The Meaning of Pentecost
Pentecost is not simply a feast. It is an
event. THE event in the life of the Church.
Unfortunately few Christians really celebrate
it. Few Christians see its relevance to their
everyday life. Here are some insights on
this feast which I have gathered from various
Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away
Christ stays in the past
The gospel is a dead letter;
The Church is simply an organization;
Authority is a matter of domination;
Mission is a matter of propaganda;
The liturgy no more than an evocation;
Christian living a slave mentality.
(Bishop Ignatius of Latikion at a Council
of Churches meeting at Upsala)
The Feast of Pentecost. The word Pentecost
means fifty. The number fifty points
to ripeness, to a time that is ready
something to happen. This feast has
A. Harvest Festival. Israel, fifty
seven weeks to the day - after the
was first put to the grain there was
festival. Fifty days after the grain
processions of pilgrims bore baskets
first fruits to the temple as a thank
for the harvest. It was something akin
our Thanksgiving day.
B. Torah Festival. In later Judaism
centuries before Christ) Pentecost
weeks to the day after the Passover
to celebrate the giving of the Law
where God had made a people for Himself.
Akin to our Independence Day.
C. Spirit Festival. Evangelization
Prophetic Festival. Seven weeks to
after Jesus died and rose from the
He breathes the wind and fire of His
upon His Church. This is the fulfillment
of the Harvest festival : Fifty days
the sickle had been put to the grain,
days after Jesus was hung on a cross,
and buried, fifty days after the promised
Seed that had been buried in the ground
to life, there was a harvest festival
the resurrection - the reaping of the
This is also the fulfillment of the
feast : Fifty days after His exodus
death into life, Jesus forms a people,
Israel, His Church. A new covenant,
people. The Church's birthday. A day
for the outpouring of the Spirit and
spread of the Gospel to all nations.
The red paraments remind us of Pentecost
fire, the fire of Jesus' love poured
in the Holy Spirit towards others.
II. The Fact
A. The event
The apostles have seen Christ risen
the death and Jesus had given them
to announce this event to all nations.
now they have been ordered to stay
waiting something (Acts 1, 6-7) which
give them the strength to do it. The
began in prayer - one hundred and twenty
disciples of Jesus gathered probably
Temple Square, together with the Twelve
for prayer at nine in the morning on
day of Pentecost Jesus, already ascended
into heaven, bends down from the right
of God and blows His Spirit-breath
the glowing embers of His little band
disciples and stirs up a flame that
burning ever since.
There was a sound of rushing wind .
were tongues of fire. Filled with the
of the Holy Spirit the disciples opened
mouths and spoke. In his announcement,
makes reference to two prophecies -
Joel (3, 1-5) on the gift of the Holy
and from Psalm 16, 8-11 on the resurrection
of the Messiah. Evangelization is on!
heavy with the Galilean dialect were
to speak in all the languages of the
world. Everyone heard the good news
sins forgiven in his own language and
- Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians,
Judeans, Cappadocians, people from
Asia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Egypt, Libya,
By the end of the day, three-thousand
had been baptized. Three-thousand believed
that Jesus died and rose for them.
thousand received the Holy Spirit and
forgiveness of their sins. Three thousand
went back to their homelands and homes,
the good news of Jesus.
B. The meaning behind the Event
In order to understand Pentecost we
to go back into the History of Salvation.
The first Chapters of Genesis are a
depicting for us the wonderful plan
and man's progressive defilement of
plan. Genesis 11 is the climax. Mankind
the East - the place where the sun
its journey every day, a symbol of
immediately tries to build a whole
without God. "Come, they say,
build ourselves a town and a tower
top reaching heaven." Pride. Arrogance.
Why should I be dependent upon someone
I have to be master of my own actions.
must decide for myself. I know better.
am my own god to myself. I know what
and what is bad. Result ... confusion,
disorientation (= away from the orient).
Babel, the 'gate of the god' becomes
place of confusion. Men cannot communicate
anymore between each other. More than
event this is our own daily bitter
At work, in the family, at school,
How much suffering this Babel in our
creates... for us and for others!
But God intervenes. He does not leave
rotting in its suffering. He calls
and He starts a whole history of salvation.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses.
acts in favor of His people and He
His people from their terrible slavery
Egypt. Fifty days after coming out
they arrive on Mount Sinai. Exodus
event of titanic proportions. The mighty
Yahweh calls Moses to the Mountain
"You yourselves have seen what
to Egypt, and how I carried you on
wings and brought you to myself. Now
obey me fully and keep my covenant,
out of all nations you will be my treasured
possession. Although the whole earth
you will be for me a kingdom of priests
a holy nation.' These are the words
to speak to the Israelites " (Exodus
19, 3-6). This is where the real life
this people starts. As one Rabbi says
real festival of freedom did not come
Shavu'ot (= Weeks or Pentecost) , when
would stand before God on their wedding
complete with a canopy (Mount Sinai),
(marriage contract), i.e. the Torah,
stipulations of the covenant which
a homeland and a Holy Temple which
serve to maintain the covenant. Even
a spiritual vantage point, although
is when God wrought great miracles
Jewish people, demonstrating His love
concern, He did not yet completely
how it was that we should serve Him.
not until we received the Torah on
that spiritual liberation became a
for freedom is impossible without the
Thus, Shavu'ot is the culmination of
between redemption promised and redemption
realized. .... Pesach is when God promised
to marry us; Shavu'ot is the marriage
That day God engraved His Ten Words
of stone. Why engraved and not written,
the Rabbis?! While the written word
external to the paper, they answer,
engraved become part of the stone.
words of the Torah will one day be
in the very fabric of our heart, not
embroidered there, as they are today,
they often fade or fray. They must
to the deepest and innermost chambers
our identity, and in fact according
prophets, will soon permanently."
Many traditions accompany this feast.
originally it was the last of the spring
feasts, after the crop was harvested,
was brought to Jerusalem and offered
with special sacrifices of thanksgiving
the Temple. The Feast of the Harvest
enriched by Deuteronomy 16, 12 to include
a sharing what they had, in keeping
the Torah commands to feed the stranger,
orphan, widow and other poor and unfortunate
people within the redeemed community.
dishes are customary foods, symbolizing
Torah which is likened to milk, according
to an allegorical interpretation of
of Songs. In synagogues, it is customary
to read the book of Ruth whose setting
takes place in spring and at harvest
Ruth was the ancestor of King David,
according to the Talmud, David was
died on Shavu'ot.
An additional custom connected with
feast is that of spending the night
Shavu'ot in prayer and study so as
prepared spiritually for the commemoration
of the giving of the Torah. The Cabalists,
students of Jewish mystical literature,
were the first to introduce this practice,
argued that on Mount Sinai, thunder
kept the children of Israel awake during
the time Moses was on the mountain
to receive the Torah. Besides, the
of the Torah is the wedding of the
community to their God, and so it only
that we should be engaged in preparing
ornaments of the bride the previous
Another reason for staying awake in
is that sleep is the taste of death
part of death while Sabbath is a "taste"
of life - 1/60th of the World-to-Come.
we stay awake all night and immerse
in the study of Torah because it breathes
life into Man.
This is the framework of our Christian
Fifty days after the exodus of Jesus
from the tomb, Jesus Christ fulfilled
promise He made before His Ascension
He sent His Holy Spirit. The circumstances
which surround the descent of the Holy
echo very vividly the covenant of God
His people on Mount Sinai. On Mount
God revealed the Torah in booming voices
that made Israel tremble. On Mount
with "a sound like the rush of
and "divided tongues as of fire"
God gave us the Spirit which enables
the Good News. Rush of wind is parallel
the thunders and lightening on Mount
This wind which must have sounded like
on coming roar of a very fast moving
is actually the breath of life which
created life. The tongues of fire are
to the torches which the people saw
It is clear that the events in Acts
just some unassociated miracles without
or reason. When you put all of this
you come to a very exciting conclusion,
its the very same conclusion that Peter
at. "These men are not drunk,
suppose.... No, this is what was spoken
the prophet Joel." (Acts 2, 15ff).
did Joel prophesy about? The Prophet
announced that God was going to do
very special in Mount Zion. "And
who calls on the name of the LORD will
saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
there will be deliverance..."
