Friday, May 25, 2012

The Old Testament Pentecost

Last night at choir practice, a question came up about the Latin word "magnalia," which appears in the Pentecost antiphon we will be singing this Sunday. The antiphon is based on Acts 2, where the witnesses ask one another how it is that they, coming from so many parts of the world, can understand the Spirit-filled disciples "speaking of the marvels (magnalia) of God."
It almost seems that in writing Acts, Luke wanted to evoke an earlier "descent of the Holy Spirit" on God's chosen community.

Back in their desert wanderings, Moses was getting overwhelmed as the sole bearer of the Spirit of God among the people. At God's command, he made a list of seventy of the community elders and called them to the "tabernacle," the traveling tent of God's presence. Lo and behold, the Spirit of the Lord enraptured all of them and they began to prophesy--that is, to speak ecstatically in praise of God. Even two of the men who had not actually gone to the tabernacle were heard prophesying in the midst of the people, outside of the sacred precincts, to the point that young Joshua felt it threatened Moses' unique status. Moses then made his famous declaration, both ardent and humble, "I wish that all the servants of the Lord could be prophets! If only the Lord would bestow His spirit on all of them!"

Through the years, the Spirit singled out judges, prophets and even a king or two for the people, but we begin to see Moses' dreams really come true from the very first pages of the New Testament. Manifestations of the Spirit start popping out all over the place, and not only in Jesus. Look at Joseph, Elizabeth and the unborn John, Zechariah, Simeon... And then the disciples who "cast out demons" in Jesus' name, Peter at Caesarea Philippi... Finally, fifty days after the Resurrection, Moses' dream came true: the Spirit of the Lord was bestowed on all who were gathered there. (Were there still "one hundred and twenty" in the one place, thus representing the 12 tribes times ten?)

Of course, it's no coincidence that images of the first Pentecost seem to be centered on Mary, the first of the children of Eve to be "overshadowed by the Holy Spirit" and the model of prophecy. Isn't her "Magnificat" a perfect summation of the "magnalia Dei" they proclaimed as they streamed from the upper room that Pentecost morning?

And the Magnificat is still a perfect expression of God's marvels for us today, so much so that the Church prays those words of Mary every single day without exception, at Evening Prayer.

Perhaps we need to recover this approach in taking up the New Evangelization: to start (and end!) by proclaiming the marvelous works of God, basking in the ways grace has been manifest through the ages: "Where sin abounds, grace abounds yet more"! That's both proclamation and praise of the one True God.

No comments: