A New Era of the Church

by Edmond Lo
Pentecost Sunday

ACTS 2:1-11

1 Corinthians 12:3B-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

Pentecost is a solemnity celebrated by the Church 50 days after Easter to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, the preaching of Peter and the other Apostles to Jews in Jerusalem, and the baptism of some 3,000 people to the Christian community; it is regarded as the birthday of the Catholic Church (cf. 1995 Catholic Almanac, p.248).

Hold on... “Birthday of the Catholic Church”? Are we saying the Church did not exist before the event of Pentecost as narrated by Luke in Acts 2:1-11? Not really. As noted by Vatican II, the Church, as an assembly of people called to believe in Christ, was “already present in figure at the beginning of the world”; she “was prepared in marvelous fashion in the history of the people of Israel” and “will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time” (Lumen Gentium n.2).

As a result, the Pentecost event is considered the “birthday” of the Church in the sense that the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles has become a symbol of the Spirit’s new and active presence in the Church. This typifies the beginning of the Church of the New Covenant and fulfills Jesus’ promise made before his departure from this world -- to send the Advocate whose mission will complete the mission of the Son through the Church (cf. Dominum et vivificantem, n.25, 63).

The event of Pentecost ushers in a new era of the Church wherein the Holy Spirit is her founding gift - the soul that animates the body of the Christian community, the overseer of her missionary efforts, the invisible dispenser of grace that sanctifies her life through the sacraments, and the Spirit of truth that guides her leadership “into all truth” (cf. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament on Acts 2:4).

With this understanding of the event of Pentecost in mind, suddenly we see a whole new significance in the resurrected Jesus’ “breathing on” and the Church leadership’s “receiving” of the Holy Spirit in today’s gospel reading (cf. John 20:21-23). In a gospel that is filled with imagery and symbolism, these simple gestures are the prelude to a new era in human history that makes even the French Revolution or the lunar landing of Apollo 11 pale by comparison. What we are hearing – what is being proclaimed with renewed vigor and enthusiasm - on this Pentecost Sunday is the dawning of a new era of the Church – the era of the Pneuma that Jesus breathed forth on the Cross and in the Upper Room (Luke 23:46, John 20:22); the era of the Holy Spirit.