10 Questions about Pentecost

Officer Worship and Prayer Fiona Duque answers some questions about Pentecost below.

What is Pentecost? 

Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. It occurs after the season of Easter. It empowered the apostles to go out, as Jesus had commanded them, to be missionary disciples and thus it marks the beginning of the Christian church’s mandate to pursue God’s mission to the world.

Pentecost can be an invitation to all people to open their eyes to the mystery of life and love.

Who is the Holy Spirit? 

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God which fills all of creation. The Holy Spirit is present with us, guiding us towards goodness and truth. Christians understand the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit). The Holy Spirit is often referred to by other names in scripture such the paraclete and advocate and is often spoken of in the feminine.

What is in the Bible story about Pentecost? 

Jesus’ has ascended into heaven. The disciples feel lost, so they come together to talk and pray about what has happened. Then, to their surprise, a strong of wind fills the room and then it turns into flames. Tongues of flames settle on top of their heads. They were then, shockingly, gifted with being able to speak other languages. They used this gift to spread the Good News of Jesus. Amazingly 3000 people are baptised this day and were also filled with the Holy Spirit. And so, it continues today.

PS: It is important to remember that Catholics do not read the scriptures as a literal historical account. The story of Pentecost reveals a deep truth about God’s promise to be with us always.

Why is it sometimes referred to as the 'birthday of the church'? 

Who doesn’t love a birthday party! However, not wanting to burst your balloon, this is not a helpful or even accurate image. Again, we are looking for a deeper truth. That is that the Church only exists in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit there is no Church. Perhaps more accurately we would say that the Church comes into being in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

How important is Pentecost Sunday to the Church? 

Pentecost Sunday is the last day of the Easter Season. For the Catholic Church, Mass on this day is a solemnity. A solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank celebrating a mystery of faith. The observance begins on the evening before the actual date of the feast.

What is the liturgical colour of Pentecost? 

The tradition of the Catholic Church is to dress the church in red. The colour red used at this Mass recalls the tongues of fire that descended upon the apostles when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What are the main symbols of Pentecost? 

The more notable symbols of Pentecost are wind, fire, and a dove. However, perhaps the most profound and yet unrecognised symbol of Pentecost is the diverse languages of the apostles when they spoke after they had received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables a variety of gifts within the community. God’s vision for our unity through our diversity.

What was the historical significance of Pentecost for the Jewish people?

Pentecost is known to the Jewish people as Shavuot, the seven weeks (Feast of Weeks) after Passover. It was known as the Harvest Festival. You can find out about it in Leviticus 23:15-16. Pentecost is a Greek word for that holiday, meaning fiftieth (Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē).

Why did the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost? 

Jesus promised to send an advocate who would be with us always. The Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of that promise. In the Bible it reads that there were many Jews from every nation ‘under heaven’ in Jerusalem for Shavuot at that time. Remembering that the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the gift of languages, so they were able to proclaim the Good News about Jesus in languages that the people could understand.

I am not Catholic, what might Pentecost mean to me? 

Sorry, this day won’t fast track your second language studies. By receiving the Spirit of God, the followers of Jesus became one in purpose, as brothers and sisters in the one human family. It strengthened their community. What communities do you belong to that you need to reconnect with? Or, maybe you are being called to do more in your community. Also, a Church dressed in red is certainly a beautiful sight to behold. You should check it out.

Main image: JESUS MAFA. Pentecost, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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Fiona Duque Image
Fiona Duque

Fiona is the Pastoral Ministries Officer - Worship and Prayer.

Formerly, she was the Ministry Coordinator and Religious Studies Coordinator at St Bede's Catholic College, Chisholm.