On Pentecost Sunday nine years ago, I saw thousands of beautiful red rose petals gently fall from the enormous oculus of the Roman Pantheon. A group of fire fighters scaled the oldest building in the world still in regular use, and made these petals fall down as a gentle rain over the faithful after the final blessing of Mass. It was appropriate for fire fighters to do this, Pentecost is their feast day.
This spectacular and little known annual tradition started in 609 AD, and it represents the coming down of the Holy Spirit over the apostles as tongues of fire in the Upper Room. Raising my head to see the petals against the bright light of the oculus, the fluttering petals appeared to be on fire. Audible gasps of amazement rose from the gathered crowd as the petals descended.
Saint Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, France over 1800 years ago, wrote that the Holy Spirit is like the water that turns scattered dry flour into a lump of dough. This is a very simple and beautiful image that stands the test of time. The Holy Spirit is that moisture that brings together every bit of flour and turns it into one loaf of bread. Flour scatters all over the place, making a mess. Nothing keeps one particle of flour together with another, but this changes immediately when you add a bit of water or perhaps an egg if you are making pasta.
At times the Holy Spirit is trivialized when portrayed as a cute dove or a cut-out flame of fire, yet the Holy Spirit is God among us. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive our faith, and through the Spirit that we do all things. As Saint Paul wrote, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is our helper and guide, our advocate who pleads our cause. The Holy Spirit takes the little we can offer God and multiplies it. Alone we can do very little or nothing, but when we act in the Spirit, we can do great and amazing things. The Holy Spirit unites all into one mission and allows us to achieve great things for the glory of God.
In the same manner that the rose petals gently fell on all the gathered faithful, the Holy Spirit has been sent by the Father over all his children. In the Second Eucharistic Prayer the priest prays to the Father, “make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.” The Holy Spirit gently falls over all in order to transform all, drawing all to the Father. My experience at the Pantheon nine years ago gave me a beautiful visual experience of the Holy Spirit coming down over all of God’s children. As the red petals rested upon the heads of the faithful, they became a tangible reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.
Picture used with permission, original here