Jean-Jacques OLIER (1608-1657), founder of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice, was always enamored of the great solemnity of Pentecost. Indeed, as a mark of importance for his foundation of a seminary to train diocesan priests, he commissioned the favorite artist of King Louis XIV, Charles LeBrun (1619-1690, pictured below), to paint the scene to hang prominently in the sanctuary of the seminary chapel. There it would serve as a daily reminder that the purpose of becoming a priest was for a sacred mission, to go forth, filled with the Holy Spirit, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ with courage and conviction.
This famous painting dating from 1665-1668 now hangs in the chapel of the Sulpician residence (Séminaire Saint-Sulpice) in the heart of the sixth arrondissement of Paris. Various copies exist, including one at the Louvre in Paris and one in Montreal, Canada. Although this painting was lost for a time during the French Revolution (1789), benefactors helped the Sulpicians retrieve it at a later date.
Distinct in LeBrun’s portrayal, and in accordance with Father Olier’s Marian devotion, the Blessed Virgin Mary is prominently placed in a central location among the apostles and others in the picture, as the Holy Spirit descends in tongues of fire, as described in the New Testament passage from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-4).
Recently cleaned and restored, it is a resplendent reminder of the priestly call fostered by the Sulpicians. The same “apostolic zeal” favored by Father Olier remains central to the priestly formation programs promoted throughout the world today on five continents and in fourteen countries.
May this “birthday of the Church” fill us all with joy and renew us to follow the apostles in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ!