By Mel Jasmin
Pentecost originally was a Jewish feast that occurred 50 days after the Passover celebration and commemorated the giving of the law to Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai.
On the Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and those gathered with them, bringing fulfillment to this feast by bringing the new law in the Spirit, which is written on our hearts. The descent of the Holy Spirit is depicted using Old Testament imagery. The “strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire” are reminiscent of the encounters with God on Mt. Sinai by Moses (see Exodus 19) and Elijah (see 1 Kings 19). The presence of the Holy Spirit manifested itself miraculously through “different tongues.” As the context reveals, this indicates that the Apostles were supernaturally able to speak in many languages and be understood by the diverse crowd.
This evidences the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing unity to the people of God. Sin separates but the Spirit unites. The fact that the diverse crowd, representing many nations and languages, could understand each other served as a reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel back in Genesis 11.
At Pentecost, due to grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, people who would have been separated by language and nationality were brought together. This unity is a characteristic of the Church. Pentecost traditionally marks the beginning of the Church and reminds us that the Church is meant for all peoples. In fact, the word “Catholic” means “universal,” indicating that it crosses societal, ethnic, and linguistic barriers. In the Church, we all speak the same “language” because we profess the same faith, despite our many differences.