By: Maria Von Trapp
In the weeks between Easter and the Ascension there are four days set aside where the Church has her children go out into the fields and pastures chanting the litany of All Saints and asking God's blessing for a good harvest and as protection against hailstorms, floods, and droughts. One day is the feast of St. Mark, April 25th, and the other three days are called "Rogation Days" and are the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding the Ascension, which always falls on a Thursday. We always make these outdoor processions up on our mountain. The very first hue of green is appearing in the meadows, the birds are singing in the woods again, and the whole atmosphere is one of spring and hope.
By: Maria Von Trapp
On Ascension Day begin the nine days of waiting and preparing, together with the Apostles and Mary, the coming of the Holy Ghost. These are the days when families should discuss the "Gifts of the Holy Ghost" and the "Fruits of the Holy Ghost" evening after evening. As I look back over the years I marvel at how different these discussions were every year, always full of surprises, partly because there were different people participating--guests of the family or new friends of the children--who do not ordinarily hear the workings of the "Gifts of the Holy Ghost" discussed around the family table. We devote one whole evening to each one of the gifts.
First is the Gift of Knowledge, offered to help us in our dealings with inanimate and animate created nature, with things and people. It teaches us to make use of them wisely, and to refrain from what is dangerous for us. As we consider a typical day, we discover that this gift is needed from the very moment of awakening, when we have to part from the created thing "bed." The younger ones discover that the Gift of Knowledge helps them to remember that they have to make use of such created things as the toothbrush and the shower. In fact, there is hardly a moment of the day in which we do not have to make decisions about using something or dealing with somebody, and when we do not need the immediate help from the Holy Spirit to carry us safely through the day.
The second evening is devoted to the Gift of Understanding, which is extended to us for the understanding, with mind and heart, of revealed truth as we find it in Holy Scripture and the liturgy, and in the breviary. This gift we need for our hours of prayer and meditation. It fulfills the Lord's promise: "The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things" (John 14:26).
The third evening is devoted to the Gift of Counsel, which helps us to distinguish, in every moment of our life, what is the will of God. This gift we also need when someone turns to us for advice. It is most necessary to parents and teachers, priests, and all persons in authority. But above all it should help us to make the right choices in everyday life--even in such minor matters as "Should I do my homework now or later? Should I see this movie or not?"
The Gift of Fortitude helps us to overcome our own will. This may start with such seemingly small matters as jumping out of bed the moment we had intended to do so; with giving up smoking or candies and cookies for certain times; with keeping silence when we might have a sharp answer ready; with doing little things for others at the cost of our own comfort; and it may lead to the ultimate test--aiding us in joining the thousands of contemporary martyrs who are called to lay down their life for God. Again, a gift that is needed throughout the day! The Gift of Piety does not sound particularly attractive, until we realize that it infuses our hearts with a special kind of love, directed toward everything belonging and related to God all persons consecrated to His service--the Holy Father in Rome, bishops and priests, missionaries, nuns, and lay brothers--and all things set aside for God only, such as church and altar, chalice and monstrance, vestments, and the sacramentals in our home--rosaries, holy water, medals. This precious gift also makes us eager to devote time to the service of God. It helps overcome morning laziness when it is time for Mass. It makes us want to visit our hidden God once in a while in church. In other words, it instills the interest for the supernatural in our souls. How could we do without it!
When we come to the Gift of the Fear of the Lord, there is always someone to raise the argument "This I don't understand. That is the spirit of the Old Testament, of the chosen people who were trembling before Jehovah so that they said to Moses, `You go up the mountain and talk with Him--we are afraid.' But the New Testament teaches us to say `Our Father,' and Our Lord says, `I don't call you servants any more, I call you friends!' One isn't afraid of one's father or one's friend! What do I need the Gift of Fear for?" It is then that something very tender and beautiful comes to light. If a person loves another one very much, you may often hear him say: "I'm afraid to wake him up, he needs his sleep"; or, "I'm afraid to disturb him." In other words, love is afraid to hurt the beloved one.
