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  • Writer's picturePeter Kennedy

Pentecost: Interesting facts about this special feast day

Updated: May 20

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, a rather interesting feast day in the history of the Church as it was originally a Jewish feast that is still celebrated today.  The noted Catholic scholar, Dr. Scott Hahn pointed out in a recent social media post that the events of Pentecost mirror the dedication of the temple in 2Chronicles 5 and 7.  In Chronicles, we see 120 priests present along with the Ark of the Covenant as the temple is dedicated.  In Acts, we see 120 disciples present along with the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary. In Chronicles we see fire come down on the temple altar to consume the offering, while in Acts we see tonges of fire come down upon the new offering of contrite hearts for the Lord.


The Pentecost event in acts took place during the Jewish feast of HaShavout, or the “Feast of Weeks.” This was one of the three annual required pilgrimages to Jerusalem for devout Jews. So, the disciples would have likely been crammed into close quarters as the city filled with pilgrims from all over the known world.  The high feast took place after the 49th day after Passover and celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sanai. Modern Jews celebrate this feast as the giving of the whole Torah (The first five books of the Bible) to Moses, but the Babylonian Talmud seems to indicate the older tradition celebrated the giving of the Law.  It also tended to be a celebration of the wheat harvest, thus a part of the sacrifice at the temple was the first fruits of that harvest along with freshly baked bread.

The number 49 is significant in Jewish thought as it is 7 x7.  In Hebrew, the number seven and the word for covenant are the same word, shivə'ah. So why multiply it?  In ancient Hebrew culture, this often meant perfection in a thing.  To multiply a thing was to double down or set it in stone.  Thus 49 days after the Passover we could state that the covenant was both figuratively and literally set in stone on the tablets of the Law and it is on this next day that all of the Jewish people would celebrate with what is essentially another great day of feasting. Because this was the fiftieth day, the Hellenistic or Greek speaking Jews would call this day, Pentekoste or in English Pentecost, which essentially means fiftieth.

It is on this feast, which also happens to be 50 days after Easter, when the Holy Spirit would come upon the apostles.

It has become a pius tradition to speak of Pentecost as the “Birthday of the Church,” yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church is born primarily of Christ's total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. "The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus." "For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the 'wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.'" As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam's side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross. (CCC 766)

So what then is Pentecost, then?

For this we might look at the book of Genesis.  In Genesis 2, God makes the first human being out of the “dust of the earth” but later breathes his “breath” into the man’s nostrils.  Interestingly the word used for “breath” in Hebrew is ruah. This same word can mean wind, breath, or spirit.  And on the day of Pentecost, God sends a mighty wind and his Holy spirit into the small room where the disciples were gathered.  The tiny infant Church that was vulnerable and afraid was awakened and emboldened.  In a sense, it was on this day that the newly formed mystical body of Christ could be said to have taken its first breath.  For the Catechism states:

747 The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She (the Church) is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity's communion with men.

As the Church breathes in this first breath, she is animated. As she exhales, the disciples begin to speak in all of the languages of all the known world. The events of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11 ), when our language was confused, are undone and 3000 members are added to the Church in a single day.  Interestingly too, it is on this day that the Law of God will be promulgated once again. Not on stone tablets this time, but rather through the power of the Holy Spirit, it will be written on our hearts.

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