A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture/LXXXIV. The Election of Matthias — Descent of the Holy Ghost

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A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture  (1910)  by Friedrich Justus Knecht
LXXXIV. The Election of Matthias — Descent of the Holy Ghost



Chapter LXXXIV.


[Acts 1, 12 to 2, 47.]

RETURNING from Mount Olivet on the day of the Ascension, the apostles repaired to the upper chamber, or supperroom, of the house in which they usually assembled. There they remained in prayer [1] for ten days, with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, several other holy women, and a great number of disciples, the number of persons being about one hundred and twenty.

During those ten days[2] of prayer, Peter, rising up, said it was necessary, according to the scripture which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas (Ps. 68, 26 and 108, 8), that a new apostle should be chosen in his stead, one of those “who had companied with us all the time[3] that the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us from the baptism of John until the day wherein He was taken up from us.” Two[4] of the disciples were then proposed: Joseph, called Barsabas, and Matthias. After praying [5] for light, from above, they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, who was numbered with the eleven apostles, and filled the place left vacant by the lamentable fall of Judas.

Ten days after the Ascension, the Jews celebrated the feast of Pentecost[6].

On that day the apostles were assembled[7] together, persevering in prayer, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing wind,[8] and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them parted tongues, as it were, of fire4, and it sat upon every one of them. And they were filled[9] with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak in divers tongues [10].

Now there were at that time in Jerusalem Jews from every nation under heaven, who had come for the celebration of the feast. These, having heard of what had taken place, hastened with a great number of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to the house wherein the apostles were assembled. Each one was astonished[11] to hear them speak in his own tongue. But some of the people mocked them, saying that they were full of new wine.

Then Peter, going forth from the house with the other apostles, lifted up his voice, and spoke: “These are not drunk, as you suppose, but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as you also know; Him you have crucified and put to death by the hands of wicked men. God hath raised Him up, whereof we all are witnesses. Being exalted therefore, by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath poured forth this which you see and hear[12]. Therefore, let all the house of Israel know most assuredly [13] that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified.”

The words of Peter had a divine power that penetrated all hearts, and many, repenting of their sins, asked Peter and the other apostles what they ought to do[14]. Peter said to them: “Do penance, and be baptized [15], every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” They received his words with joy, and, on that day, about three thousand persons were baptized.


The Divinity of Jesus Christ. Not only did Peter call Him ‘Lord’ (i. e. God), but they supplicated Him as One who is omniscient, and knows the hearts of all men. This shows us how living and real was the belief of the first Christians in our Lord’s Divinity.

Mary is especially mentioned as being one of those who were assembled together in expectation of the coming of the Holy Ghost. It was but natural that the early Christians should hold the Mother of Jesus in the highest honour.

The Primacy of Peter. We can see that St. Peter, immediately after our Lord’s Ascension, entered on his office of visible head of the Church. He declared in the presence of a hundred and twenty of the faithful that another apostle must be chosen in the place of Judas, and they did exactly as he told them, without seeing any pretension or arrogance in his thus putting himself forward; for they, one and all, knew that our Blessed Lord had appointed him to be the chief pastor of His Church.

Let us see what virtues were exercised by the apostles and disciples in the history of the election of Matthias, and in their conduct, while waiting for the coming of the Holy Ghost.

1. Obedience, for they obeyed our Lord’s command to remain in Jerusalem, until He should send the Holy Ghost.

2. Hope (and confidence), for they trusted the word of the Lord that He would send the Holy Ghost, although He had not told them at what time He would come.

3. Piety, for they prayed earnestly and perseveringly that the Holy Ghost might come.

4. Brotherly unity, for they kept together in unity of spirit.

The number ( twelve ) of the apostles (see also chapter XXXI). So significant was this number that the gap made by the apostasy of Judas had to be filled up before the Holy Ghost descended, and before the preaching of the apostles began.

Preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The earnest preparation made by the disciples for the Descent of the Holy Ghost ought to serve as an example of how we ought to prepare ourselves for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Holy Ghost was sent to the Church to maintain her in her threefold office, doctrinal, priestly and pastoral, and to impart to individual souls the graces won by Jesus Christ. He preserves the Church free from all error in the exercise of her doctrinal office, and blesses the preaching of the word of God, making it penetrate the hearts of men for the improvement of their lives. He works in the priestly office of the Church by bestowing grace through the holy Sacraments, and by thus enlightening, sanctifying and strengthening individual souls. He protects and governs her in her pastoral office by giving to her a supernatural vitality, so that the gates of hell cannot prevail against her.

The outward signs of inward graces. The effects of the Holy Ghost were signified by the outward signs which accompanied His coming. Fire, which enlightens, warms and purifies, and under the form of which He descended, was intended to show that the Holy Ghost inwardly illuminated the apostles (and through them the faithful) with the light of faith, inflamed their hearts with love, and purified them from sin. The gift of tongues proved that the Holy Ghost could make the uneducated apostles eloquent in speaking to the hearts of men. In the holy Sacraments also He makes use of outward and visible signs, by which He imparts inward and invisible graces and gifts.

The wonderful workings of the Holy Ghost were made manifest; i. in the apostles themselves, and 2. in the people.

1. The uneducated fishermen of Galilee, who had so often misunderstood our Lord, were suddenly illuminated, so that they were able to understand the great truths of the Christian Faith, and to expound the prophecies contained in Scripture. They, who had been so timid, were all at once filled with courage and holy zeal, and boldly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ, before thousands of people. Peter, who but a short time ago was afraid to confess his faith before a maid-servant, now openly preached faith in Him who was crucified and who had risen from the dead.

2. The very people who seven weeks before had cried out: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” were now impelled to believe in our Lord and repent of their share in His crucifixion, and were received by holy Baptism into His Church. So wonderfully can the Holy Ghost transform the hearts of men!

The effects and necessity of grace. How came it that the words of Peter made such an impression on his hearers? How came it that the Jews, who but a short time before cried out in their frenzy against our Blessed Lord: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” were suddenly converted and were ready meekly to do whatever the apostles prescribed? The reason was that the Holy Ghost, with whom Peter was filled, enlightened with His grace the understanding of those who heard his words, and moved their hearts and wills to believe and to do what was right. He enlightened the understanding of the unbelieving Jews by His grace, to enable them to believe in the Godhead of Jesus Christ, by means of His Resurrection and Ascension, by the Descent of the Holy Ghost and the gift of tongues. He moved their hearts to repent of their wickedness towards Jesus, for Scripture says: “They had compunction in their heart”; and He moved their wills to humbly ask the apostles: “Brethren, what shall we do?” This question of theirs proved that they desired to do what was right, and they proved their good intention by doing penance and being baptized. If the Holy Ghost had not enlightened and moved the hearts of the hearers, St. Peter’s discourse would have borne no fruit.

Resistance to grace. All the assembled Jews were witnesses of the gift of tongues, all heard the mighty, rushing sound, and all heard St. Peter’s inspired discourse; but not all were baptized, some remaining obstinate and satirical. These men resisted grace, because they hated Jesus and were resolved not to believe in Him.

Pentecost (fifty days after Easter). In the liturgy of the Church the season of Pentecost lasts till the end of the ecclesiastical year, in the same way that the workings of the Holy Ghost abide in the Church, and will abide till the end of time.

The meaning of Pentecost. The Jewish Pentecost, as explained in Old Test. XXXVI, was a type of the Christian Pentecost. The object of the Jewish feast was to remind the people of the giving and writing on stone of the Ten Commandments upon Mount Sinai. The Christian Whit-Sunday, or Pentecost, is to remind us that God the Holy Ghost came down on the Church, and inscribed the law of love on the hearts of the faithful. The Jewish Pentecost was also the harvest festival, on which the first-fruits of the harvest were offered to God. The Christian Pentecost is also a harvest festival, though in a much higher sense, for on that day the apostles, as their Lord had commanded them (chapter LXXXI), came forward openly to teach and to baptize, and by the assistance of the Holy Ghost reaped a rich harvest, converting and baptizing three thousand on that one day. Whit-Sunday may well be called the birthday of God’s holy Church, because 1. it was upon that day that the Holy Ghost came down on the Church to remain with her and assist her in her threefold office till the end of time, and 2. because on that day the Church was first openly made manifest, and won several thousands of souls for Christ. The seed of corn, watered by the Holy Ghost, sprang up, and began to spread itself.

What aspect did the Church bear in those days? She appeared as a visible body of believers, gifted and governed by the Holy Ghost, with Peter as her visible head. And for what end was she made manifest among men? To bring them salvation by the preaching of the faith and the administration of the Sacraments.

The Primacy. On Whit-Sunday Peter came forward as the supreme head of the Church. As chief pastor, he was the first to preach and to bring the sheep into the fold.

Proofs of the Divinity of Jesus Christ were drawn by Peter 1. from His Resurrection, when he said: “That God hath raised Jesus from the dead, we all (apostles and disciples) are witnesses”, and not one of the unbelieving Jews ventured to contradict this assertion, or to deny our Lord’s Resurrection; 2. from His Ascension into heaven, where He sitteth at the right hand of God; and 3. by His sending down the Holy Ghost; for were Jesus not God, He could not have sent forth the Holy Spirit.

All sins are remitted by Baptism. St. Peter declares this in his exhortation to his hearers: “Be baptized for the remission of your sins.”

