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The Holiness of Tomorrow: The Extended Form of the Vigil Mass for Pentecost in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal

The Roman Missal’s most recent English edition includes several revised rites, new prayers, and adjustments to the rubrics. While many of these revisions require further explanation, one rite in particular deserves some special attention—the Vigil Mass for Pentecost. The two previous editions of the post-conciliar Roman Missal included only a proper Vigil Mass for Pentecost. However, the extended form of the Vigil proposed in the current Roman Missal brings forward to the present a part of our liturgical tradition that has both deep roots and contemporary value.

In our earlier tradition, Pentecost was a principal occasion, along with Easter, for the Church to carry out the baptism of adults. The mysteries of the Resurrection and Pentecost, in ways unique to their respective commemorations, express a sharing of divine life with those who belong to Christ, and especially so for those to be newly incorporated into his body, the Church. Over time these two days saw the development of vigils to watch for the following day’s solemn observance. The proclamation of the Word of God and a response to it would be the chief manner for keeping watch. Also, over time, these vigil days would be marked by fasting and penance in anticipation of the celebrations of the events of the Lord on the solemnity to follow. Likewise, during different periods, these commemorations had octave celebrations associated with them to give liturgical expression to the eternal reality of these same mysteries of Christ. The recently reformed General Roman Calendar sees Pentecost Sunday as the Eighth Sunday of Easter, the conclusion of the eight week celebration of the Resurrection. So, Pentecost brings to a fitting and final end the celebration of the Resurrection with the promised sending of the Holy Spirit, which in a sense completes the event of Easter. The day before Pentecost is no longer a day of fasting and penance and there is no longer an octave. And, it is no longer a principal day for the baptism of adults. However, it is Pentecost and the anamnesis found in the euchology and the biblical texts is compelling and vivid. With the today—hodie—of Pentecost, there is a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is fitting to keep watch—with urgent prayer—for this coming of the Holy Spirit!

The extended Vigil of Pentecost is a unique opportunity for Christians—as in centuries past—to assemble like Mary and the Apostles in prayer in the Upper Room, to expect again and anew the Father and the risen Son to send the Holy Spirit upon us.

As indicated above, the Third Edition of the Roman Missal (published in Latin in 2000, translated into English in 2011) since the close of the Second Vatican Council, expands the possible ways of celebrating the Solemnity of Pentecost. In the two editions of the Roman Missal published prior to the present edition (1970 and 1975 respectively), the Pentecost observance followed the pattern that was in place in the most recent pre-conciliar missal with a proper Vigil Mass and a Mass during the Day. However, in the Roman Missal (1570) that followed the Council of Trent, there was a plan and texts for an extended vigil. With the Roman Missal now in use, there is again an opportunity for an extended vigil. Presently, the Vigil Mass itself has two possible forms, an extended form and a simple form, and there is the Mass during the Day. This article focuses on the recovered extended form of the Vigil of Pentecost. The pattern for the Easter Vigil serves in many ways as a helpful guide for understanding the outline of the extended from of the Vigil Mass for Pentecost.

The time for this extended form of the Vigil Mass for Pentecost, unlike what is prescribed for the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, is similar to all other proper Vigil Masses in the current Roman Missal. It can take place on the Saturday evening before Pentecost Sunday either before or after First Vespers. This means that this form of the Vigil Mass may be at that same time as the typical anticipated Mass in the parish that occurs frequently in the late afternoon. Or it can be scheduled as another evening celebration at a later hour, which would be more in keeping with the tradition of the Christian vigils that occur as the night awaited the morning feast.

Introductory Rites

Two options are given for the manner of celebrating the extended form of the Pentecost Vigil Mass. The first option allows for First Vespers to precede Mass and the second option does not include First Vespers. If a community typically celebrates the Liturgy of the Hours, then the first option would make good pastoral sense. Otherwise, the second option seems more pastorally suitable.

Instructions for First Vespers preceding Mass are as follows: If First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) celebrated in choir or in common immediately precede Mass, the celebration may begin either from the introductory verse and the hymn (Veni, creátor Spíritus) or else from the singing of the Entrance Antiphon with the procession and greeting of the Priest; in either case the Penitential Act is omitted. Then the Psalmody prescribed for Vespers follows, up to but not including the Short Reading. After the Psalmody, omitting the Penitential Act, and if appropriate, the Kyrie, the Priest says the prayer Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the splendor, as at the Vigil Mass. (Roman Missal, Pentecost, 2a)

What is described above is normative for the joining of the Liturgy of the Hours with Mass. With the Hour, the given hymn is the Veni, creátor Spíritus. For the Mass, the proper chant or the antiphon is sung or they inspire the choice for the Entrance.

