Pentecost Sunday occurs this year on 31 May and is rightly celebrated as the birthday of the Church which Jesus Christ founded. The word Pentecost means fifty and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit fifty days (seven weeks) after Our Lord rose from the dead.
Through the Holy Spirit the Church was filled with Christ's own divine life as the Third Person of the Trinity descended on the disciples under the appearance of tongues of fire, strengthening and inspiring them as He would continue to strengthen and inspire the Church through the centuries to the end of time (see page 20 Reflection).
The impact on those filled with the Holy Spirit was remarkable as is vividly described in the Acts of the Apostles. In a reversal of the chaos of the Tower of Babel, the disciples could make themselves understood to the host of foreign visitors gathered in Jerusalem at the time. It was a foretaste of the Church's universality that followed Jesus' command to the Apostles to "go out into the whole world and preach the gospel".
The Apostles, who up until then had been fearful and unsure following Jesus' ascension into heaven, and in the face of the hostility around them, suddenly began to speak out boldly. Peter's leadership is evident as he addresses the crowd on behalf of the other Apostles:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst ... This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death ..." (2:22).
Later, after the Apostles were arrested by the Jewish authorities, Peter informs the elders, rulers and scribes in no-nonsense vein: "This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (4:11-12).
Peter and the Apostles would soon convert thousands (4:4), laying the foundations of the universal Church. As the Catechism tells us: "The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit" (737).
Michael Gilchrist, Editor (email address available on request)