The incarnation of Christ, God taking the form of man can be said to be the most significant event in human history. By his birth, he broke into our time and space thereby sanctifying them and helping us make a distinction between Kronos (quantitative time) and Kairos (qualitative time). Hence, we honor, celebrate, and commemorate his nativity because it is a true occurrence at an appointed time and space and not merely a fictional invention (Gal 4:4). In Genesis 1:14, God refers to the creation of lights in the sky to indicate when religious festivals and feasts would commence. Through these feasts, he foretold the entire vocation of the Messiah, the Jews, and the Church. The Hebrew translation uses the word moed to refer to these religious feasts.
The word which is translated in English as “seasons” means a fixed, appointed time, season, or place when God would meet with His people. It is also the same word used in Lev. 23:2 to refer to the Feasts which God established when He delivered the Hebrews from Egypt. For a typical Jew, Yahweh had appointed three feast seasons or Pilgrimage Festivals which they mandatorily have to travel to Jerusalem three times a year to keep. (Ex. 23:14–17) These three feast seasons or Pilgrimage Festivals include Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They portrayed and represented three major encounters with God in the lives of His covenant people to provide His divine peace, power, and rest on his people. Each of the feasts pointed them to their coming Messiah, and each uniquely portrayed a particular aspect of His life and ministry. In the Old Testament times, Pentecost also known as Shavuot was a prominent ancient Jewish festival that took place fifty days after the feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover.
The festival was known by several names such as Feast of Harvest (Exo. 23:16), Feast of First Fruits (Num. 28:26-31) and Feast of Weeks (Exo. 34:22, Lev.23:15-22). It represented the first fruits gathered from those who had completed the spring grain harvests. Jews in the diaspora were expected to gather in Jerusalem to observe it. However, when the temple was destroyed in 70AD, the obligation for pilgrimage was withdrawn, but it continued to be observed privately by the Jews till this day. By the virtue of the New Covenant Christ brings, the Passover event was given a new understanding which is the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, the “passing over” from death to life and from earth to heaven, the “exodus” of God’s People from this sinful world to the everlasting Kingdom. While the Old Testament Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Torah to the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt, the New Testament Pentecost fulfilled it by the coming of the “new law” with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.
This was the fulfillment of what God had promised through the prophets that He would write His laws on their hearts through the giving of the Holy Spirit. During the Last Supper, Jesus promised his Apostles that he would not leave them as orphans but assured them that his Father would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to remind them of what he had taught them. This Advocate was to be for them an intercessor, a defender, a witness for the accused, a comforter in distress and a beacon of support and encouragement. After his Resurrection, the risen Jesus appeared before his disciples and breathed on them saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22), this was done because he was sending them as the Father had sent him (John 20:21). He was preparing them for his discipleship and evangelization. Ten days after the Ascension and fifty days after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit promised to His disciples came on the day of Pentecost (John 14:26, 15:26; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5). Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, fear became hope, timidity was replaced with undauntedness, hesitation turned into action and doubt was transformed into passionate faith.
This helped to facilitate an effortless execution of Jesus’ final commission to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every nation”. Through the Pentecost: History, observances, and significance powerful influence of the Holy Spirit, that small group of unassuming disciples preached tirelessly the Gospel, extending the mission to the entire universe. This marked the beginning of what we have today as the Church. 2000 years later, that same Holy Spirit that came upon the Apostles in the upper room and has guided the Church these past years is made available to each of us enabling us to be participants of the Divine Life. It is noteworthy that Pentecost does not fall on a set date each year but is always held between May 10 and June 13. This is because Pentecost depends on the timing of Easter, which is not celebrated on a fixed date. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word ‘Pentikostí’, which means fiftieth. And so, it’s celebration comes up 50 days after Easter and celebrated 10 days after the ascension of Jesus to heaven. Priests wear red vestments on Pentecost.
The red symbolising the tongues of fire that came to the apostles at Pentecost and gave them the ability to speak and understood any language to enable them to spread the word of God. Flames, wind, a dove and the breath of God are some of the symbols that are used to represent the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. Pentecost is often called the ‘birthday of the church’ as it was the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they began to proclaim boldly the Gospel. At Pentecost, the Church shows herself as one, holy, Catholic and apostolic; she shows herself as missionary, with the gift of speaking all the languages of the world, because the Good News of God’s love is destined for all peoples. As opposed to what occurred with the tower of Babel (see Gn 11: 1-9), when people wanted to build a way to heaven with their hands, in Pentecost the Spirit, with the gift of tongues, demonstrates that his presence unites and transforms confusion into communion.
Speaking at the Holy Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost on May 23, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI noted, ‘There is no Church without Pentecost.’ Amidst the seeming sense of hopelessness, the rising rate of insecurity, and the numb reaction from the government, how is this Solemnity of Pentecost particularly significant for us? One of the effects of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was its ability to dispel their fears and bestow on them courage and serenity. They were not afraid because they knew they were in the hands of the strongest One. Wherever the Holy Spirit enters, he sends fear to flight; he reassures us that we are in the hands of an omnipotent loving father; whose infinite love never abandons us. The flame of the Holy Spirit is one which blazes but does not consume or burn. The Holy Spirit, the life-giving breath of God is always with us in this world, ready to be our advocate, solace, support and counsellor. He is like a radio station on perpetual broadcast. What is needed only is for us to re-focus our own spirits and awareness to the Spirit of God.
Then we will enjoy the understanding, fortitude, peace, joy and harmony that God gives and be able to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives and those around us. The oldest Novena in the Church is the Novena to the Holy Spirit which was instituted by Christ himself when he sent his apostles back to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. Most of us have prepared ourselves for this indwelling with this novena, we must now surrender ourselves for his outpouring (Rom 6:13, Eph 5:18). When we desire the Holy Spirit like our next breath of air, then we will find Him (John 7:37-39). In the words of Pope Francis, the Holy Spirit teaches us to see with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived, to understand life as Christ understood it. May the Virgin of listening, the Mother of the Church, who was present at the upper with the disciples obtain for us all a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. “Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur, et renovabis faciem terrae – Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be recreated, and you shall renew the face of the earth”. Amen.