Pentecost is originally a Jewish holiday. Along with Passover and Tabernacles, it is one of the three Great Feasts of the Jewish calendar. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word which means “fiftieth.” The feast takes this name because it occurs fifty days after the second day of the Passover.
To the Jewish people, Pentecost has historical and agricultural significance. Historically, Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Since God accommodated his Law to an agricultural people, it enjoins upon the Jews various grain offerings. So, agriculturally, Pentecost also commemorates the time when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were harvested and brought to the temple in the form of two cakes of leavened bread (cf. Lev 23:17).
As Christians, we may ask ourselves what significance there is to the fact that Jesus decided to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the Church on this Jewish Feast. I think there are many instances in which the Christian celebration of Pentecost proves to be a sort of fulfillment of the Jewish Feast.
The Jewish Feast celebrates the beginning of the wheat harvest by offering the first of the harvested wheat to the Lord. In the Christian Feast, we celebrate the beginning of the Christian Church, when Jesus harvested 3000 souls who were cut to the heart by Peter’s teaching and were baptized. Jesus Christ Himself is the first fruit (“of those who have fallen asleep,” cf. 1 Cor 15:20), and we too are a kind of first fruits by the grace He has given us (cf. Jas 1:18). Finally, the Spirit that the Church received on that day guides us into all truth and knowledge of God’s Will in a way that far surpasses what was given in the Torah.
So, in many ways, the Jewish feast of Pentecost was the perfect day to set in motion the Church that God had in mind from the very beginning.
For more information about the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, see the following resources:
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Pentecost
- New Advent Encyclopedia: Pentecost (Jewish Feast)
- Judaism 101: Shavu'ot
- How Much Does Pentecost?
- Weak on the Feast of Weeks, or Whatever Happened to Shavuot?
- Let the Fire Fall! Reflections on the Readings for the Vigil of Pentecost
- The Pentecost Readings
- St. Bernard on the Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit