Lectionary #63, John 20: 19-23
“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” These same words that we heard at mass on the vigil of Easter we again sing today as the Easter season draws to a close. This mention of the Spirit at the beginning and the end of the Easter season gives us an opportunity to reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Christian faith and in our daily lives. Some of the key moments of Lent and the Easter season can serve as guideposts for us in this endeavor, as the days of Easter end and we begin the long summertime of the Church year.
We began our Lenten preparation for Easter at mass on Ash Wednesday when we prayed “A steadfast spirit renew within me…and your Holy Spirit take not from me” (Ps 51:12). While the Holy Spirit whom we know as the third person of the Holy Trinity had yet to be revealed as such, the Psalmist nonetheless reflects a desire to hold fast to God’s Spirit, sensing that his own life—his own spirit—depends for its very existence on remaining in union with the Lord. By asking for a share in God’s Spirit the Psalmist expects his own renewal and rejuvenation.
Going farther in our reflection on the Spirit and the Paschal mystery, after the forty days of Lent passed we invoked the Spirit again at the Easter vigil mass, when having heard how the Lord sent forth his Spirit at the moment of creation to sanctify and vivify all things, we beg God to once again “send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” (Psalm 104:30).
In this responsorial taken from Psalm 104, which we pray again today, we implore the Lord to send forth his Spirit—his very being and essence—and then in the gospel that follows we learn that our prayer has been answered: Jesus appears a second time to his disciples in the upper room, and when they rejoice over seeing him he says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.
His next action consists of both a powerful deed and explanatory words; he breathes on his disciples and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit, Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22-23). That which was forecast by the Lord during the course of his last supper with the disciples, that by whose power he was raised from the dead (Romans 1:4), that who was summoned by our prayers from the depths of the darkness on the night of the Easter vigil…that same Holy Spirit is now given to us.
On Pentecost then, we celebrate our reception of the Spirit—we have received what we asked for! Our task is to allow the Spirit we have been given to animate us and make our lives a worthy participation in the Paschal mystery. As the Spirit accompanied Jesus through the forty days of his temptation in the desert so too it has sustained us through the forty days of Lent and the Easter season. Now we are sent forth into the rest of the year, as Pope Francis reminded us when he announced the coming Holy Year of Mercy, to bring to perfection the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, being renewed through the forgiveness of our sins, and thus contributing to the renewal of all spirits in Christ our risen Lord.
Father Edward M. Mazich, O.S.B.