Passover celebrates the freeing of the Jews from slavery; Shavuot celebrates their becoming God’s holy people by the gift and acceptance of the Law; and the counting of the days to Shavuot symbolises their yearning for the Law.
From a strictly practical point of view, Shavuot was a very good time for the Holy Spirit to come down and inspire the Apostles to preach to all nations because, being a pilgrimage festival, it was an occasion when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from many countries.
Symbolically, the parallel with the Jews is exact. We are freed from the slavery of death and sin by Easter; with the Apostles, we spend some time as toddlers under the tutelage of the risen Jesus; and when he has left, the Spirit comes down on us and we become a Church.
to dwell with you forever...”
Pentecost and the Paschal Mystery
Dom Gueranger explains how important the mystery of Pentecost is in relation to the Paschal solemnity: “The Pasch is the redemption of man by the victory of Christ; Pentecost is the Holy Ghost taking possession of man redeemed. The Ascension is the intermediate mystery; it consummates the Pasch, by placing the Man-God, the Conqueror of death, and our head, at the right hand of the Father; it prepares the mission of the Holy Ghost to our earth. This mission could not take place until Jesus had been glorified, as St. John tells us (cf. Jn. 7:39 “...for the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”); ...This divine mission was not to be given to the Third Person until men were deprived of the visible presence of Jesus. As we have already said, the hearts of the faithful were henceforward to follow their absent Redeemer by a purer and wholly spiritual love. Now who was to bring us this new love, if not He who is the link of the eternal love of the Father and the Son? This Holy Spirit of love and union is called, in the sacred Scriptures, the ‘Gift of God’; and it is on the day of Pentecost that the Father and the Son send us this ineffable Gift. Let us call to mind the words spoken by our Emmanuel to the Samaritan woman at the well at Sichar: ‘If thou didst know the Gift of God!’ Jn 4: 10. We know the Gift of God; so that we have but to open our hearts to receive Him as did the three thousand who listened to St. Peter’s sermon.” Gueranger, p. 291-3
Old Pentecost and New Pentecost
The descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost is foreshadowed in the Old Testament promulgation of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai fifty days after the Jews had crossed the Red Sea. Dom Gueranger comments on the interrelationship of the two Pentecosts: “The Pentecost (fiftieth day) was honoured by the promulgation of the ten commandments of the divine law; and every following year, the Israelites celebrated the great event by a solemn festival. But their Pentecost was figurative, like their Pasch; there was to be a second Pentecost for all people, as there was to be a second Pasch, for the Redemption of the whole world. The Pasch, with all its triumphant joys, belongs to the Son of God, the Conqueror of death; Pentecost belongs to the Holy Ghost, for it is the day whereon He began His mission into this world, which, henceforward, was to be under His Law.... In this second Pentecost, ...repentance and gratitude are the sentiments now uppermost. A divine fire burns within their souls, and will spread throughout the whole world....” Gueranger., p. 277-8
Dom Gueranger again explains the intense spiritual awakening that occurs on the Jewish feast of Pentecost: “Jerusalem is filled with pilgrims, who have flocked thither from every country of the Gentile world. ...they have come to keep the feasts of Pasch and Pentecost. ...Amidst these Jews properly so called, are to be seen many Gentiles... This influx of strangers, who have come to Jerusalem out of a desire to observe the Law, gives the city a Babel-like appearance for each nation has its own language. They are not under the influence of pride and prejudice, as are the inhabitants of Judea; neither have they, like these latter, known and rejected the Messias, nor blasphemed His works.... so now, at this hour of Tierce (9:00 AM), the Father and the Son send upon earth the holy Spirit who proceeds from them both. He is sent to form the Church, the bride and the kingdom of Christ; He is to assist and maintain her; He is to save and sanctify the souls of men; and this His mission is to continue to the end of time.
“Suddenly is heard, coming from heaven, sound of a violent wind; it startles the people in the city, it fills the cenacle with its mighty breath. A crowd is soon round the house that stands on Mount Sion; the hundred and twenty disciples that are within the building feel the mysterious emotion within them, of which their Master once said: ‘The Spirit breatheth where He will, and thou hearest his voice’. Jn. 3:8 ...A silent shower falls in the house; it is a shower of fire which, as holy Church says ‘burns not but enlightens, consumes not but shines.’ (Responsory for Thursday within the Octave) Flakes of fire, in the shape of tongues, rest on the heads of the hundred and twenty disciples; it is the Holy Ghost taking possession of all and each. The Church is now not only in Mary, but also in these hundred and twenty disciples. All belong now to the Spirit that has descended upon them; His kingdom is begun, it is manifested, its conquests will be speedy and glorious.” Gueranger,. 278-280
Speaking in all tongues
Dom Gueranger highlights the great miracle of tongues for all to believe: “Since the confusion of Babel, there have been so many languages; ...How, then, is the word to become the instrument of the world’s conquest, and to make one family out of all these nations that cannot understand each other? ...With other gifts, wherewith He has enriched the hundred and twenty disciples, He has given them understanding in every language. In a transport of holy enthusiasm, they attempt to speak the languages of all nations; their tongue and their ear take in, not only without effort, but with charm and joy, this plentitude of word and speech which is to reunite mankind together. The Spirit of love has annulled the separation of Babel; men are once more made brethren by the unity of language... What is the surprise of this multitude, composed as it is of people of so many different nations, when these poor uneducated Galileans address them, each in the language of his country? ...The Holy Spirit makes His presence and influence to be felt in the hearts of these favoured listeners A few moments previously they were disciples of Sinai, who come from distant lands to celebrate the by-gone Pasch and Pentecost; now they have faith, simple and full faith, in Christ. They repent of the awful crime of His death, of which they have been accomplices; they confess His Resurrection and Ascension...These children of Israel had to make the sacrifice, or they never could have shared in the graces of the new Pentecost: ...three thousand declared themselves disciples of Christ, and received the mark of adoption in holy Baptism. ...To-morrow, Peter is to preach in the temple, and five thousand men will enrol themselves as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Hail! Then, dear creation of the Holy Ghost! Militant on earth; triumphant in heaven; beautiful, noble, immortal Church, all hail! And thou, bright Pentecost! Day of our truest birth! How fair, how glorious, thou makest these first hours of Jesus’ bride on earth! The divine Spirit thou givest us, has written, not on upon stone, but upon our hearts, the Law that is to govern us.” Gueranger, p. 281, 287, 289- 291.