When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together… Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4)
This year Pentecost Sunday falls on the last day of May, the day we conclude our traditional month-long devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is therefore a fortuitous invitation to reflect on the Blessed Mother during this solemn feast especially since our salvation began when the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Lk 1:35). So where do we find Mary at Pentecost?
The first reading for the Sunday Mass of Pentecost opens at the beginning of chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles where St. Luke says that “they were all in one place together”. To learn who “they” refers to we must go back to Acts chapter one before the story of the appointment of Matthias as the new apostle. In Acts 1:14 Luke tells us that “they” includes the Apostles, some pious women, and “Mary, the mother of Jesus…” all dedicated to communal prayer.
Because of this understanding it became ordinary practice for Catholic artists to portray the Blessed Mother at ground zero for the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles further implies Mary’s presence at the feast of Pentecost since Peter, having just received the Holy Spirit, goes out and proclaims to the crowd in Jerusalem how King David prophesied that the Messiah would be one of his descendants (Acts 2:30). This assertion of Peter on the day of Pentecost to the Jewish people makes sense only in reference to and in the presence of Mary who is the one who could attest to this descendancy with certainty. (Church tradition has it that Mary herself was a descendant of David through David’s son Nathan).
On this Pentecost Sunday we place on our bulletin cover a work by the Spanish Mannerist painter El Greco entitled Pentecost (1600). El Greco’s distinctive use of brightening color which renders solid forms as illuminated figures anticipated the work of Paul Cezanne. However, Cezanne did not grasp the spiritual mastery of El Greco.
In this image we have the disciples of Christ “all in one place together”; apostles and women of faith, and the Blessed Mother of God at the epicenter. Many of the figures look up in praise and amazement. Mary, however, peers upward with the expression of one having an interior conversation with the divine as she had at the Annunciation. One man in the painting looks out beyond the frame as if to remind us that the Holy Spirit is present in the here and now. Below the white dove high above is a falling windstorm which imparts tongues of flame sending a prism of color through the garments of all who are gathered. El Greco emphasizes the role of Mary at Pentecost by using the extended hands of many of the apostles to define the space allotted to Mary, a place familiar to Holy Spirit: to his descent and to his dwelling.
On this last day of May dedicated to Mary we transition to a celebration of the Holy Spirit, a transition as natural (and as supernatural) as the providential spiritual union of the Paraclete and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
-Steve Guillotte, Director Of Pastoral Services