Acts 2:1-13 The rushing of the wind and tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles hearkens back to the theophanies experienced by Moses at Sinai. The Church’s liturgy celebrates the Feast of Pentecost fifty days after Easter Sunday. The first Pentecost is seen as the day the Church, newly endowed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, began her sacred mission of evangelization mandated by Christ, The Sacrament of Confirmation, along with the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, is a Sacrament of Initiation, which invites the Christian into a deeper union with the Holy Spirit so to become better empowered to carry out the apostolic responsibilities consistent with his or her state of life. (CCC 1285-1321, 2623, 2634, 2644)
Ch 2:3-4 Filled with the Holy Spirit: This indicates an outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the soul so the person shares more intensely in the redemptive mission of Christ. It is a phrase used multiple times by Luke and throughout Scripture. The Apostles were strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit, enabling them to fulfill the mission that Christ had given them.
Tongues of fire: Fire represents the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 696, 728-730, 1287, 1556)
Ch 2:5-13 This scene is the reverse of what happened at the Tower of Babel, when people’s excessive pride led to a confusion of languages (cf. Gn 11:1-9). Pentecost was a pilgrimage event that drew Jews from all parts of the known world to Jerusalem. The miracle of pilgrims from so many different tongues being able to understand the preaching of the Apostles in their own languages is a sign of the universality of the Gospel message and the desire of Christ to bring his message of salvation to everyone. The number of nationalities listed is seventeen-the seventh prime number-which is used in Scripture to indicate universality and perfection. (CCC 101, 737-741)
Ch 2:10-11 Proselytes: These were Gentiles who had converted to the Jewish faith.
Mighty works of God: These are offered to us today in the Sacraments of the Church. (CCC 740, 1287, 1363)
Ch 2:14-36 Peter, as head of the Church, offered a testimony of the Resurrection, the divinity of Christ, and his salvific mission by explaining how he fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. His newfound insights into the mysteries of salvation and his courageous preaching clearly show the power of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 440)
Ch 2:15 The third hour: The day was counted from sunrise, so the third hour was 9 AM-too early for anyone to have been drinking, particularly since the morning of Pentecost was a time of fasting.
Ch 2:17-21 The prophetic texts promised that the Spirit of the Lord would renew the face of the earth. Included in this work of transformation is the New Law of grace and the New Commandment to love as Christ loved. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, a New Covenant is established by which the People of God acquire a new life in Christ. (CCC 715, 1179, 1267, 2801)
Ch 2:17 The last days: The New Covenant would be gradually unveiled as the final days of the Old Covenant approached. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit predicted by the prophet Joel was thus a sign of the replacement of the Old Covenant with the New (cf. Jl 2:28-32). Joel’s cosmic imagery of the end times (cf. Acts 3) is a sign of the ushering in of the messianic age. (CCC 65, 585, 732, 1287)
Ch 2:20 Day of the Lord: A day of God’s judgment upon Israel. The phrase can also be used to refer to the Sabbath. The Eucharistic celebration is a foretaste of the “day of the Lord.” (CCC 448-455, 972, 2173, 2837)
Ch 2:21 Whoever calls on the name of the Lord: Only God can bring us salvation. We can confidently call upon the name of God because Christ united us to himself by assuming our humanity. The very name of Jesus, “YHWH saves,” invokes his presence, so when we pray in his name, we make the Son of God present to us. (CCC 432, 2666)
Ch 2:22-36 Because David was known to be dead, his prophecy could not have been about himself but about the Messiah.