If we can connect Mount Zion to Mount
we will have come full circle. See
The Spirit has been be poured out.
covenant has been established. A new
of God, a new Israel, the Church will
What are the signs of this new people?
*The tongues are the first sign of
people : many people of diverse cultures
and nations understand the language
Resurrection of Christ. The curse of
is over : men can recuperate unity
around this Word. It is the only way
to man to overcome his divisions. Babel
the confusion. Pentecost is the unification.
* The second sign is forgiveness. The
of Joel announces the coming of the
of the Lord". A day of judgment
a day of salvation. The judgment is
The sign of this forgiveness is the
Spirit. In front of the cross, the
were in tilt. Big crisis. Peter denies.
run away. Judas hangs himself. The
the Holy Spirit brings them out of
* The third sign is wisdom. Peter received
from the Holy Spirit the light to understand
the deep meaning of the death and resurrection
of Christ : it is not a scandal but
revelation of the love of God. A plan
from all eternity in God's infinite
announced by the prophets and David
in Jesus Christ.
* The fourth sign is evangelization.
gift of the Holy Spirit takes away
hearts the fear of death. They are
any more to risk their lives, but with
and audacity they announce to their
the Jews, their mistake and they call
to faith in Jesus Christ. The gift
Holy Spirit has made them sharers in
victory over death. Now they can announce
what they are living! We are witnesses,
Acts 2 hence is a neon sign, announcing
beginning of the Messianic Age. All
markers that were present at the giving
the Torah, are present at the giving
Spirit, by whose power we are able
the Torah and live the Good News. *
multitude" came to worship the
Israel. * Voices and torches were seen
heard). * A sign of 3000 -3000 died
they rejected the Torah at Mount Sinai;
lived when they accepted the Resurrection.
* Everyone heard in their own language,
of the mighty deeds of God" in
which he could understand.
What an event!
III. The Secret
It is the Holy Spirit. "In the
of Luke, we see clearly that Jesus
possesses the fullness of the Spirit.
the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus applies
to himself Isaiah's prophecy: 'The
of the Lord is upon me because he has
me to preach good news to the poor.'
entire life and evangelizing activity
Jesus is guided by the Holy Spirit.
Spirit comes down upon the Apostles
and ever after sustains the Church's
St. Paul, in his Letters, shows that
Holy Spirit is the source of the new
eternal life which Jesus communicates
his Church. The Spirit gives rise to
guides the prayer of Christians, and
charity into our hearts. For St. John,
the other hand, the Spirit helps the
to deeply grasp the truth revealed
The Spirit is the Paraclete, the Consoler:
He defends the cause of Christ, frees
from the sin which separates us from
and helps us to recognize the justice
the Father, who glorifies his Crucified
in the Resurrection and Ascension"
John Paul II, 1998)
A. What can the HOLY SPIRIT do?
He satisfies our thirst :
"Jesus answered, "Everyone
drinks this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water I give
never thirst. Indeed, the water I give
will become in him a spring of water
up to eternal life " John 4:13-14.
is thirsty ... everyone wants to fulfill
himself, wants peace, joy, happiness.
no one succeeds. Jesus is the answer
has a water which will become a spring...
A water which satisfies you for ever.
spring can be in us : we all think
problems are outside us; if only things
differently, if only persons are different.
This is a deceit. Happiness is an inside
job. In his heart man has a spring
which carries him to death and unhappiness
and to evil. That is why nothing can
us happy. Hence the answer is this
of living water inside us. The Holy
becomes a spring of life - a happiness
a peace which no one can steal. The
Spirit transforms slowly the heart
putting inside "the same sentiments
of Jesus Christ", the ability
and love God and to love the brethren
the enemies. Anyone who carries in
the Holy Spirit does not feel the evil
others inflict on him, or even if he
it, this cannot rip him of his joy,
in his heart there is this spring of
love and mercy of God. This inner water
and pours itself on others revealing
as mercy, love, free service...
