The actual Pentecost event occurred on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. The Jewish Feast is also known as the Festival of Weeks which was the completion of the seven weeks following Passover. This was a time of Thanksgiving during which the harvest took place and the first fruits were brought to the Temple. The day after the completion of the seven weeks, forty-nine days, was known as Pentecost, which means fifty. This Feast celebrated Moses receiving the Commandments at Mount Sinai. When we hear in the readings today references to Pentecost they are referring to the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. Jesus rose from the dead at the completion of Passover and fifty days later his followers experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which was on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.
The first Pentecost was a day of anticipation and surprise. At the time of the Ascension Jesus told the apostles to go back to Jerusalem and wait. He didn’t say how long they should wait. Would it be hours, a day or days, or a week or even longer? They didn’t know, but they were faithful and gathered together every day to pray. For nine days they met to pray, and no doubt with the anticipation that this would be the day Jesus told them to prepare for, but nothing special seemed to happen. When they met on the tenth Day they received the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (It is from these nine days of prayer followed by the Pentecost event that the practice of novenas developed, which are nine days of prayer before the celebration of a particular feast.
They gathered in anticipation of some great experience of God. After experiencing the Last Supper, the Passion and Death, the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, they were probably not even going to try to guess what God had planned for them. They knew from experience that it would probably be far greater than they could ever imagine. The Apostles shared their anticipation with one another and never grew lax in their coming together to pray. The Lord was preparing them to be Church.
What happened on the tenth day was a total surprise when they experienced a loud noise like a driving wind, tongues as of fire, and the ability to speak in different tongues. The Holy Spirit had come, not merely to visit these followers of Jesus, but to fill them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and found themselves living their faith and proclaiming their experience of Jesus in ways that were foreign to them. They were surprised with the suddenness of how this took place, as well as the permanence of this event in their lives. When they spread out from Jerusalem this presence and the gifts that were part of this presence stayed with them.
When they saw the numerous converts who were baptized experiencing these same gifts of the Holy Spirit they realized that the Holy Spirit is a gift to the Church. A gift that each of us received at Baptism and Confirmation. Pentecost is a time for us to become more aware of the Holy Spirit in our lives and to claim the power and gifts that we have been blessed with. These gifts are far greater and more beautiful than we can probably imagine. Let us celebrate Pentecost with a renewed anticipation of how the Holy Spirit can work in new ways within us.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.