Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Leo the Great

As the Father sent me, so I am sending you: receive the Holy Spirit.

Every Catholic knows that today’s solemnity ranks as one of the principal feasts of the Church. The reverence due to it is beyond all question, because this day is consecrated by the most sublime and wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.

Ten days after the Lord ascended high above the heavens to sit at the right hand of God the Father, and fifty days after his resurrection, on the very same day of the week as this joyful season began, the day of Pentecost has dawned upon us.

In itself the feast of Pentecost contains great mysteries relating to the old dispensation as well as to the new, signs which clearly show that grace was heralded by the law and the law fulfilled by grace.

Fifty days after the sacrifice of the lamb marking the deliverance of the Hebrews from the Egyptians, the law was given on Mount Sinai; and fifty days from the raising up of Christ after his passion and immolation as the true lamb of God, the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and assembled believers.

Thus the thoughtful Christian may easily perceive that the origin of the Old Testament laid the foundations of the gospel, and that the Spirit who was the author of the second covenant was the same Spirit who had established the first.

For as the apostles’ story testifies,

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (First Reading)

O how swift is the word of wisdom, and where God is master how quickly the lesson is learnt! One needs no interpretation in order to understand, no practice in order to gain facility, no time in order to study. 

“The Spirit of truth breathes where he will,” and each nation’s own language has become common property in the mouth of the Church.

And so, ever since that day, the clarion call of the gospel has rung out; since the day of Pentecost a rain of charisms, a river of blessings, has watered every desert and dry land, for the Spirit of God has swept over the waters to renew the face of the earth, and a blaze of new light has shone out to dispel our former darkness.

In the light of those flaming tongues the word of the Lord has shone out clearly, and a fiery eloquence has been enkindled which is charged with the energy to enlighten, the ability to create understanding, and the power to bum away sin and destroy it.

(Sermon 75,1-3: CCL 138A, 465-468)


Leo the Great (c.400-46l) was elected pope in 440. At a time of general disorder he did much to strengthen the influence of the Roman see. Although he was not a profound theologian, Leo’s teaching is clear and forceful. His Tome was accepted as a statement of Christological orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon (451). One hundred and forty-three of his letters and ninety-six sermons have survived. The latter cover the whole of the liturgical year.
 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson