First Reading: Acts 1:12-14
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 26(27):1,4,7-8
Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:13-16
Gospel Reading: John 17:1-11
I had already prepared my Sunday homily yesterday when a friend called to ask: “Fr. What is really the big deal about this Pentecost Novena that I see in some WhatsApp platforms? Must we be involved in the Novena? Is it really important? Is Pentecost Sunday not the main celebration to commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in our lives?” After saying these, I was left dumbfounded for a moment and asked him to repeat himself, while I jotted his questions as illustrated above. After taking time to clarify him (based on the Scriptural readings of “Ascension Thursday” and today’s Liturgical readings) on the indispensability of the Novena to the Holy Spirit in preparation for Pentecost, he said: “Fr. I feel a scale falling off the eyes of my mind right now. Is it still late to join in the Novena?” inasmuch as it is ideally late already; I, nevertheless, asked him to join in the novena, while encouraging him to pray the previous day prayer as well (Day 1). As a result, his question made me reframe my homily for this Sunday to preach on the indispensability of the Pentecost Novena (Prayer) which today’s readings illustrate.
To begin with, it is pertinent to note that the Pentecost novena is called the Mother of all Novenas. It is the short period between the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven (forty days after His Resurrection), and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. For nine days, the disciples and the Virgin Mary gathered in the Upper Room, responding to Jesus’ request: “Do not depart from Jerusalem but wait for the fulfilment of the Father’s promise, which you heard me speak of, when I said: ‘John baptized with water; but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (cf. Acts 1: 4-5). This instruction was reflected in the First Reading of the Mass of the Ascension. Hence, after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, His disciples came together to the cenacle, that is the upper room where Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and devoted themselves to constant prayer as we hear in today’s first reading. Thus, the return of the disciples to the upper room was the beginning of their Pentecost novena. They prayed for nine days before receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And because they waited and prayed for nine days before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the concept of novena became significant. Novena comes from the Latin “novem,” meaning “nine.” Therefore, for the disciples of Jesus who met in the upper room, it was a period of incubation, waiting to be hatched by the power of the Holy Spirit, the only force capable of breaking them away from the shell of fear and timidity.
The novena in preparation for Pentecost became the humble beginning of the Church; the Church in prayer before her public mission. It is the very first time that it was reported in the Scripture that the Apostles with the women and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus devoted themselves in prayer together. Have we really taken out time to ask ourselves of the essence of the presence of the Mother of God at the novena? Why Mary? The emphasis made by Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles about the Blessed Virgin Mary was not just to mark her presence like the other women or followers of Christ, but an effort to emphasize her presence as an “indispensable instrument” in the life of the early Church. Recall that it was on this Blessed Virgin that the Holy Spirit descended or overshadowed at the Annunciation; and thus, became the Shrine of the Holy Spirit. Hence, it was necessary for the early Christians to gather before this same Shrine of the Holy Spirit, praying and waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon their souls and in the Church. From this passage, the Church draws her inspiration in affirming the centrality of Mary in the life of the Church, little wonder in the Litany of Loreto, she is called “Mother of the Church.”
Consequently, the sense of novena began to spread in the early Church among some of her members, although not solemnly decreed until May 4, 1897, when Pope Leo XIII proclaimed: “We decree and command that throughout the whole Church, this year and in every subsequent year, a novena shall take place before Pentecost in all parish churches.” (Encyclical On the Holy Spirit, #13). Likewise, Pope John Paul II reiterated Pope Leo’s command for a worldwide Pentecost novena, although the novena can be prayed at any time — not only before Pentecost. Thus, we cannot do without praying to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who helps and intercedes for us at prayers with sighs too deep for words (cf. Rom. 8:26). At prayers, Jesus becomes our greatest model as seen in today’s gospel reading. The event illustrates the Priestly Prayer of Christ at the Last Supper, as an example whenever we must pray.
The Priestly Prayer unfolds in three main sections: Jesus prays for himself (cf. Jn. 17:1-5), then for his apostles who have been closely associated with him during his mission (cf. Jn. 17: 6-19) and finally for the unity of future disciples (cf. Jn 20-26). He prays for his disciples, present and future, who will face opposition and for those who will welcome his Word. All three parts are, in this way, caught up in the one and same offering of Jesus to the Father. In this prayer of total abandonment to God, his coming suffering and death became more meaningful as a ‘total gift’. Therefore, the more we pray, the more we must be disposed to offer ourselves as gifts to others in embracing and enduring suffering and pain in relation to our vocation as Christians. This explains why in the second reading, St. Peter encourages, “If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed. It is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ because it means that you have the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God resting on you.” Some of us might have wondered why our suffering and pain persist after all the prayers we have made and still making. While some have lost trust and confidence in God, we are called to continue to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in the difficult experiences we pass through daily. May the Novena to the Holy Spirit which we have already embarked upon, enable us to bear our daily crosses as faithful disciples of the risen Lord.
In case you are still wondering why the Novena to the Holy Spirit is important; perhaps, you did not know that your body is supposedly the temple of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, you did not know that the Love of God was poured out into your heart by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, you did not know that the proof that God is in you and your communion with God is because He gave you His own Spirit. Perhaps, you did not know that He is your Advocate, Friend and Comforter. Perhaps, you did not know that He will teach and remind you all things. Perhaps, you did not know that He baptizes you with fire and power. Perhaps, you did not know that He will enable you to bear witness to Jesus. Perhaps, you did not know that all of us, at this time of the pandemic, diseases, sicknesses, fear, pain, suffering, need the Holy Spirit as never before. Perhaps, you did not know that experiencing the renewing grace of Pentecost is a quest of spiritual survival. Perhaps, you did not know that Pentecost is also the fruit of persevering prayer.
Therefore, it is your responsibility to join your priests in union with the community in making the Pentecost novena prayers for the good of the family, community, society, nation, and the world at large.
To this effect, I invite you to join me online daily and pray the Pentecost Novena, which I have already started on my YouTube channel. Today is “Day Three” already. Nevertheless, as from day 4; that is, by midnight, it would be presented in a dynamic way through a live transmission on my YouTube channel by 12 midnight, in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, imploring him to renew us in Holy Spirit at the commencement of each new day until the novena is completed when we shall all be immersed in the Holy Spirit. During this novena, we would also pray for various intentions. If you are not able to participate by midnight, you can do so at any time of the day, since the video would be available on the channel.
May our preparation and participation in the Novena to the Holy Spirit lead us to an awesome Pentecost experience and may the Holy Spirit continually transform our life story forever through Christ our Lord. Amen.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com