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Pentecost: As it was in the beginning ...
Among the more significant passages from the New Testament is the one that commences chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles: "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit ..." (Acts 2:1-4).
The Acts reference to Pentecost is in fact to the Jewish harvest festival observed on the fiftieth day from the second day of Passover - the expression Pentecost meaning fiftieth day.
Here, the Old Law connects with the New, with the Christian Feast of Pentecost commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Easter, just as Our Lord had promised. Through the Holy Spirit, the Church which Jesus founded was filled with his own divine life. In a sense, it was the birthday of the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains (1076): "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'."
The account in Acts highlights a number of key and enduring facets of the Church. There is the inspirational power of the Holy Spirit: men who were not long ago cowardly and doubting now speak out fearlessly and put their lives on the line. Peter, as Christ's appointed vicar, plays the central role: "Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ."
Then there is the Church's universality: "Are not all those who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?" And, not least, one notes the presence of "Mary the mother of Jesus" at this pivotal event of Pentecost.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 17 No 5 (June 2004), p. 2
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