The Catholic feast of Pentecost actually has strong Jewish roots; religious obligations found in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
This original Pentecost is an Old Testament agricultural feast where the ancient Jews offered loaves of bread from the first fruits of their spring wheat harvest to the Lord. Sometime after the destruction of the second Temple in A.D. 70, many Jewish people began to attach an additional focus to this feast: a recalling of the Law being presented by God on Mount Sinai. Traditions assert that this event likely happened on the date set aside for Pentecost. So, the Old Testament feast of Pentecost is sometimes also called the feast of the Law of Moses.
The word “Pentecost” is derived from Greek-speaking Jews who called the day penētkostē (Greek for 50th), for the Old Testament Pentecost was 50 days from the first day of Passover: “… you shall count to the day after the seventh week, 50 days. Then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:16).
In the New Testament, Jesus gave plenty of promises that the Holy Spirit would be sent down to assist and guide his followers on earth, including: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit (sometimes also called the Advocate, Paraclete or Counselor) was indeed sent, on the day that the Jewish people happened to be celebrating their Pentecost. Because of this timing, the word “Pentecost” became the word used to mark the day commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles on the 50th day from Easter (both Easter and Pentecost are counted, creating a full 50 days): “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were (Acts 2:1-2).
Enriched and enabled by the Holy Spirit, they went out and performed many wonders while proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the “Spirit connection” from Resurrection to Pentecost: “On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost” (1287).
50 Verses for the 50th Day
Nowadays, many Jewish people celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost, now commonly called “Shavu‛ot” (sha-voo-OT) —meaning “weeks” — by reading the Torah all night. An admirable endeavor! Perhaps reading the Bible all night long is not a feasible option for many, but maybe reading just 50 verses is. The Bible has a wide array of verses and passages that speak of the Holy Spirit; below is a sampling of Pentecost-related passages.
Consider reading these 50 verses on Pentecost as a way to actively connect with our Jewish roots and to embrace a richer understanding of this profound Catholic feast, also called the birthday of the Church:
- Leviticus 23:15-22
- Mark 1:8
- John 14:16-17, 26
- John 16:7, 12-14
- John 20:19-22
- Acts 1:6-9
- Acts 2:1-4
- Acts 2:14-18
- Joel 3:1-2
- Acts 2:38
- Acts 8:14-17
- Acts 13:1-3
- Romans 5:5
- Romans 8:14-15
- Isaiah 11:1-2
- Galatians 5:22-23
Theresa Doyle-Nelson (www.TheresaDoyle-Nelson.blogspot.com) writes from Pipe Creek, Texas.