Pentecost, literally translating to “the fiftieth day” occurs 50 days after Easter (or on the Sunday after the 50th day) and is the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Jesus foretells of the Holy Spirit’s arrival: “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (Jn. 14:26).
There are various images associated with this Feast day, but have you ever meditated on “Pentecost” by Jean II Restout? This image,painted in 1732 for the refectory of the Abbey of Saint-Denis (outside of Paris), currently resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris. This original of this ginormous artwork – 183” x 306 ¼” – contained an arch on top, with a dove painted in center, symbolizing the descent of the Holy Spirit. The streams of light that are shining upon Mary and the Apostles originate from this dove.
The first reading for Pentecost Sunday beautifully illustrates what is occurring the Restout’s image:
“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”Acts 2: 1-4
The most striking part of this piece is the Blessed Mother standing victoriously on the table. The reactions of the apostles are realistic enough to not catch the eye right away, however Mary’s overwhelming peace and openness to the situation, as well as her position in the dead center of the painting, immediately draw the eye in. This humble acceptance of the Advocate not only symbolizes her immaculate conception, but also pay homage to her role as spouse to the Holy Spirit (this title symbolizes her unique relationship with the Trinity, see this Catholic Answers post for a more detailed explanation).
For me, it seems as if Mary is saying “at last!” She knew of Jesus’ true nature since the Annunciation – Gabriel tells Mary in Scripture that Jesis is Son of God, Luke 1:26-35 – and endured the great sorrow of watching her Son be brutally beaten, mocked, and then nailed upon a cross. Her great faith carried her through God’s plan, and in Restout’s painting, we are witnessing her reunion with her Son through the Holy Spirit. One can only fathom the depths of her rejoicing, and hope to partake in that same rejoicing, God-willing, in Heaven.
May this image call you to contemplate the peace and strength of Mary; the same peace and strength that we each are able to enter into whenever we call upon the Holy Spirit through the gift of our Baptism and Confirmation. This Pentecost, may we each reflect on the wonder of this moment and allow the Holy Spirit to overflow our hearts with the joy of the paschal mystery.