Pentecost, a Jewish and Christian holiday

Pentecost, a Jewish and Christian holiday


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The Pentecost party brings together, with different but related reasons, two of the three great monotheisms: the Christendom and the Judaism. Calendar milestone of a common heritage, this festival is in many countries followed by a nonworking Monday or bank holiday. The Christian feast of Pentecost is dedicated to theHoly Spirit, certainly the most enigmatic and the most difficult to define of the people of the Trinity. Believer or not, it is essential to know the significance of this highlight of the Judeo-Christian culture.

A Jewish holiday

If we generally know Pentecost as a Christian holiday, we should know that it is in a way the reform of a Jewish holiday by Christians who are also in a way Reform Jews.

This feast of Shavuot ("weeks" in Hebrew) or Pentecost ("fiftieth day" in Greek) takes place 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath after the feast of Passover (Jewish Passover). It is originally an agrarian festival linked to the harvests to come (it takes place during plowing). A small part of the barley harvest is sacrificed on the altar in the form of bread (to which are added animal offerings and libations). At the beginning of the 1st century AD, it became one of the three great annual pilgrimages (along with Pesach and Sukkot). Little by little, the Hellenized Jews and certain Jewish movements linked this feast commemorating the gift of the Torah to Moses on Sinai (however, this orientation of the feast was not formalized until the second century by the Pharisees).

It is in this context of Hebrew feast day that the Christian Pentecost takes place.

Christian Pentecost

The story of the apostles of Jesus of Nazareth is recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, attributed by tradition to the evangelist Saint Luke, disciple of the apostle Saint Paul. The latter reports that the apostles after the crucifixion of Jesus noted his resurrection (feast of Easter) and saw him return to God his father (feast of the Ascension). They then find themselves alone, with the Virgin Mary, when the Jewish feast of Pentecost arrives.

After which, Peter announces to all the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is the beginning of the great movement of evangelization of the apostles.

The feast of the Holy Spirit

Christian Pentecost is therefore closely linked to Jewish Pentecost, on the one hand because the first is part of the second, but also and above all from a thematic point of view. In its Sinic acceptance, the Jewish holiday marks the beginning of a new covenant with God, appearing in the cloud. Likewise, in Christian Easter divine intervention in the tongues of fire marks the beginning of a new covenant. Christian Easter is both a culmination and a new beginning.

It is a result, because the arrival of the Holy Spirit is announced and awaited. According to the evangelist Saint John, during his last meal, Jesus announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit who was supposed to come to complete his work with men.

He also says according to Saint-Jean:

"When the Comforter cometh, whom I send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, which comes from the Father, he will bear witness of me; and you also will bear witness, because you are with me from the beginning."
John 15: 26-27

During his resurrection, Jesus would have appeared to his disciples and would have given them the Spirit for the first time, in the absence of Thomas.

After these words he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. "Those whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven; and those whose sins you withhold, they will be withheld." John 20: 22-23

Pentecost is the culmination of this whole process for which Christ is preparing his disciples: he leaves this world without having told and taught everything to men, and they are called to deepen their knowledge of God and to evangelize through the Holy Mind.

But Pentecost is also a starting point since it really launches the kick-off of a great movement of evangelization on the part of the apostles. The new Church is therefore defined by its missionary vocation, but also by its universal vocation since the Holy Spirit gives the apostles the gift of being understood in all languages.

The Holy Spirit is certainly the least comprehensible person of the Trinity in our minds. Much less concrete than the Father or his son Jesus Christ. The word "Spirit" is a translation from the Greek "Pneuma" which literally means "breath". The Holy Spirit is considered as the third person (hypostasis) of the Trinity since the First Council of Nicaea (325) which defines him as consubstantial with the Father and the Son. The Spirit is for Christians an individualized person who just as he accompanied Christ on earth (calling him to life, attesting that he is the son of God to the apostles ...) pushes men to believe , understand, live and spread the gospel. He is the one through which the Trinity has been active in the world since the Ascension of Christ.

The nature of the Holy Spirit is so difficult for Christians to perceive that it was one of the stumbling blocks that led to schism: the Symbol of Nicaea-Constantinople (written in 325 and completed in 381) considered that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. Against the advice of the Pope, Emperor Charlemagne adds that he also proceeds from the Son as claimed by the Church of Spain. It was only in the second half of the 9th century that Pope Nicolas II accepted this new Creed which was to be one of the causes of the Great Eastern Schism in 1054 following what was called the Filioque quarrel, the Orthodox believing that this addition is not justified by the Fathers of the Church.

It is also through a search for greater knowledge and greater intimacy with the Holy Spirit that Pentecostal and charismatic movements have developed since the twentieth century which affect both the Catholic and Reformed Churches.

History of Pentecost

It would seem that from the second century Christian communities celebrated Pentecost, but the thing was not really generalized until the fourth century when it is well attested in Italy. It even ends up becoming a feast of obligation under Charlemagne at the time of the Council of Mainz (813).

Even today, this religious feast is at the heart of the Christian Churches, and it is generally this day that is chosen by Catholics for the sacrament of Confirmation. In France, Pentecost Monday was a public holiday that has been transformed into a day of solidarity with people with loss of autonomy or disabilities.

For further

• Simon Claude Mimouno & Pierre Maraval, Le Christianisme des origines à Constantin, PUF, 2006.
• Philippe Rouillard, The Christian Feasts in the West, Les Editions du Cerf, 2006.


Video: Upper Room Overview Tour, Last Supper, Pentecost, Jerusalem, Israel, Mt. Zion, Holy Land


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