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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

May 5, 2008

Pentecost: A Very Important Feast

Sunday, May 11, is the a feast of utmost importance in the Church. If fact, if your students ranked feast days in order, Easter would have the most importance. Easter is the day that gives meaning to our faith and distinguishes it from all others. The great joy of Jesus' Resurrection translates to the possibility that we, too, will have eternal life. As St. Paul writes, "If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith (1 Cor 15:14). In other words, our faith is worthless unless we believe that Jesus is Risen!

Again ranking, Pentecost would be the second most important Church feast day. St. John Chrysostom said in the fifth century about Pentecost: "Today we have arrived at the peak of all blessings, we have reached the capital of feasts, we have obtained the very fruit of the Lord's promise."

It was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, first came to the disciples. It is the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, that helped early Christians to fearlessly preach the Good News. When the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in the form of wind and fire as they hid in the Upper Room, they were changed into courageous souls who preached the Gospel strongly, and eventually were put to death just as Jesus was.

Pentecost is a Greek word that means "fiftieth day." It is celebrated fifty days after Easter. Students can relate the root word, "pent," to other words that have to with fifty or five, for example "pentagon." The Jews also marked the fiftieth day after Passover with a feast called "Feast of First Fruits" or the "Feast of Weeks." It was for this reason that Jews from all over the Roman Empire had gathered in Jerusalem, eventually to hear Peter's bold testimony about Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles (2:41) reports that about three thousand persons were baptized on that day.

Pentecost is often known as the "birthday of the Church" because it was on this day that God's final covenant with humankind was complete. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the first Christians could look back on the events in the life of Jesus was new insight and see how they fit in with all that had been foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. Stamped with the Spirit's approval, so to speak, they could preach confidently that "Jesus is Lord!" and that Jesus was equal with the Father, true God from true God.

Discussion Questions
1. What are your three favorite days of the year? How has that list changed for you in the past five years?
2. When was a time you were afraid? Who or what helped you to be more courageous?
3. What is your favorite image of the Holy Spirit?

Lesson Ideas
Read and discuss the Pentecost narrative from Acts 2:1–41.
Discuss what Jesus means when he calls the Holy Spirit the "Paraclete." The Paraclete is literally the Advocate or Consoler who stands by the side of Jesus' disciples. Jesus was the first Paraclete; the Holy Spirit is the second.
Review many symbols associated with the Holy Spirit. A list of various symbols with explanations can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (694-701).
Have the students work individually or in small groups to do a word search through the Gospel of Luke to find all the places where the Spirit is present in Jesus' life and ministry.

Classroom Activity
Conduct this activity in a safe place after you have received permission! Stretch a plastic strip from a six-pack of soft drinks into one long piece. Tie one end to the middle of a wire coat hanger. Suspend the coat hanger from the ceiling. Place a LARGE bucket of water below the plastic strip. Dim the lights. With a match, light the bottom of the plastic. "Balls of fire" simulating "tongues of fire" will drop into the water. Read the Pentecost narrative or sing the mantra Veni Sante Spiritus ("Come Holy Spirit") while the plastic burns.

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