The Gift of Fear should lead us to a state of mind which makes us afraid to sin because it would hurt Him. The Gift of Wisdom, finally, seems to sum up all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as charity sums up all His fruits. If we ask throughout all our days for the other Gifts of the Holy Ghost and cooperate with them, if we examine our conscience every night about the use we made of them--wisdom will grow in our hearts. This wisdom has nothing to do with ordinary human intelligence, with knowledge learned in schools and from books. One doesn't even have to be able to read and write in order to become wise. Once in a while one meets an old lay brother or lay sister, an old farmer in the country, or some bedridden person, who may not be learned in the eyes of the world, but may impress us deeply by a true wisdom expressed in all simplicity.
At the end of the seventh day we have all renewed our conviction that we cannot lead a truly Christian life without the special aid of the Holy Ghost, that we have to ask for it as we start each day, and be faithful to it as we go through the day. Children, with the generosity of young hearts, are remarkably responsive to this suggestion. The eighth day of the novena is dedicated to the "Fruits of the Holy Ghost" as they are enumerated in St. Paul--especially the first three love, peace, and joy. On this day we always call to mind the admonition of one of our dearest friends, Reverend Father Abbot, to take the word of Our Lord literally, that "by their fruits thou shalt know them." In every individual soul, in every family or community we should watch whether the fruits are the fruits of the Holy Ghost, whether love, peace, and joy prevail. On the last day of the novena we meditate together on the two great hymns, "Veni, Sancte Spiritus" and "Veni, Creator Spiritus." Through our previous discussions, these texts are seen in a new light, and the repeated "Veni, veni" ("Come, Holy Ghost, come") really rises from longing hearts. And when, during High Mass on Pentecost Sunday, priest and community kneel down at the solemn text of the Gradual, "Veni, Sancte Spiritus," we feel the miracle of the first Pentecost repeated in our hearts, filled by the Holy Ghost in response to the intensity of our "Veni."
In the old country, ancient Pentecost customs are still alive. On the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday the young men go out with long whips, cracking them with special skill to produce a noise called "Pfingstschnalzen." This is followed by "Pfingstschiessen," done with the same ancient guns that are used for shooting on Easter and other festivities. In some valleys people walk barefoot up into the mountains through the dew, calling for the Holy Ghost. In the Alps, cattle decorated with wreaths and garlands are sent up to the high pastures, accompanied for a little way by most of the villagers. Many of the old churches throughout the Alps have a hole in the ceiling above the altar through which, on Pentecost Sunday, during High Mass the "Holy Ghost dove" is let down into the church. On Ascension Day, the statue of the Risen Lord is lifted on wires after the Gospel to disappear in the same opening, which brings the mystery of the day very close to all children, big and small. In some parishes the Risen Lord, at the end of the Mass, sends gifts down from heaven--apples and cookies and candies for the children, and flowers and green branches for the grownups, and everybody tries to take at least a leaf or a petal home. This brings us to the end of the holy Paschal season.
The octave day of Pentecost, known as Trinity Sunday, is dedicated to the Blessed Trinity. While in the first centuries the Easter Communion had to be received on Easter Sunday, the Church later extended "Easter Time," which now begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Trinity Sunday. Once a family has celebrated the year of the Church faithfully from the First Sunday in Advent, feasting and fasting together, until the fullness of the Holy Ghost crowns their efforts throughout the days of Pentecost, it will be a very happy family indeed. TO THEE, THE HOLY GHOST, WE NOW PRAY The text of this invocation of the Holy Spirit is by Berthold of Regensburg (d. 1272). The melody, inspired by the Gregorian "Veni Creator," goes back to the 13th century. Published in the oldest Catholic Hymn Book, of Michael Vehe, in 1537. Sing this hymn three times, each time a tone higher. To Thee, the Holy Ghost, we now pray, Firm of faith that we Thy will obey; When our hour comes, be Thou close beside us; Safely to our home with Thee above guide us. Kyrieleis.