‘The word “Comforter”, used in earlier versions of the Bible to describe the office of the Holy Spirit, has changes its meaning. In doing so, it has given us a false picture, at the back of our minds, about the switch-over from Ascension Day to Whitsunday. We think of the Apostles as bereaved of their Master and needing consolation; we almost think of it, heaven help us, a pis aller. That is not what our Lord says. “It is better for you that I should go away; he who is to befriend you will not come to you unless I do go; but if only I make my way there, I will send him to you”. The Ascension is represented as a means to an end; the end, eminently desirable, is the comforting or strengthening of the Apostles to fulfil their world-mission. Consolation does not enter into the picture at all.
In reality, we ought not to think of Ascension Day and Whitsunday as two separate feasts celebrating two separate events. Only one event is in question, the sending of a Divine embassy and its successful accomplishment, with an interval of nine days' prayer, the first and greatest of all novenas.
Why must our Lord be taken up before the Holy Spirit can come down? It is not for us to ask: we only know it was part of the Divine plan. Was? Or is? In this world of probation, God does not want things to be made too easy for us; we are not to be spoon-fed. The disciples must be weaned away from their dependence upon the visible, tangible presence of their Master, must learn to stand, Spirit-filled, on their own feet. And we, when prayer seems difficult, are not to conclude that God has taken away his Holy Spirit from us. Rather, our Lord has gone away so as to send the Holy Spirit to us, insensibly present, yet life-giving. And even, on a more human plane, when we lose those we loved - is it possible we are being comforted?'
from Lightning Meditations, 1959, by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit:
grant to us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr Lee Kenyon