He resurrects us :
Our reality is similar to the Jews
who declared "Our bones are dried
and our hope is gone; we are cut off"
(Ez.37,11). We are dried up, namely
to love, unable to do the good we want
do, unable to be in peace. We are cut
, namely we are dead, sad, unhappy.
makes us suffer. We do not have life
us. We keep running away from sufferings,
we keep alienating ourselves. The Words
solemnly : "prophesy". God
to recreate, He wants to give us life,
wants to make us come out of our graves
grave is the only place from where
can come out), and make us taste the
God fulfills this word in Jesus Christ
He rose him from the death as the first
of many brethren, as a sign of what
to do with us. In Jesus Christ we can
He operates in us a new heart:
"I will give you a new heart and
a new spirit in you; I will remove
your heart of stone and give you a
of flesh." (Ez.36,24-28). Our
is made of stone - a heart full of
against God, always murmuring; even
we obey, we are grumpy and feel it
as a burden;
we have a heart of slaves who either
or obey under compulsion; a heart full
egotism, only interested in ourselves,
perpetual conflict with others. We
because we have a heart which does
how to love. This announcement of a
is arriving to us today. God fulfilled
through Jesus Christ. He has showed
is this new heart :
a. In front of the Cross, Christ did
murmur against God because He trusted
Father and He knew that He would not
him unto death. His last words were
trust in the Father : Father I entrust
life into your hands - Luke 23,45.
it you willingly because I know you
hand it back to me.
b. Jesus loved men, all men, you and
as we are with all our sins, doubts,
and denials. In exchange of the unjust
He was given, He gave to HIS ENEMIES
forgiveness of His Father : Father
them because they do not know what
doing - Luke 23,24. There is only one
to really love and this is to love
when the other is your enemy. If you
love the person who does good to you,
friend, you only love yourself - Luke
We can receive freely this heart which
itself totally to God, who is able
from the depth, who feels compassion
is full of tenderness also for the
This is the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus
- Romans 8,9. He can form in us gradually
a heart of resurrection, a heart similar
to that of Christ!
He creates communion:
Our human reality is like the Tower
- Gen.11,1-9. This episode describes
consequences of sin, namely separation
God, the reality of division, conflict,
which is inherent in the hostility
of man. Here we have people speaking
same language and not managing to understand
each other. Incommunicability. Here
the work of the Holy Spirit, men of
languages and different nations understand
the One Word which calls them and unites
them to herself. This miracle is realized
every day in the experience of the
The Church is the place where God wants
work this miracle. Those who are called,
understand the same word : it is as
Word speaks to each one of them personally.
Here men and women that do not agree
so diverse are held together by this
Word. This gift of the Holy Spirit
to make of us members of the Same Body,
Body of the Risen Christ,
He unites : "For by one Spirit
all baptized into one body; whether
or Greeks, whether slaves or free;
all been made to drink into one Spirit.
in fact the body is not one member
(1 Corinthian 12:14). The Holy Spirit
us the ability to overcome our own
our closed-eared deafness to one another.
He makes communication possible. He
: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in My name,
will teach you all things, and bring
remembrance all things that I said
14:26). The Spirit "knows the
of God." He guides : "When
the Spirit of truth, has come, He will
you into all truth; for He will not
on His own authority, but whatever
He will speak; and He will tell you
to come" (John 16:13). The "Paraclete"
in the original Greek literally means,
called alongside to help." He
with fire , melting the chill of our
and hardened hearts and giving us a
towards Christ. He is no idle, empty
He is the proclaimer, the comforter,
His FRUITS are love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
and self-control. No one of these fruits
can be produced by struggling to change
They are fruits of the Holy Spirit
in our life.
