Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Beginning of the Church

Attributed to Giotto di Bondone 1266/7 - died 1337
about 1306-12
Tempera on poplar
45.5 x 44 cm
The National Gallery, London

It is probable that this scene was the last of the seven scenes from the Life of Christ that formed part of a long rectangular altarpiece, painted on a single plank of wood.

The altarpiece may have been made for a Franciscan church at Rimini or Sansepolcro

The other six scenes are:

the 'Nativity with Epiphany' (Metropolitan Museum, New York);
the 'Presentation in the Temple' (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston);
the 'Last Supper' and the 'Crucifixion' (both Alte Pinakothek, Munich);
the 'Entombment' (Berenson Collection, Settignano); and
the 'Descent into Limbo' (Alte Pinakothek, Munich).

The Talk of Pope Benedict XVI in Saint Peter's Square on Pentecost Sunday, 27 May 2007:

"Today, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, in which the liturgy has us relive the birth of the Church, according to what St Luke narrates in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (2: 1-13).

Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended on the community of disciples - "with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" - gathered with "Mary, the mother of Jesus" and with the Twelve Apostles (cf. Acts 1: 14; 2: 1).

We can therefore say that the Church had its solemn beginning with the descent of the Holy Spirit.

In this extraordinary event we find the essential and qualifying characteristics of the Church: the Church is one, like the community at Pentecost, who were united in prayer and "concordant": "were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4: 32).

The Church is holy, not by her own merits, but because, animated by the Holy Spirit, she keeps her gaze on Christ, to become conformed to him and to his love.

The Church is catholic, because the Gospel is destined for all peoples, and for this, already at the beginning, the Holy Spirit made her speak all languages.

The Church is apostolic, because, built upon the foundation of the Apostles, she faithfully keeps their teaching through the uninterrupted chain of episcopal succession.

What is more, the Church by her nature is missionary, and from the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit does not cease to move her along the ways of the world to the ends of the earth and to the end of time.

This reality, which we can verify in every epoch, is already anticipated in the Book of Acts, where the Gospel passage from the Hebrews to the pagans, from Jerusalem to Rome, is described.

Rome represents the pagan world, and hence, all people who are outside of the ancient People of God. Actually, Acts concludes with the arrival of the Gospel to Rome.

It can be said, then, that Rome is the concrete name of catholicity and missionary spirit, it expresses fidelity to the origins, to the Church of all times, to a Church that speaks all languages and extends herself to all cultures"

Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes (December 7, 1965) :

"4...Christ sent from the Father His Holy Spirit, who was to carry on inwardly His saving work and prompt the Church to spread out. Doubtless, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified.

Yet on the day of Pentecost, He came down upon the disciples to remain with them forever (cf. John 14:16).

The Church was publicly displayed to the multitude, the Gospel began to spread among the nations by means of preaching, and there was presaged that union of all peoples in the catholicity of the faith by means of the Church of the New Covenant, a Church which speaks all tongues, understands and accepts all tongues in her love, and so supersedes the divisiveness of Babel.

For it was from Pentecost that the "Acts of the Apostles" took again, just as Christ was - conceived when the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary, and just as Christ was impelled to the work of His ministry by the same Holy Spirit descending upon Him while He prayed.

Now, the Lord Jesus, before freely giving His life for the world, did so arrange the Apostles' ministry and promise to send the Holy Spirit that both they and the Spirit might be associated in effecting the work of salvation always and everywhere.

Throughout all ages, the Holy Spirit makes the entire Church "one in communion and in ministering; He equips her with various gifts of a hierarchical and charismatic nature," a giving life, soul - like, to ecclesiastical institutions and instilling into the hearts of the faithful the same mission spirit which impelled Christ Himself.

Sometimes He even visibly anticipates the Apostles' acting, just as He unceasingly accompanies and directs it in different ways."