After Easter Sunday, Christmas is the second-greatest feast in the Christian liturgical calendar, but Pentecost Sunday is not far behind. Coming 50 days after Easter and ten days after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus. For that reason, it is often called the “the birthday of the Church.” Through each of the sections below, you can learn more about the history and practice of Pentecost in the Catholic Church.
What does the word “Pentecost” mean?
Pentecost Sunday is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated early enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (16:8). The English word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth day.” In the old testament days this holy day was known as the Festival of Weeks, This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16, which instructs people to count seven weeks or “fifty days” from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holy day. It was originally a harvest festival (Exod 23:16), but, in time, turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai to Moses. This day became especially significant for the followers of Jesus Christ because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.
- The Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit
On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today. God pours out the Holy Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (Romans 8:1-11). Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23). In Gospel of St John chapter 14, 15, and 16 we read how the Holy Spirit works in and through us.
In our Personal life Pentecostal experience helps us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, self control, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, forgiving nature, humility etc (Gal 5:22.) growing in our lives? Most Christians, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our pleasure, our sin, our worldly life, and our weakness by loosing sense of sin and fear of God. Pentecost offers a chance to repent for our sins which leads us to confession and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power so that we can become new creations in Jesus (2 Corinth 5:17) and the sin and the satan has no power over us since we will be sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- We must be born of the Holy Spirit
As we are born of the flesh we must also be born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-6). On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.
There are times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, during the ministry or according to His plan (Jer 1:5). Basically I am an Engineer and a Businessman. I thought we are born to make money and enjoy life with drinks, dance and parties as life is short so that we can make it sweet. But Jesus opened my spiritual eyes to understand that we are born in this world to prepare our self for eternal life. We may live for 100 years in this world and forever in Heaven or Hell (Luke 16:19-31).
Once the Holy Spirit lives in us and when we have a personal relationship with God, everything else in this world and worldly life become secondary. Jesus becomes our Hero and we become zero. But Pentecost is a vivid illustration of the truth that is found throughout Scripture: the community of God’s people is central to God’s work in the world. Thus, Pentecost invites us to consider our own participation in the fellowship, worship, and mission of the church. It is a time to renew our commitment to live as an essential member of the body of Christ, using our gifts to build the church and share the love and justice of Christ with the world. Whatever the Miracles Jesus performed when He was in the human form, He is still performing the same miracles through His followers who are filled with gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Kings 3:3, we read that “Solomon `loved the Lord’, except that he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” What a contradiction! Solomon finally destroyed himself because of such compromise. He lived a double-life – one in the temple and one in private. Unfortunately that is how, many Christians live today. They make many loud expressions of love for the Lord. But in private, they live in unrighteousness and sin. Finally their little backslidings become big ones and destroy them.
In every generation God needs godly leaders. We cannot depend on the wisdom of the leaders of previous generations. David could not rule over Israel forever. He would die, and someone else would have to take over. What would become of Israel depended on the type of person that the next king would be? God raises up a godly man to start a work in one generation. He becomes old and dies. Will the leaders in the next generation have only the founder’s knowledge and his doctrines but not his godliness and his knowledge of God? Then the people will certainly go astray. It is good to venerate and honor Mother Mary, saints, and great men and woman of God but if we do not have the same beauty of holiness what they had certainly we will go astray.
- The Multilingual Nature and Mission of the Church
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered followers of Jesus to praise God in many languages that they had not learned in the ordinary manner (Acts 2:5-13). Symbolically, this miracle reinforces the multilingual, multicultural, multiracial mission of the church. We are to be a community in which all people are drawn together by God’s love in Christ. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In some parts of the world we are often divided according to language, race, and ethnicity. Pentecost challenges all of us to examine our own attitudes in the regard, to reject and repent of any prejudice that lurks within us, and to open our hearts to all people, even and especially those who do not share our language and culture. Yes, I know this is not easy. But it is central to our calling. And it is something that the Spirit of God will help us to do if we are open to guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- Gifts & fruits of the Holy Spirit to build the Church
On the day of Pentecost In Acts chapter 2 we read that after the Holy Spirit fell upon the first followers of Jesus, Peter preached a sermon to help the people understand what had just happened. In this sermon he cited a portion of a prophecy from Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants–men and women alike– and they will prophesy’ (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29). Later, Peter explained that the Spirit would be given to all who turned from their sin and turned to God through Jesus (Acts 2:38).This is a great and wonderful event, for the first time in history. God began to do what he had promised through Joel, empowering all different sorts of people for ministry. Whereas in the era of the Old Testament, the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings. In the age of the New Testament, the Spirit would be given to “all people.” All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position. Although this truth would not mean that every Christian would be gifted for every kind of ministry, it did imply that all believers would be empowered by the Spirit. The church would be a place where every single person matters, where every member contributes to the mission of the church (Eph 4:11-16).
Each Christian needs to ask: Am I serving God through the power of the Spirit? Am I exercising the gifts of the Spirit in my life, both in the church and as I live for God in the world? Pentecost is a time to ask God to fill us afresh with the Spirit so that we might join in the ministry of Christ. And it is a time to renew our commitment to fulfilling our crucial role in the God given Mission in the world. The Great Mission that Jesus gave to the apostles and to the church is to preach the Gospel, heal the sick and cast out the demons and prepare the people for the eternal life (Math 28:18-20, Luke 9:1-6, 10:1-6, Mark 16:15-18).