The Octave of Pentecost


What is the Octave of Pentecost?  Why have I not heard about it?  Why is it necessary?  Not many people in the Church today wold have heard about this Octave celebrated from Pentecost to the Ember Saturday before Trinity Sunday.  The Octave was never abrogated in the Usus Antiquior, and when the Divine Worship: the Missal was promulgated for the Personal Ordinariates, the calendar included the Octave.

The Octave was abrogated by Blessed Paul VI in the Ordinary Form of the mass in 1970 which is why many Catholics have not heard about it.  It is a grand occasion, Pentecost, and the beginning of the Church, the excitement of Pentecost, the awe of the coming of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and disciples.  And in the Ordinary Form, over in a day.

The Revd Dr Guy Nicholls Cong. Orat., in an article titled, the Power of Octaves; cites Blessed Henry Newman’s statement that the Octave of Pentecost is “the grandest…of the whole year”.

It is more difficult to rouse an emotional response to the person and role of the Holy Spirit simply as they are revealed to us in Scripture, and conveyed as they are in the seemingly impersonal images of a dove and tongues of fire. But Newman invites us to ‘consider the breviary offices for Pentecost and its Octave’, which he even suggests are ‘the grandest, perhaps, in the whole year’. This is Newman’s strongest argument, and best illustration for acknowledging the affective power of a feast to inflame the imagination yet more powerfully through an Octave, which not merely prolongs the celebration, but allows for the expansion and development of its principal ideas.

In the Development of Christian Doctrine, Newman drew attention to the power of the Veni Creator and the Veni Sancte Spiritus to inflame the heart, describing the ‘indescribably majestic, solemn and soothing’ effect of the words Altissimi donum Dei, Fons vivus, ignis, caritas, an effect which he had first noted in his journal on the day of his Anglican ordination. It was the singing of that hymn, albeit in English, but to a version of the familiar Gregorian melody, which had uplifted his spirits where until that moment he had only felt fear and foreboding. Newman suggests in the Grammar of Assent, in the full maturity of his Catholic years, that the power of these
meditations lies in their evocation of the personhood of the Spirit in his dispensation of grace in the Church, and its consequent impression upon the imagination.

Newman suggests that it was the grandeur of the liturgical celebration of Pentecost prolonged in its Octave, which generated the power to impress and arouse the imagination that created a momentum such as ‘to give birth to the noble hymns Veni Creator, and Veni Sancte Spiritus.’ Therefore, according to Newman, the Feast and its Octave together provided the necessary stimulus to realise imaginatively what was being celebrated in them, thereby lending even greater solemnity and impressive power to the mystery embodied therein. It is the character and effect of octaves generally to give greater weight to their Feasts, and the opportunity for the texts and rituals which embody their message to penetrate so much more profoundly the hearts and imagination of the Church’s faithful, both corporately and individually. (Dr Guy Nicholls, The Power of Octaves)

Pentecost is foundational for the Church, and just as important as the Christmas and Easter Octaves.  Having the Octave gives us time to reflect on what Pentecost is, the role of the Holy Ghost in our mission, and His ongoing leadership of the Church, and its members to the Truth, who is Christ. Every day of the Octave is a Pentecost Day, except for Mary, Help of Christians, Patroness of Australia, which is a Solemnity here.

… the character of Pentecost as a consummation and fulfilment of the Paschal Mystery suggests that it is fitting to celebrate it with an Octave similar in character and rank to that of Easter. Easter looks both backwards to Our Lord’s Passion as His “passing to the Father” and forwards to Eastertide as the season in which the resurrection and its meaning for our eternal life is unfolded for us. In a parallel way Pentecost looks both backwards to the promise of the gift of the Paraclete made at Easter and forwards to “Tempus post Pentecosten”, representing the life of the Church under the Holy Spirit’s constant guidance and enriched with His lifegiving sacraments. (Fr Guy Nicholls, Pentecost: The Grandest Octave)

The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, and the Disciples, transforming the nascent Church, to further the ministry of Our Lord. The Holy Ghost was not poured on the world.  It is only through the Church, and its members, that the Holy Ghost works in the world.  We are given the Spirit to boldly proclaim Christ, and Him Crucified, Risen, and Glorified. It is He, the Holy Spirit that will lead us to the truth in Christ, and it is He, the Holy Spirit, that gives us what we need for our mission, to lead all people to the Truth, who is Jesus Christ.

The Octave gives us this time to reflect on our mission, our calling, the Holy Spirit, and His work in the world.

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