Woven red flames

POST BY PGallagher

A single flame in the darkness
A single flame - Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash

The red vestments of Pentecost first remind us of the flames in which the Holy Spirit descended.  In the  Acts (2.3) we hear: Tongues as of fire appeared among them and a flame rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them the ability. The red cloth the sanctuary on the Feast of Pentecost is a sign of the glowing fire of the Holy Spirit rendering all of us stronger in our faith and able to express it to others more clearly and persuasively. The woven flames flickering near the altar remind us that the Sacrifice of Christ speaks to everyone in a way which is comprehensible and applicable to life.  The Holy Spirit ensures that the teaching of Jesus is not obscure to us.  We know that the Spirit is present when we have clarity ourselves. The Holy Spirit also delights us by enabling others, including people very different from ourselves, to have the same, new, vivid understanding of the truths which Christ came to communicate. There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit.

The flames are emblems of bright and vibrant comprehension not only because of the light which they shed but also because of their purifying power.  The fire of the Holy Spirit can destroy what is obstructive to our happy relationship with God. When someone understands, really understands, the teaching of Jesus, Crucified and Risen, and allows Him to transform their life then there is quite a lot of scorching away. There is a fiery removal of what in our life is now seen to be burdensome or sinful or mistaken.

Let the coming of the Holy Spirit cleanse our consciences.  This old prayer is based on the Letter to the Hebrews (9.14). How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from useless activity in order that we may worship the living God.  The red of Pentecost is the flames of the Holy Spirit and also the Blood of our Saviour, purifying and cleansing, sanctifying and saving.  The same idea is in the Golden Sequence of Pentecost:

Come Holy Spirit.
Cleanse that which is unclean.
Bend that which is inflexible.
Fire that which is chilled.
Correct what has gone astray.

An offertory prayer makes the point in this way: May the Holy Spirit prepare our minds to receive Holy Communion since the Spirit Himself is the remission of all sins.  The fiery redness on the sanctuary today speaks to us of a message from God which can be understood by all and which concerns, above all, forgiveness and our becoming holy.

Do we think of the Holy Spirit as a source of goodness for us? Surely His gifts include virtues and moral strengths of all kinds? Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord help us to live as we should.  Often some preliminary work is needed if we are to be enabled to possess virtue and holiness.  The Holy Spirit is involved throughout the project.  He is the Sanctifier, certainly, but also the Purifier who carries away the rubbish which might prevent our loving God properly.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven.

We sometimes call the Holy Spirit ‘the Advocate’.  He appears for the defence. He prompts us to act and speak so that we will be judged favourably.  His advocacy is on behalf of sinners. However the Holy Spirit does not merely put the best face on a sorry situation.  The Spirit helps us to make that which He defends truly defensible. Under the influence of the Spirit, our life can become not merely excusable but even admirable.  The Holy Spirit shows us how to turn the bad into the good, and the good into the better.

Remember the significance of those Pentecost flames.  They made the apostles comprehensible to everyone.  The Good News of Jesus Christ can be understood be all.   The Holy Spirit has depths which we can be all the time plumbing and discovering more about. However the essence is accessible to everyone.  The vivid redness around the altar today proclaims the impact of the Spirit. 

Red strikes those who might miss some duller, softer colour.  The flames illuminate. The redness is also the Blood of Christ.  The great Mystery of our salvation is our being washed clean by the Blood of Jesus. The flames illuminate this truth which we grasp so gratefully. The Blood speaks clearly.  There is a universal language of suffering.  Everyone knows pain, their own or that of someone dear to them.  There is the suffering also of strangers about which we learn every day. The pains of those in war-zones explains itself to us. The suffering of those affected by air accidents is vivid to us.  We see with clarity the sorrows of those caught up in terrorism or famine.  There is plenty of trouble in the world. We quickly grasp the colour of suffering.

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

Our own worries and problems, uncomplainingly as we may describe them, loom bloodily enough in our life.  The red of Pentecost is the colour of fire and blood and martyrdom.  Redness speaks of suffering.   The universal language of suffering is accompanied by another universal language of joy.   Happiness is also vivid.  The smile is on our lips. Laughter is full-throated.  The loving gesture brightens our life.  Delight is everywhere.  The Blood of Christ is a gory stain on the earth but also a painting of the town red.

The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Risen Lord.  Jesus’ glorious, risen Body was marked by His wounds.  The Cross persists into the Resurrection.  Life not only precedes death, it follows it. We are renewed and transformed at this red Mass.  The fiery colour is the bright light dawning of our Easter faith in new life and eternal happiness with God. The woven red flames flicker around the altar.  We are warmed and illuminated by the offering to God of bread and wine, prompted by grace, and His offering in return the Body and Blood of His Son. Both offerings – the Lord’s and ours - are made ‘in the Holy Spirit’.  On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gives us the wisdom to assimilate what can be understood and felt by us in times of suffering and at moments of joy. We who are nourished by the body and blood if the Son of God are filled with Holy Spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ.

Peter Gallagher SJ