Instructions for Mass beginning as usual are as follows: If Mass is begun in the usual way, after the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy), the Priest says the prayer Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the splendor, as at the Vigil Mass. (Roman Missal, Pentecost, 3b)

Whether the extended form of the Vigil Mass begins with the psalms of First Vespers or with the chant, greeting and Kyrie of the Mass, the second option for the Collect of the simple form of the Vigil Mass is prayed.

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that the splendor of your glory
may shine forth upon us,
and that, by the bright rays of the Holy Spirit,
the light of your light may confirm the hearts
of those born again by your grace.
Through our Lord.

This prayer comes from the pre-conciliar edition of the Roman Missal and was the only proper prayer for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost in that edition. In this location in the extended form of the Vigil, the prayer serves to transition from the opening of the vigil observance to the readings that follow. The readings “confirm the hearts” of those keeping watch for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Liturgy of the Word

The biblical texts are introduced with an address similar to the one found in the Roman Missal for the Easter Vigil. In fact, many of the ideas are the same.

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
we have now begun our Pentecost Vigil,
after the example of the Apostles and disciples,
who with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, persevered in prayer,
awaiting the Spirit promised by the Lord;
like them, let us listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God.
Let us meditate on how many great deeds
God in times past did for his people
and let us pray that the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father sent as the first fruits for those who believe,
may bring to perfection his work in the world.

As with the introduction to the readings at the Easter Vigil, the Bishop or priest celebrant directs the people to “listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God.” And also, he invites the faithful “to meditate on how many great deeds God in times past did for his people […].” The Word announces the paschal mystery of Christ, and on this day the completion of that mystery with the sending of the Holy Spirit. So, we hear the word at this extended form of the Vigil with confidence that this same Holy Spirit “may bring to perfection his work in the world.”

There are four readings proposed in the Roman Missal for the extended form of the Vigil Mass, along with the response and the prayer to follow each one. The recent publication in English of the Supplement to the Lectionary for Mass (2017) provides the complete text of each of these readings and their responses. These readings and their response as found in the Supplement were added to the Order of Readings for Mass since its last edition in 1981 and with the publication of the new edition of the Missal with its extended form of the Vigil for Pentecost.

The four readings and their response are:

  • Genesis 11, 1-9, on the Tower of Babel, followed by Psalm 33;
  • Exodus 19, 3-8a, 16-20b, on God’s Descent on Mount Sinai, followed by Daniel 3 or Psalm 19;
  • Ezekiel 37, 1-14, on the dry bones and God’s spirit, followed by Psalm 107;
  • Joel 3, 1-5, on the outpouring of the Spirit, followed by Psalm 105.

Each of these selected readings illustrate a longing for the promised Holy Spirit among God’s people. They are heard in the same way, as already noted, “after the example of the Apostles and disciples, who with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, persevered in prayer, awaiting the Spirit promised by the Lord.” The prayers that follow tease out from the biblical text the present hope for the work of the same Spirit in our time.

The first reading at the extended celebration of the Pentecost Vigil describes the Tower of Babel (here depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, d.1569), where “the Lord confused the speech of all the world.” The Spirit will undo Babel’s tragedy, allowing all peoples to hear the Apostles—the Church—“in his native language” (Acts 2:6).

The readings are carried out in the same manner familiar to us from the Easter Vigil with all of them proclaimed at the ambo by a reader. The psalmist or cantor, likewise from the ambo in most cases, sings the response and the people answer. The prayer that follows is offered by the Bishop or priest celebrant from the chair with everyone standing. The prayer follows the usual pattern with silence following the Let us pray. It is always possible to replace the sung response to the reading with a period of silence.

After the reading from Genesis, for example, the Bishop or priest prays:

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that your Church may always remain that holy people,
formed as one by the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
which manifests to the world
the Sacrament of your holiness and unity
and leads it to the perfection of your charity.
Through Christ our Lord.

After the reading from Exodus and its response, the Bishop or priest prays:

O God, who in fire and lightning
gave the ancient Law to Moses on Mount Sinai
and on this day manifested the new covenant
in the fire of the Spirit;
grant, we pray,
that we may always be aflame with that same Spirit
whom you wondrously poured out on your Apostles,
and that the new Israel,
gathered from every people,
may receive with rejoicing
the eternal commandment of your love.
Through Christ our Lord.

After the reading from Ezekiel and its response, the Bishop or priest prays one of three possible prayers, the first of which says:

Lord, God of power,
who restore what has fallen
and preserve what you have restored;
increase, we pray, the peoples
to be renewed by the sanctification of your name,
that all who are washed clean by holy Baptism,
may always be directed by your prompting.
Through Christ our Lord.

And after the reading from Joel and its response, the Bishop or priest prays:

Fulfill for us your gracious promise,
O Lord, we pray, so that by his coming
the Holy Spirit may make us witnesses before the world
to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

These prayers suggest a way to hear the Word of God and to understand more fully the response given to it. In the case of this vigil for Pentecost, the prayers orient the prayer of the people to anticipate the promised power and gift of the Holy Spirit on this Fiftieth Day of Easter. After the fourth reading, the sung Gloria follows. The Collect for the extended form of the Vigil Mass is the first option for the simple form.

Almighty ever-living God,
who willed the paschal mystery
to be encompassed as a sign in fifty days;
grant that from out of the scattered nations,
the confusion of many tongues
may be gathered by heavenly grace
into one great confession of your name.
Through our Lord.

Following the Collect, the proclamation of the word continues with the prescribed reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 8:22-27, followed by the given acclamation before the Gospel and the Vigil Gospel, John 7:37-39. These texts continue the theme of the four earlier biblical readings: waiting for the coming Holy Spirit.

Mass Continues as Usual

The Mass at this point continues in the usual way. The Preface for the Vigil Mass is the same as the Mass during the day. If First Vespers began the Vigil, then following the Communion Chant, the Magnificat and its proper antiphon are sung which is normative when an Hour is joined to Mass. A Solemn Blessing may be given with the choice coming from those indicated for this time in the section of blessings following the Order of Mass in the Roman Missal. At the Vigil of Pentecost, the dismissal of the people includes the proper chant with the double alleluia. For this dismissal, as with Easter and its octave there are only two forms.

In the Parish
It was not until last Pentecost 2016 that I had the opportunity to celebrate the extended form of the Vigil of Pentecost for the first time since it appeared in the new Roman Missal. On this occasion, the archdiocesan celebration in our Cathedral on the eve of Pentecost was at a later hour than the scheduled anticipated Mass. When the planners for that celebration met with me, I suggested the extended form of the Vigil and they were enthusiastic about it. So, we prepared for it according to the outline in the Roman Missal but without the addition of First Vespers. The sense of waiting and watching for the coming of the Holy Spirit was indeed palpable during the celebration. The years of experience with the Easter Vigil and its Liturgy of the Word made it rather easy for the people to enter into an experience of waiting and watching throughout the Liturgy of the Word of the extended Vigil of Pentecost. The homily was key in bringing together such a rich series of texts from the Sacred Scriptures and linking them with the other texts of the Mass and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The prayer before the readings at the Extended Vigil asks for the gift of the Spirit: “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the splendor of your glory may shine forth upon us, and that, by the bright rays of the Holy Spirit, the light of your light may confirm the hearts of those born again by your grace.”

We are already planning a similar celebration this year at the Cathedral and we are doing so with some things learned from our first time. The proclamation of the Word of God is always to receive great value in the celebration of the Liturgy. This especially is the case when the Word is the means of keeping vigil. Our hope is to carry out the Liturgy of the Word with a greater emphasis on reflection and meditation. The proper chants certainly guide the choice of liturgical music. However, this time around, our choice for chants and other hymns will have more of a sense of longing for the coming of the Holy Spirit than the event of Pentecost itself. I encourge pastors to consider the use of the extended form of the Vigil for Pentecost, especially in cathedrals and shrines, as a unique opportunity for Christians—as in centuries past—to assemble like Mary and the Apostles in prayer in the Upper Room, to expect again and anew the Father and the risen Son to send the Holy Spirit upon us, upon the whole Church, in 2017.

Father Gerald Dennis Gill

Father Gerald Dennis Gill

Father Dennis Gill, ordained a priest May 21, 1983, for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is currently the Rector and Pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Director of the Office for Divine Worship. He served as a parochial vicar at Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Warminster, and at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Southampton, both in PA. Father Gill completed his graduate studies in the Sacred Liturgy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of St. Anselmo in Rome. After his graduate studies he served a five-year term as the Director of Liturgy at the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City State. He has been and continues as a professor of Sacred Liturgy at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He lectures on the Sacred Liturgy throughout the country and recently published the book, Music in Catholic Liturgy: A Pastoral and Theological Companion to Sing to the Lord. He is currently working on a book, Ars Celebrandi: An Artful and Careful Celebration of the Eucharist, for Hillenbrand Books.