The Apostles of Jesus were entrusted with a task to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ. This was no easy task considering that the apostles did not know the different languages of the world. Here’s what happened on the day of Pentecost after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension to Heaven.
Pentecost is essentially the feast of the descent or the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Celebrated on the 50th day after the resurrection of Christ, it marks the beginning of mother church and the mission entrusted to the apostles of Christ. Pentecost is the prelude to the story of the Christian movement that began amongst the Jews and went on to become a faith for the whole world.
As promised, the Spirit descends upon the disciples on the 10th day after the ascension of Christ and fills them with the power and grace to be a true witness of the resurrected Christ. Once filled with the Spirit, the disciples are left to reach out to the world and spread ‘The’ message of Christ to the ‘ends of the earth’.
The descent of the Paraclete on the Apostles marks the beginning of the mission entrusted to them, which refers to the birth of the Church.
The passage given below speaks of the promise made by Jesus to his disciples before the feast of the passover. Jesus describes his death and resurrection, and he also foretells the descent of the Paraclete and the change that this event will bring into their lives. Let’s take it from the beginning …
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the spirit who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you.” – John 14: 15-17
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples a number of times, telling them to be His witnesses to the world. Just before his ascension into his Father’s house (heaven), Jesus makes an appearance to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Here, He instructs his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, till they received the promised gift from God the Father. Following the instructions, the disciples gather to pray and wait for the promised gift. As suggested in the passage, the disciples seem to have gathered in the upper room where they suddenly experience a powerful presence. The Passage from the Acts of the Apostles narrates exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost; so, let’s have a glance into what the scripture says …
The Descent of the Holy Spirit
“When the day of the Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were siting. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began talking in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”- Acts of the Apostles chapter 2:1-4
In very simple words, Pentecost brings forth God’s 3 P’s. When I say 3 P’s, I mean power, purity and presence. With the power of the Spirit that was filled in them, the disciples would be able to evangelize the nations which in turn would initiate the consummation of the Kingdom as promised by Jesus. The gifts conferred on the disciples include gifts of speech, spiritual insight and a deeper spiritual understanding.
The theme surrounding Pentecost is communication. As we are aware, communication means effective conveying or sharing of information and the key to effective communication, as we know is sharing information devoid of barriers. Applying this to a disciple’s task of spreading the news in different nations and different regions, the first thing that comes to our mind is the language barrier that they would face unless they were pro-efficient with each of these languages.
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit fills each of these disciples with the gift of speaking in tongues, or in simple words, it gave them the ability to be understood in different languages the world over. Pentecost, in this context, would be nothing but communication, and the main mission of the church till date is to communicate the message.
Pentecost gets its name from the Greek word pentekoste which refers to “fiftieth”. Pentecost corresponds to the old Jewish festival of ‘Shavuot‘ or the ‘Festival of Weeks’ as it was known. The first grain was gathered and an offering of the new grain was to be waived before the Lord. Known to be a day for worship and celebration, for the Jews it was also a time for ‘Homecoming’.
“You are to count seven complete weeks starting from the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the presentation offering. You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord…
… On that same day you are to make a proclamation and hold a sacred assembly. You are not to do any daily work. This is to be a permanent statute wherever you live throughout your generations.” – Leviticus 23:15-16, 21
Pentecost is also regarded as the commemoration of the Commandments or the ‘Giving of Law’ as it was known; that was given to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.
What makes this event so significant one would ask. The answer lies in the fact that the apostles of Jesus, as we remember, were mostly fisher folk and not the educated class of the society. They were Galileans, and with the descent of the Spirit, they had found a new courage and talent of gathering large amount of crowds to them. Besides what makes it more significant an event, is the presence of the Spirit within them that gave them the ability to speak languages that they never learned fluently.
The feast of Pentecost also fulfilled the promise Jesus had made of Baptizing them with the Spirit (Acts 1:5). Pentecost thus becomes, for every Christian a symbol of Confirmation of their faith. Pentecost is in every sense the affirmation that Jesus is the ‘Lord and Messiah‘ who died on the cross and rose on the third morning. It is because of Christ’s resurrection, that the Spirit poured out his blessings in the form of the gifts.
The Spirit or Paraclete is to be considered as an instrument of change, changing the lives of the apostles as well as those who they came in contact with. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of the Feast of the First Fruits, the conversion and affirmation of the disciples points back to being the first fruits of reformation. What Pentecost truly signifies is the internal transformation or conversion brought about by being filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The Birth of the Christian Church
Why is this day called the Beginning of the Christian Church?
If you mull over this question long enough, the answer becomes clear. Just before the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Jesus tells Simon Peter one of his disciples, that he will be the rock on which he will build his church (Mathew 16:18). Without Christ’s death and resurrection, we wouldn’t have been set free. Jesus’ blood and death had paid the price to purchase the church (Acts 20:28). The apostles were forewarned not to reveal the identity of Christ before his death and resurrection, after which His promise of sending the Spirit and them becoming witnesses/missionaries comes true. In every sense, the day of fulfillment of promises, made by Jesus while he was still on earth, marks the beginning of a movement that was not limited to just the apostles but for the Church as it was now called.
Celebrations Across the World
Churches the world over celebrate Pentecost in myriad ways. The Orthodox church prohibits fasting and kneeling (both signs of penance) on Pentecost. Some Protestant churches on the other side observe the period between Ascension and Pentecost as days of fasting and prayer. Some churches venerate the Spirit with a Novena or a nine-day intercessory prayer. Here’s a bifurcation of how Pentecost is celebrated the world over.
Israel … In ancient Israel, it was observed by waving the first grain as an offering ‘before the Lord’.
France … trumpets which are associated with the gusty wind, are blown during the service to commemorate the mighty wind that accompanied the descent of the Spirit.
England … Horse races are conducted in England. Plays and parades are part of the
celebration of the feast of Pentecost.
Italy … Pentecost is celebrated by scattering rose petals from the ceiling of the church in reminiscence of the tongues of fire. It is also known as Whitsunday or Pascha rosatum referring to the red vestments worn on the day.
Oriental Churches … Vespers along with genuflection are accompanied by psalms and prayers in the churches to commemorate the feast. Night vigils are common in the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Russia … A procession of the faithful with flowers and tender branches is taken.
Pentecostal Christians … Worship is conducted with songs and dance. The service is often accompanied with healing, trances and personal testimonials.
Symbolism of the Elements
Pentecost is considered to be a solemn and joyous feast. Ministers and Pastors often wear robes or vestments in red symbolizing the flames of the Holy Spirit.
The Color Red: Red stands for the fire and the manifestation of God. The liturgical color of Pentecost, it also symbolizes the blood of martyrs. It is reminiscent of the tongues of flame through which the Paraclete descended on the apostles. It is also symbolic of atonement and humility. The altar of the church is also decorated with red cloth.
Tongues of Fire: It represents the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dove: It is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Pomegranate: It resembles the Church.
Trumpet: It’s symbolic of the gusty wind that accompanied the Paraclete.
Fruits of The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit imparts each individual with these 12 fruits that have the ability to transform and sanctify. The fruits of the Spirit also have the ability to touch the lives of those around you.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Spirit bestows 7 essential gifts on every individual. The concept behind these gifts is to help an individual share the eternal life and nature of God. In the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great, “Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move towards understanding, and with intelligence towards wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven.“
Considered to be the highest gift from the Spirit, Wisdom is the absolute perfection of faith. Wisdom gives direction to our life and actions. It is the desire to meditate over the gifts of God.
It helps to give a better and deeper insight of the divine truths. The quality of this gift is to provide penetrating intuition. Understanding helps grasp the essence of the Catholic Faith.
Counsel warns us of the deceits of the devil. It is the perfection of the cardinal virtue of prudence. It enlightens the individual to choose and make the right decision in every situation.
It is the courage needed to suffer than to renounce the faith. Fortitude gives the strength to stand up for what is right and just. In short, it allows us to overcome fear and to cultivate Christian values.
It helps us realize the emptiness of things, or the ability to see through things. It enables the individual with introspection, and prepares for detachment from material comforts. It gives us the ability to view circumstances the way God sees them.
It is the perfection of the virtue of religion. It enables the individual to fulfill his/her obligations to God and to the neighbor. Piety is understood better as it is the instinctive and tender affection for God that makes an individual worship and obey Him.
Fear of the Lord
It gives us the virtue of hope and the desire to worship God and not to offend Him. The Fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. Fear of the Lord in essence is the fear of sin rather than the fear of punishment. It fills us with sovereign respect for God and the ability to trust in God.
A movement that began in the early 20th century, it is one of the most popular and growing movements in Christianity. It is based on the doctrines of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism can be divided into three major groups namely ‘Classical’, ‘Charismatic’, and the ‘Neo-Charismatic’. Pentecostalism emphasizes holiness (uncompromising devotion to God), prayer, faith and missions.
The gifts of the Spirit are many to behold, and believe me or not, the Spirit works in ways that are astounding. The promise of Pentecost is fulfilled every time an individual bows down his head in devotion and humility, opening himself/herself to the wonders of prophesy, power and miracles. This Pentecost, let the hymn in your mind be, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me”. Have a Blessed Pentecost.