Dear Friends in Christ,
The Jewish feast of Passover commemorates the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and from that day of liberation, Moses led the people to the holy mountain where he had seen the living God in the bush which burned without being consumed. There on Mount Horeb Moses received the Ten Commandments from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and although Scripture does not specify the time between Passover and the giving of the Law, an ancient tradition holds that it was fifty days. Then in Leviticus 23.15-16, the Lord commands the children of Israel to offer a sacrifice of spring wheat exactly seven full weeks from the second day of Passover, meaning the fiftieth day from the feast of Passover. So, the Feast of First Fruits, also called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew), was kept 50 days after Passover and was a time of great thanksgiving to God for the blessings of freedom and prosperity and for the Law which safeguarded those blessings. This festival was also called Pentecost from the Greek words meaning the fiftieth day.
Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles opens with a mention of the arrival of the day of Pentecost, and this refers, of course, to the Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover. Because of the feast, Jerusalem was filled with Jews visiting from all over the Mediterranean world, and it was to this multitude that St. Peter preached the Gospel, leading to the conversion of 3,000 people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. The power of Peter’s preaching came not from him but from God the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon the Church on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, thus making Pentecost a festival for both Jews and Christians. To this day, observant Jews celebrate Shavuot in gratitude for the gift of Torah, and Christians celebrate Pentecost in thanksgiving for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the new life of grace which comes by saving faith in Jesus Christ, our Passover and our Peace. In this concurrence we see fulfilled the teaching of St. Paul (Colossians 2.16-17) that the feasts of the Old Covenant are shadows of the good things which come to us in Jesus Christ, to whom all the types and figures of Israel point.
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in Jerusalem led to the miracle of one voice being heard in many languages, an event which is both a symbolic reversal of the scattering of the human race as a result of the pride which built the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11.1-9) and a pledge of the Church’s mission to gather all nations into the unity of those who worship the one, only, living and true God by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, repenting of sin, being baptized, and living as a new creation in Christ’s body, the Church. The events of Pentecost fulfilled the promise of the Lord Jesus to his Apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8), and so Pentecost also began the tireless effort of the Church to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations. Two millennia later, our contribution to that work of grace is to live as Evangelical Catholics who share the Gospel with others and lead them to saving faith in Jesus Christ.