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a Pentecostal Reflection

Mary, Queen of the Apostles by Jan Joest van Kalkar, Quatrocento


It is perhaps a forgotten or simply ignored fact that Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, Bride of Christ, concludes a period of mourning.

The Church and the Second Creation

The yearly celebration of Pentecost marks the cyclical return of the moment the Holy Ghost descends on the apostles and all present and subsequent followers, enabling them to participate in the will and intelligence of the Lord. This is an unprecedented event in the history of the faith and in the history of humanity. It initiated a new order of things and marked the beginning of the Second Creation, which succeeds the first creation, which fell and became subject to sin and the law. The Second Creation is free of sin and the law. The story of its genesis sheds light on the nature of its substance and the substance of its freedom from sin.

Manifest History and Spirituality

To grasp the superb design of the Biblical testament and its truth, we would be best served by abandoning the idea of mere spirituality, soothsaying stories, and superstitious religious ideas in general. Spirituality and religion that don’t interpret the material dimension, nor organize it into a system of values, historic teleology, and manifest reality aren’t worth anything. A system of thought and values like the Judeo-Christian one, which has commanded world events over the last five thousand years isn’t mere superstition, religion, or spirituality. But to grasp the power of its bequest we would do best to position it in its proper temporal, material and historical context as the text itself defines it.

The event of the descent of the spirit takes place exactly forty nine days after the Crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Mourning between Tradition and Modern Psychoanalysis

Traditionally, the official mourning period is forty days. Though the number may be symbolic, it’s also concrete in the division of the year into weeks, which still follows the first seven days of creation, and the annual recurrence of the mourning period after Easter. Prescriptive rules about mourning aren’t there to force neurotics to perform compulsive acts of whaling and mourning, as Freud and anthropologists disdainfully believed, but an important period for the group and individual mental organization.

During the period of mourning the mind engages in highly productive activities and generates an imago that from then on will dominate the libidinal life of the mourner and organize their perceived environment. When he was more reflective and less anthropologically fashionable, Freud observed a period of latency (non-manifest psychological processes that are imperceptible but active at a fundamental level) in the wake of mourning that endows the entire world of the mourner with meaning.

In the individual development of the human psyche, this is the period following the dissolution of the Oedipal complex, when the child accepts the limits to its sexuality, namely that the mother and father are debarred from providing sexual satisfaction and with them, all representatives of the child’s own sex. This is a crucial moment in the development of the psyche, since without it the child will fail to build necessary emotional attachments to its environment and may be threatened with mental degenerative diseases. The child must learn that sexual satisfaction is only provided by an appropriate object in the future and for the specific purpose of producing an heir like him or herself.

The latency period, as Freud called it, is a mourning period that lasts several years until the psyche matures enough to seek love objects outside the family. It begins when the child accomplishes the important task of giving up instinctual satisfaction and renouncing its parents as sexual objects. This important period builds the entire world of the individual and imbues it with its specific and quite unique characteristics. Every future experience the individual gains will refer to this bedrock of reality. The future partner will likely be chosen from a similar symbolic order.

The King-Maker

What is true for the individual is also true for large epochal and historical formations and phenomena. Pentecost likewise commemorates the establishment and continual growth of both the Church and every individual follower of Christ as a creature of mourning. The Second Creation is ex maeroris.

The prototype for this event in the Old Testament is the conception, birth, and life of Samuel the King-Maker. Anna conceives literally “ex multitudine doloris et maeroris” foreshadowing the Immaculate Conception, the Second Creation, and the birth of the Church from a period of mourning. As with the founding event of Pentecost, the task of mourning is the conception of a King-maker, a divinely appointed figure endowed with power over the kings and kingdoms of the earth. Taken at its most abstract, this power echoes the centrality of the world the child psyche erects in the wake of its renunciation of instinctive satisfaction. From the founding event of Pentecost onward, historical, political, and discursive power will derive from the act of renouncing the body of the first creation and its instinctual needs, symbolically represented by the Crucifix.

Pentecost: The Mourning Period from the Crucifixion to the Birth of the Church

The Holy Ghost is likewise a product of the work of mourning. Christ’s apostles and followers, especially the women, his mother, her sister, and the Magdalen, engage in the work of mourning during the forty days following the Crucifixion. It is important that His nearest accomplish the work, not strangers. Love, libidinal currency, is the driving psychological reality principle of the process. Mourning is intimately related to love. It is the response of the bereaved psyche to the death of the beloved.

Death is not simply absence. Those who depart on long journeys are also absent, but not dead. Death takes away our agency in the world, which is why the mourning period is so important for the preservation and curation of human remains. The mourning period isn’t just a superstitious ritual, but a crucial period during which the dead continue to have agency through the bereaved they have left behind.

Christ appears numerous times to the eleven disciples and to the women teaching them how to build the Church as they begin to draw multitudes. It is in the wake of his death that they learn to act on His behalf and to enact His will and legacy in the world. We participate in their work as we return to this crucial period cyclically.

Second Creation

The nine days from His Ascension to Pentecost add the week of Second Creation ex maeroris, which is two days longer than the 7 days of original creation because they include the day of Crucifixion and of the Black Sabbath, during which Christ descends to the realm of the dead to gather the heathens and non-believers He grants salvation.

On Sunday of Easter, when Christ appears to the Magdalen and commands her not to touch him, the work of the Second Creation, from mourning, that is, in the physical absence of His agency, begins. A lack of agency characterizes the Second Creation. It is a work of love and mourning. This is why I claim that Christianity is the religion of mourning. Mortification of the flesh is an essential part of the faith.

Consciousness of Mediated Reality

This is a decisive moment in the history of human civilization, when we begin to explore mediated reality, the materially manifest dimension of distance and the distant and their ability to remain active in the world through our love. Now we understand why the commandment to love is the highest. It participates in the work of mourning that enacts the will of the absent dead. It is different from following the commandments of the dead in that it is voluntary work of love, charity. The work of mourning is essential in the arts of mastering spacial and temporal distance.

Mourning isn’t merely a response to the death of someone near, but can be triggered by any kind of loss that takes away agency. It is a process of mortification of the immediate needs of the flesh, a separation from the instinctual body that repeats the original process of the birth and formation of the psyche in the course of individuation that takes place between mother, father & child.

Renunciation and the Bride

The renunciation of instinct is a kind of sublation of it and not a direct repression. When we renounce instinct, we don’t abandon it, but to the contrary, we bring it to work on behalf of the higher bidding of immaterial love in mourning.

The Church is called the Bride of Christ. The concluding event of the Bible and the final book of Revelations is the Marriage of the Lamb to the Body of the Church, the body of saints united in holy communion. The divine comedy reenacts the events of a human lifetime. As man is made in the image of God, so is his biography a copy of the divine biography or history as we know it.

Human development requires the child abandon and renounce its instinctual bond to the parents and replace it with the marriage partner. The frame for the choice of marriage partner, which guarantees a healthy covenantal relationship, is constructed during the latency period of mourning. That is the period we are in historically in relation to the Church and Her Bridegroom. History itself is a period of latency that culminates in the union and covenantal relationship to the Lord.

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