The following prophecies were fulfilled by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost: 1. That of Joel 2, 28; 2. that of Jeremias: “I will give My law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31, 33. 34; Old Test. LXXV); 3. that of Ezechiel: “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezech. 37, 13. 14; Old Test. LXXV); 4. that of our Lord Himself: “I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth” (John 14, 16. 17; New Test. LXVI).

The gift of tongues bestowed by the Holy Ghost on the Apostles was a great marvel. Why was this wonderful gift bestowed? 1. To enable the apostles to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and in all languages. 2. To signify that, by the preaching of the Gospel, all men of all nations and languages were to be bound together in one family and one universal Catholic Church. (For the contrast between the gift of tongues at Pentecost, and the confusion of tongues of Babel see Old Test. VIII.) The gift of tongues was often bestowed during the first Christian centuries, so as to facilitate the rapid spreading of the Faith; but once the Faith had been spread by means of miracles, and sealed by the blood of martyrs, the gift of tongues became more rare. It has, however, never entirely ceased in the Church, for St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Francis Xavier, and others possessed this wonderful gift.

Application. How happy were the first Christians to have Mary in their midst, praying with them, interceding for them, and supporting them by her merits. Share their happiness! Ask her intercession, and implore her to present your petitions at the throne of God. You will pray far more humbly and confidently, if you obtain the intercession of Mary.

How immeasurably great is the love of our God! Not only did He give His only-begotten Son for us, but He also sent the Holy Ghost to remain with us till the end of time. Just think how many graces both the Church and individuals owe to the Holy Ghost! Whenever you say the third glorious mystery of the Rosary, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, thank God with all your heart for this priceless gift.

Most of you have received the Holy Ghost in the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and Confirmation. Have you kept Him in your hearts, or driven Him from you? It would be a terrible sin to drive away the Holy Ghost from us. St. Paul says (Eph. 4, 30): “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God!” Do not resist His grace! Obey His inspirations! Thank Him for all the precious gifts which He has bestowed on you, and pray to Him daily to enlighten and govern you. “Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful” &c.

The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth: the evil spirit is the spirit of lies. Which of the two governs your life? Whom do you obey? Whenever you tell lies you obey the devil, who is the father of lies, and you “grieve the Holy Ghost”. Hold, therefore, to the truth, for it is shameful and sinful to tell lies. St. Augustine says that we may not tell a lie, even if by the lie we could save a man’s life.

  1. In prayer. All exciting in their hearts the same desire for the Holy Ghost, and the same confidence that the promise of His Coming would be fulfilled.
  2. Ten days. Between our Lord’s Ascension and the Day of Pentecost.
  3. All the time. In other words, one who had known our Lord and been with Him during His public life, for he had to be, equally with the other apostles, a witness to the words and actions of our Lord, and especially to His Resurrection.
  4. Two. Who, in the opinion of all present, had the necessary qualifications for the apostleship. However, as the call to be an apostle could only proceed from our Lord Himself, they prayed to Him to decide by lot and show them which of the two He had chosen.
  5. After praying. “Thou, Lord”, they prayed, “who knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two Thou hast chosen!” The “Lord”, to whom they thus prayed, was our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, of whom St. Peter had just been speaking.
  6. Pentecost. About this feast see Old Test. XXXIX. This year it fell on the first day of the week, Sunday.
  7. Assembled. In the same upper chamber which has been mentioned before.
  8. Of fire. These cloven tongues had the appearance of fire, but it was no natural fire.
  9. Filled. They now received the Holy Ghost with all the fulness of His grace and gifts: before this they had only received single and isolated gifts, such, for example, as the priesthood and the power to forgive sins.
  10. In drvers tongues. Up to that moment each had been able to speak only his own native language. The Holy Ghost imparted to them the marvellous gift of being able to speak various languages which they had never learnt.
  11. Astonished. “What meaneth this?” they said one to another. They felt that what was occurring before their eyes could not be anything natural.
  12. Which you see and hear. You can recognise the action of the Holy Ghost by its effects, by our courage and inspiration, and by the miracle of the gift of tongues.
  13. Most assuredly. For it is proved by His Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Descent of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus is “the Christ", i. e. the promised Messias, and “the Lord”, i. e. the Son of God, of whom David prophesied: “The Lord said to my Lord: sit Thou at My right hand & c.”
  14. They ought to do. They were confounded and horrified by the thought that they had killed the Messias, sent by God. They now addressed the apostles, whom they had despised, as “brethren”, anxiously asking them: “What shall we do, men and brethren?” i. e. what shall we do to make amends for the evil we have done, and to avert God’s judgments from us?
  15. Be baptized. Not with John’s baptism, but with the baptism instituted by Christ. By this baptism you shall receive forgiveness of your sins, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.