Dear Fellow Parishioners,
This time of year is for milestones and goodbyes, with new challenges on the horizon: First Communions, Confirmations, graduations. Some graduations will lead to another local school, a college or university further from home, career training, or a new job. Graduations have a valedictory quality, hence the “valedictorian” who delivers the farewell address. Paradoxically, this ceremony of farewell is also called “commencement,” the beginning of a whole new chapter of life.
The Easter season of the Church has its own version of “graduation” – Jesus’s farewell to his followers at his Ascension into heaven. We could even say that Jesus is the “valedictorian” – not because He has earned the highest GPA, but because He is saying farewell.
And so this week we celebrate Pentecost, a feast of high (or highest) rank in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as many other Christian communions. “Pentecost” literally means “fifty days” from Easter Sunday, counting inclusively. It marks another sort of “commencement” – traditionally, the birth of the Church in Jerusalem upon the descent of the Holy Spirit. The apostles went forth from Jerusalem preaching the Good News, quite literally, with only the clothes on their backs, and without reliance on any written Gospels, which were almost certainly not put in writing for nearly another generation, or more. They were received (or not) in towns and villages, eventually through the entire Mediterranean basin to the ends of the earth.
In the Anglican communion, Pentecost is referred to as “Whitsunday” – literally, “White Sunday” – a day when those newly baptized wore their white robes in the presence of the community. The whole week following Pentecost is “Whitsuntide” – Whit Monday, Whit Tuesday, etc. Since Pentecost always falls on Sunday, “Pentecost Monday” is still celebrated as a holiday in several European countries, though in some it has been secularized as a Spring Holiday, and moved to a fixed Monday (i.e., last Monday in May) rather than be linked to the date of Easter which changes every year. In fact, until the Second Vatican Council, Pentecost Monday was a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Church.
This year, Pentecost Monday falls on Memorial Day, when we remember and honor those who lost their lives serving our country. Many were as young, or younger, than today’s high school graduates. Many others were not much older. There is perhaps no more moving way to experience the enormity of this day than visiting an American military cemetery overseas to see the sheer quantity of thousands upon thousands of markers over those who never returned home. A special Memorial Day Mass will take place on Monday, May 29 at 10:00 a.m. at Calvary Cemetery, Petaluma.
Fr. Bill Donahue