our sequence, Come, Holy Spirit (Veni, Sancte Spiritus), we invoke powerful images of the Holy Spirit: Come ray of light; comfort; rest from our labor; coolness and consolation; solace in woe; healing; strength; washing, bending, and mending; melting the frozen and guiding the wayward. We sing in the sequence: This is all joy that never ends! Our imaginations are filled with so many metaphors beyond just a bird that we might sometimes wish just stayed in a cage and not freed to set us on fire again.

 "Lord send out your spirit" is a plea we invoke in our world this and every day. Lord, send out your Spirit! Renew the face of this battered world of ours. Set us on fire to confront the violence, discrimination, and strife all around us. Set us on fire to go out and speak to the racism that confronts our communities and our nation. Set us on fire to console the sick and the dying who need the comfort of presence. Set us on fire to speak to the destruction of the earth we claim home. Set us on fire to leave our locked houses and have the courage to tell someone today, "Christ is risen from the dead, and it makes a difference!" Set us on fire to show that good news in our lives every day in the renewal of the face of the earth.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Richard E. McCarron

Associate Professor of Liturgy
M.A., Ph.D., The Catholic University of America

Richard McCarron received an M.A. and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. He teaches in the areas of liturgical and sacramental theology, liturgical history, liturgy and culture, and catechesis. He is committed to authentic expressions of liturgy among particular communities of faith, attending to the interaction of liturgical celebration and culture in past and present. He engages the methods of critical hermeneutics to develop a dynamic theology of liturgy and sacrament and aims to help pastoral ministers realize the formative power of liturgical celebrations and reflection on them. His research areas are liturgy and sacrament in postmodernity; hermeneutics of imagination and liturgy; and contemporary efforts at inculturation and liturgy. He continues interest in the East Syrian liturgy, which was the subject of his doctoral research.

Richard’s book, The Eucharistic Prayer at Sunday Mass, won first place from the Catholic Press Association Book Award for Liturgy in 1998 (Liturgy Training Publications, 1998/reprinted Wipf and Stock, 2008). Richard’s more recent work includes contributions to the Commentary on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (ed. E. Foley, J. Pierce, and N. Mitchell [Liturgical Press, 2007]), and “Why Have You Abandoned Us? Liturgy in a Time of Natural Disaster” in All Your Waves Swept Over Me: Looking for God in Natural Disasters (ed. N. De Flon and J. Wallace [Paulist, 2007]).

Richard’s more recent work includes contributions on Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy in Liturgy Training Publication’s forthcoming anniversary volume on Sacrosanctum Concilium and three chapters in A Commentary on the Order of Mass of “The Roman Missal, edited by E. Foley, J. Baldovin, M. Collins, and J. Pierce (Liturgical Press, 2011). His articles have appeared in Liturgical MinistryLiturgyProceedings of the North American Academy of LiturgyJournal of Hispanic/Latino TheologyHugoye: Journal of Syriac StudiesThe Living LightEmmanuelThe Bible Today, and Assembly. He was a contributor to the revised New Catholic Encyclopedia, for which he also served as an assistant editor (1999–2000). Richard served as co-editor of New Theology Review (2006–2011) and is now editor of the Proceedings of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

Richard is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Societas Liturgica, the Catholic Academy of Liturgy, and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Books written by Richard McCarron

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