The Meaning of Pentecost

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and Mary and the Catholic Church was born. And while many Catholics are familiar with the feast of Pentecost, a lot of us don’t know the meaning behind this feast.

Catholic author Steve Ray recently stopped by Morning Air® to talk about the history of Pentecost, and the role that Mary plays in this birthday of the Church. He said:

“It means 50th day. But 50th day from what? Why 50th day? Well, we think of it as a Christian feast day in the Church – and it is – but it originated  – and still is – a feast day for the Jews. They have a Pentecost, a 50th day, from the Passover Lamb.

So the Passover Lamb died, then they left and went through the Red Sea, and went out in the wilderness. And 50 days later, they arrived at Mount Sinai and God have them the Law. So they look at the Pentecost as the day when God gave them the Law, 50 days after the Passover Lamb, and after Moses got them out of Egypt and they were free.

So, for us it’s the same. We are Jewish in the sense that we come out of the Jewish root – everything in the New Testament has its roots in the Old Testament. Everything we have in the Church has its roots in Judaism and the roots of Israel.

So when we have Pentecost on this Sunday, we say ’50th day from what?’ From the crucifixion of the real Passover Lamb. When Jesus, as the Passover Lamb, died His blood was also shed.

That blood is what saved us from the Angel of Death, and we go through the waters of Baptism, we come out into the wilderness of this life, and have the Holy Eucharist. Then we have the feast of Pentecost 50 days later, when the Holy Spirit comes down. He did it on Mount Zion, He came down in fire on their heads, just like He came down in fire on Mount Sinai even before that. Isn’t it cool how it all ties together?

Now, here’s an interesting thing about calling it the birthday of the Church. In the book of Acts it says that there were 120 people in the Upper Room, and Mary was there. And when the Bible specifically says that Mary was there, I think there’s a real reason for that. At very significant moments it says that Mary was there – like in Cana where she started the ministry of Jesus, and at the Cross when she became the mother of all disciples.

Mary is also in the Upper Room, and I think I know why. I think it’s because she had given birth to Jesus, His earthly body, in Bethlehem. She was the mother of Jesus and gave birth to the body of Christ there. But in the Upper Room, it is the birth of the mystical Body of Christ.

This is the birthday of the Church, and we are the Body of Christ. And if Mary is the mother of the Body of Christ, she has to be there in the Upper Room. Because when the baby is being born, the mother has to be there. So I think that is one of the reasons Mary is specifically said to be in the Upper Room, because she is the Mother of the Church and she had to be there for the birth of the mystical Body of Christ.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.