The Time After Pentecost: Between the Aions

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As both the Bible and Church Fathers attest, there are several distinct periods of sacred history. These periods arise, are given their own set of dispensations, and then disappear. The age before the Law was replaced by the age under it, and that age, in turn, was closed during the time that Jesus Christ walked the face of the earth. Likewise, the age of divine revelation (which ended at the death of the last Apostle) gave way to a different era, the era immediately preceding the Second Coming. It is that era in which we now find ourselves. Despite the expanse of two thousand years and the plethora of cultural and technological changes that separate us from the Christians who outlived the Beloved Disciple, we are still living in the same age as they, the last age of mankind.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Descent of the Holy Spirit

The Time After Pentecost is the time that corresponds to this age. Just as Advent symbolizes life under the Old Law while the Christmas, Lenten, and Easter seasons recapitulate the thirty-three year era of Jesus Christ's earthly sojourn, the Time after Pentecost corresponds to the penultimate chapter of the story of redemption, the chapter that is currently being written. That story, as we all know, has been written somewhat out of order. Thanks to the last book of the Bible, we have a vivid account of history's climax but not of what happens in between the Apostolic Age and the Final Judgment. In a sense we should all feel a certain affinity for the Time After Pentecost, since it is the only liturgical season of the year that corresponds to where we are now.
Where we are is the age of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church because even though the Apostles were transformed by earlier events such as the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood on Maundy Thursday or their acquiring the power to forgive sins on Easter afternoon, they - and by extension, the Church - did not really come into their own until the Paraclete inspired them to burst out of their closed quarters and spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And just as Pentecost marks the birthday of the Church in the Holy Spirit, so too does the Time after Pentecost mark the life of the Church moving through the vicissitudes of history under the protection and guidance of that same Spirit. It is for this reason that the epistle readings from this season emphasize the Apostles' advice to the burgeoning churches of the day while its Gospel readings focus on the kingdom of heaven and its justice. It is also the reason why the corresponding lessons from the breviary draw heavily from the history of the Israelite monarchy in the Old Testament. All are somehow meant to teach us how to comport ourselves as citizens of the city of God as we pass through the kingdoms of this world.

The sanctoral cycle that concurs with the Time after Pentecost underscores this ecclesiastical focus. It is rather providential that this is the part of the year with the most saints' days. Saints are an important component in the Christian landscape not only because of their capacity to intercede for us, but because they are living proof
that a holy, Catholic life is possible in every time and place. In fact, the feasts kept during the Time after Pentecost encompass virtually every aspect of Church life. If the saints in general remind us of the goal of holiness, certain saints, such as St. John the Baptist (June 24 & August 29) or Sts. Peter (June 29 & August 1) and Paul (June 29 & 30) remind us of the role that the hierarchy plays in leading the Church towards that goal. Likewise the feasts of the temporal cycle, such as the Feast of the Holy Trinity, of Corpus Christi, or of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, direct our attention to the explicit dogma, sacramentality, and spirituality of the Church, respectively. Even the physical space consecrated for sacred use is adverted to: significantly, all feasts for the dedication of churches take place only during the Time after Pentecost. The Time after Pentecost truly is the time of the Church, the liturgical season that corresponds to the spotless Bride's continuous and multifaceted triumph over the world. This is one of the reasons why the liturgical color for this season is green, the symbol of hope and life. It might also be the reason why it is the longest liturgical season, occupying 23 to 28 weeks of the year.
And because the Time after Pentecost is the time of the Church, it is also a profoundly eschatological season. Every believer needs to heed St. Paul's admonitions about the Parousia and to ready himself for the end times, for the Last Judgment and the creation of a new heaven and earth.

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That is why, beginning on the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Mass propers begin to take on an apocalyptic tone. Verses from the prophets become much more common and references to the final manifestation of Christ more insistent. This sense of anticipation grows each week until it crescendoes with the last Sunday after Pentecost (the last Sunday of the liturgical year), when the Gospel recalls Christ's ominous double prophecy concerning the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the horrific end of the world. An awareness of the eschaton is also salient in the feasts and saints' days that occur at around the same time. The Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 15), for example, reminds us not only of the glorious consummation of the Blessed Virgin's earthly life, but of the reunification of all bodies with their souls on Judgment Day. St. Michael's Day (Sept. 29), the Feast of the Guardian Angels (Oct. 2), the Feast of Christ the King (last Sunday of October), All Saints' Day (Nov. 1), and All Souls' Day (Nov. 2) all have a way of directing our attention to the ultimate completion of the work of redemption (see the Customs page). Significantly, these holy days occur mostly during autumn, the season that heralds the end of life. Though it has no formal name, this cluster of Sundays and feasts constitutes a season unto its own that reminds us of the tremendous awe and glory surrounding the Last Things.

The Time after Pentecost is thus the time between the "Aions," the period between the age of the Apostles on the one hand and the Age of ages (saecula saeculorum) on the other. By navigating vis--vis these two coordinates, its liturgical celebrations embody redeemed living in a fallen world and constant preparedness for the Bridegroom. And in doing so it shows us - members of the age it ritually represents - how to do the same.

A Note on "Ordinary Time"

Schema of the Season

Customs of the Season Foods of the Season

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