Deputy Principal - Mission & Faith

Pentecost – the birth of the Church

Sunday, May 24 was Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is the Greek word for “fiftieth” and is the name given to the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law or Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus.  Later, in the Christian liturgical year, it became a feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1–31.  For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church".

The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts of the Apostles.  Present were about one hundred twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15), including his core group of twelve Disciples (Acts 1:13, 26), his mother Mary and various other women disciples (Acts 1:14).  Their reception of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room is recounted in Acts 2:1–6:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from ever nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

While those on whom the Spirit had descended were speaking in many languages, the Apostle Peter stood up with the eleven and proclaimed to the crowd that this event was the fulfillment of the prophecy ("I will pour out my spirit").  In Acts 2:17, it reads: "'And in the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams."  Acts also mentions (2:15) that it was the third hour of the day (about 9:00am).  Acts 2:41 then reports:  "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."    On this day, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated.  This is why Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the Church”.  Peter stated that this event was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jews and Gentiles alike.  Peter, who would become the first Pope, was already the leader and spokesman of the Apostles.

Paul already in the 1st century notes the importance of this festival to the early Christian communities. (See: Acts 20:16 & 1 Corinthians 16:8)

The main sign of Pentecost in the Catholic Church is the color red. It symbolizes joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. ? Priests or ministers and choirs wear red vestments; red banners are often hung from walls or ceilings to symbolize the blowing of the "mighty wind" and the free movement of the Spirit.  There may be depictions of the Holy Spirit through the symbols of the dove or a flame.

The typical image of Pentecost in the West is that of the Virgin Mary seated centrally and prominently among the disciples, with flames resting on the crowns of their heads. Occasionally parting clouds suggesting the action of the "mighty wind", rays of light, and/or the Dove, are also depicted.  A favourite prayer of mine to the Holy Spirit is:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.  And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Dr Michael Grace

Deputy Principal - Mission & Faith