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Cues to Pentecost

Q: Archbishop J, how can I make Pentecost come alive in my life?

Pentecost is a triple feast. The word ‘Pentecost’ literally means 50. In the Jewish calendar the celebration of Pentecost takes place seven weeks after Passover (Num 28:26–31; Tobit 2:1). Traditionally, Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks was a harvest festival when the new grain was offered to God and also a time of atonement. It was one of three great Jewish festivals: Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths.

Extreme generosity

It was a pilgrim feast so Jews from all over travelled to Jerusalem for the celebration. In addition to the harvest, the celebration was also associated with the deliverance from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land. It marked a renewal of the Covenant made at Sinai and the giving of the Law. In the life of the first century Jew, this was a major festival.

Pentecost, for the Jew, required entering into a profound ritual space, requiring prayer and generosity of heart. The generosity was major as it called for the blood sacrifice of bulls and rams and lambs; flour and oil; a male goat, drink offerings and the regular burnt offerings.

The Jew in the time of Jesus knew that God was first. Everything in his life spoke to this reality. The nature of the offerings required extreme generosity and the people gave generously to God and to the temple, the offerings prescribed. The festivals reinforced the beliefs and values.

Christian Pentecost: Preparation

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that “Jews from every nation under heaven” dwelling in Jerusalem, gathered for the Pentecost celebration (Acts 2:5–11). On Pentecost Day, God did something phenomenally different and new. Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled (Jn 14:16). The old division of humanity by language was reversed; they all heard in their own native language. Tongues of fire descended on the people gathered there and something new began.

As good Jews, the Apostles prepared for the festival with the usual generosity.

The First Cue for preparing for Pentecost: generosity to God. They would have recounted the departure from Egypt and the arrival in the Promised Land.

Second Cue: the reading of scripture. They would have reflected on the Law given to Moses.

Third Cue: an examination of conscience with regard to the Law. They would also have renewed their Covenant—Fourth Cue. For us this would be our baptismal promises.

From the Ascension to Pentecost, the disciples were united in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14). This was the first novena. This is the Fifth Cue to us about preparing for Pentecost. We too, need to unite in prayer in the Upper Room.

They were united with Mary. And this is our Sixth Cue. In preparation for Pentecost we unite with Mary and the apostles in the Upper Room where we pray and watch and wait.

At Pentecost, the disciples were transformed; fear gave way to freedom. This transformation was God’s action, but they had to be open to it and desire it. This is our Seventh Cue: be open and desire whatever God wants. This transformation was dependent upon the disciples’ openness and readiness to give themselves generously to God.

Remember Mary was the first to encounter the Holy Spirit. She was open to all God intended for her. That openness is our Eighth Cue: God will not force us to receive. If we are open and we desire, God will give in abundant measure.

God’s generosity

What happened on Pentecost was beyond the wildest imagination of the disciples. It is not just that they were transformed individually, they were reconstituted into Christ’s body here on earth—the Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’—the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, ‘until he comes’” (1076).

On Pentecost we have our first sacrament—the Church—for she is an outward sign of invisible grace, of Christ’s presence in the World. Through her, the mystery of Christ is contained and dispensed to the world. From this perspective, the Church and the Holy Spirit are inseparable.

On this point, Pope St John Paul II has said: “Therefore, between the Holy Spirit and the Church there exists a deep and indissoluble bond.” We see the Church through our human eyes with all of its defects and faults and inadequacies.

There is another way to see her: She is the bride of Christ, born of the Holy Spirit and given to us for our sake and salvation.

St Irenaeus makes a similar point: “Wherever the Church is, the Spirit of God is also there; and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, the Church is there and every grace.”

The Church is not a human institution. It was born from the side of Christ and made manifest at Pentecost. St Augustine sums it up best when he says, “The Holy Spirit is possessed in so far as one loves the Church.”

Now we have our Final Cue (ninth) for preparing for Pentecost: Love the Church!

Key Message:

Pentecost was a Jewish feast of the harvest and renewal of covenant. On that feast, God breathed on the Apostles, renewing them, and constituted them as the Church—His presence here on earth.

Action Step:

Do the nine steps of preparation

Scripture Reading:

Acts 2:1–36


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