B. This is how the Fathers of the Church
spoke about The Holy Spirit :
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem :
Why did Christ call the grace of the
water? Because all things are dependent
water; plants and animals have their
in water. Water comes down from heaven
rain, and although it is always the
in itself, it produces many different
Like a dry tree which puts forth shots
watered, the soul bears the fruit of
when repentance has made it worthy
the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit strengthens man's self-control,
shows another how to help the poor,
another to fast and lead a life of
makes another oblivious of the needs
body, trains another for martyrdom.
The Spirit comes gently and makes himself
known by his fragrance. He is not felt
a burden, for he is light, very light.
of light and knowledge stream before
as he approaches. The Spirit comes
tenderness of a true friend and protector
to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel,
strengthen, to console.
As light strikes the eyes of the man
come out of darkness into the sunshine
enables him to see clearly things he
not discern before, so light floods
of the man counted worthy of receiving
Holy Spirit and enables him to see
beyond the range of human vision, things
hitherto undreamed of.
Is He not called the Spirit of God,
of truth who proceeds from the Father,
steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit?
his principal and most personal title
the Holy Spirit. To the Spirit all
turn in their need for sanctification...
His breath empowers each to achieve
natural end. The Spirit is the source
Like the sunshine which permeates all
atmosphere, spreading over land and
and yet it is enjoyed by each person
it were for him alone, so the Spirit
forth his grace in full measure, sufficient
for all, and yet is present as though
to everyone who can receive him. To
that share in him he gives a delight
only by their own nature not by his
The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven,
the steps of the weak and brings to
those who are making progress. He enlightens
those who have been cleansed from every
of sin and makes them spiritual by
As clear, transparent substances become
bright when sunlight falls on them
with a new radiance, so also souls
the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened
by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves
and a source of grace for others.
Through the Spirit we become citizens
heaven, we are admitted to the company
angels, we enter into eternal happiness
abide in God. Through the Spirit we
a likeness to God; indeed, we attain
is beyond our most sublime aspirations
we become God.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria:
Only by the his presence within us
could Christ give us confidence to
Abba, Father , make it easy for us
in holiness and, through the possession
the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us
the wiles of the devil and the assaults
It can easily be shown from examples
in the Old Testament and in the New
the Spirit changes those in whom he
to dwell; he so transforms them that
begin to live a completely new kind
Saul was told by the prophet Samuel
Spirit of the Lord will take possession
you and you shall be changed into another
With the Spirit within them it is quite
for people who had been absorbed by
of this world to become entirely other-worldly
in outlook and for cowards to become
of great courage. There can be no doubt
this is what happened to the disciples.
The Spirit accomplished the Father's
in men who had grown old in sin and
them new life in Christ. Like parched
which yields no harvest unless it receives
moisture, we who were once like a waterless
tree could never have lived and borne
without this abundant rainfall from
If we are not to be scorched and made
we need the dew of God. Since we have
accuser, we need an advocate as well.
so the Lord, in his pity for man, who
fallen into the hands of the brigands,
himself bound up his wounds and left
his care two coins bearing the royal
entrusted him to the Holy Spirit.
So, then, the Holy Spirit is the River,
the abundant River, which according
Hebrews flowed from Jesus in the lands,
we have received it prophesied by the
of Isaiah. This is the great River
flows always and never fails. And not
a river, but also one of copious stream
overflowing greatness, as also David
"The stream of the river makes
the city of God." ... And let
trouble you that either here it is
or elsewhere "seven Spirits,"
by the sanctification of these seven
of the Spirit, as Isaiah said, is signified
the fullness of all virtue; the Spirit
wisdom and understanding, the Spirit
and strength, the Spirit of knowledge
godliness, and the Spirit of the fear
God. One, then, is the River, but many
channels of the gifts of the Spirit.
River, then, goes forth from the Fount
Vatican Council II:
The Spirit dwells in the Church and
hearts of the faithful as in a temple.
prays in the and bears witness in them
their adoption as sons. By the power
Gospel he enables the Church to become
perpetually renews it, and leads it
union with its Bridegroom.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright