The Meaning of Pentecost

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-12, New American Bible)

Pentecost was originally a feast of the Jewish faith that celebrated the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. It occurred fifty days after Passover.

Pentecost is celebrated as a Christian feast because of the events that occurred fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection: the descent of the Holy Spirit on those individuals that had gathered in the Cenacle and inaugurated the beginning of the Church. Pentecost, as a Christian feast, is one of the three most important feasts, called solemnities, of the Church year. It celebrates and commemorates the establishment of the Church, which is why it is referred to it as the “Birthday of the Church”.

The Pentecost Event, as I call it, is an occasion that radically affected and drastically changed the Apostolic Church. Hiding behind locked doors and windows in fear of their lives, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Advocate, as promised by Jesus, transforms these individuals into people that boldly proclaimed the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus.

What does The Pentecost Event have to do with the Church today?

The Pentecost Event shows us what it involves to be a Christian.
The word Christian does mean “Christ-like”. Being a Christian does mean following Jesus and accepting his teaching, but it also means evangelization. Evangelization may not mean vocal preaching, necessarily, but it does involve embodying and living out those principles that Jesus showed us and taught us. As Lumen Gentium states: “Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…” (#39). We are all called to participate in the life and mission of the Church.

The Pentecost Event shows us how we, as Church, can deepen our faith.
The early Christian community “…devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts of the Apostles 2:42, New American Bible.) The Pentecost Event can show how we can start to make our faith deeper and fuller: by educating ourselves in Church teaching; by participating in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist; and by developing a deeper and more vibrant prayer life.

The Pentecost Event enables us to “see” the activity of the Holy Spirit in the entire Church and the Spirit’s involvement in the Church’s mission.
The Holy Spirit is at work through all the baptized, as we are all called to holiness (see #1 above). The Holy Spirit enables the entire Church, using the myriad talents of the ordained and laity, to advance the mission of the Church:

From my perspective, this mission is composed of four components:

  • spreading the Good News of our salvation through Jesus;
  • being a prophetic voice to others, calling others to change their lives and lifestyles;
  • being a sign of Christ to others, being of service, ministering to others, as Jesus did; living out and embodying those values and principles by which Jesus lived;
  • regular and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist. However, I would also say, for our time, the sacrament of Reconciliation is important, as well, depending on how one lives their life.

We have been called, as Church, to put this mission into action wherever our talents and abilities lie. Some of the baptized can preach, some cannot; some can teach, others cannot, but we all have talents that can be put forth to advance the Church’s mission. For most of the faithful, it might lie in how we live our lives on a daily basis at home with family or at work with colleagues. The question we might ask ourselves is: Do others see Christ in my actions and in me?

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states:

“Knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindle faith in us.” (CCC, 638)


The Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday Press, 1997.

Lumen Gentium. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002 Web. 25 March 2014.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

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