Mighty works: The Resurrection and miracles of Jesus are signs that showed he was the Messiah and that the Kingdom of God was at hand. (CCC 547, 746)
Ch 2:23 Peter did not lay blame on the Jewish people as a whole for the sins of a few. Moreover, the sins of every individual were the cause of Christ’s Passion. Though the suffering and Death of Christ was part of God’s plan of redemption, those enemies of Christ who had him arrested and brought to trial were not entirely free of evil intention. Later, Peter would excuse any complicity of these people in the Death of Christ as having been the result of ignorance (cf. Acts 3:17). (CCC 597, 599-601)
Ch 2:24-27 After his Death and before his Resurrection, Christ went to the abode of the dead (the bosom of Abraham), referred to as “hell” in the Apostles’ Creed, to free the virtuous who had died before him and who were deprived of the Beatific Vision while they awaited the Redemption of Christ. His Death and Resurrection opened the gates of Heaven to them and to those who would die faithful to Christ. Because his divinity did not abandon him and he was completely sinless, his body was not affected by the corruption of death. (CCC 627, 632-633, 648)
Ch 2:30-31 Oath: Generally speaking, an oath calls upon God as a witness to the truth of what is being said. Here, it refers to God’s irrevocable promise, which was fulfilled in Christ, who is of the ancestral line of David.
His flesh did not see corruption: Christ’s soul was reunited with his glorified Body at the Resurrection. The number of days that Christ’s Body remained in the tomb is important because at the time it was believed that the body did not begin to decompose until the fourth day after death. (CCC 650)
Ch 2:34-36 The Scripture passage Peter quoted here was cited by Christ himself (cf. Ps 110:1). The first mention of “Lord” refers to God the Father, while the second “Lord” refers not to King David, as he spoke of him as “my Lord,” but rather to the Messiah who would come from the Davidic line.
Sit at my right hand: To sit at a person’s right hand means to possess his or her power and authority. This is another affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah since Peter had just stated that Christ was “exalted at the right hand of God,” from which he poured out the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:33). (CCC 447-449, 659, 695, 731-732, 788-789)
Ch 2:37-41 Rather than the symbolic baptism performed by John the Baptist, which served as a sign of repentance, the Sacrament of Baptism instituted by Christ-and conferred here by the Apostles-brings about the forgiveness of all sin, makes the baptized share in the life of Christ through an infusion of sanctifying grace, and bestows the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we can enjoy the benefits of the Redemption.
Souls: In this context, this refers to individual human persons. (CCC 363, 1226, 1262-1264, 1287, 1433)
Ch 2:38-39 Repent, and be baptized: Baptism is the proper response for one who repents and desires the salvation from sin offered by Christ. Baptism washes away the stain of sin, grants sanctifying grace, and the grace to withstand temptation.
In the name of Jesus Christ: This verse does not give the actual sacramental formula of Baptism but refers to the fact that Christ instituted the Sacrament. The words used in the Sacrament of Baptism include the Trinitarian formula explicitly given to us by Christ: “Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
To you and to your children: There is evidence of the practice of infant Baptism or at least the baptism of young children in the early Church (cf. Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16).
All that are far off: Jews of the Diaspora (those living outside Judea), Gentiles, and people of all faiths are invited to repent and be baptized. (CCC 804, 1185, 1226, 1250-1252)
Ch 2:42-47 Luke provides a capsule summary of the activities of the infant Church.
Apostles’ teaching: This term refers to what nowadays is called catechetical instruction; the Apostles evidently provided new converts with instruction in the Faith.
Fellowship: From the Greek word koinonia, also meaning communion, it indicates the bonds of love, faith, and joy that exist within the Christian community. This special fraternity inspired the faithful to detach themselves from material goods in order to be generous in caring for one another’s needs.
The breaking of bread: In the New Testament, this term refers to the celebration of the Eucharist, just as Christ had directed them.
The prayers: The Apostles sang psalms and hymns in both Eucharistic celebration and in communal prayer. This is continued in the Liturgy of the Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours. (CCC 3-6, 103, 857, 949-950, 1232-1233, 2624)
Ch 2:42 The Church is Apostolic because Christ founded her upon the Apostles. The Church’s teaching mission, therefore, is to hand down the teachings of the Apostles. The bishops, as successors of the Apostles, are the primary teachers in their dioceses. (CCC 857)
Ch 2:44 The practice of holding goods in common, while not mandated, will emerge in later chapters. This practice was a manifestation of the early Christians’ love of neighbor and the practice of koinonia, or communion, as well as of their faithfulness to Christ’s teachings. This practice of poetry was considered normative in the early Church rather than something expected by a few. Concern for the welfare of others, especially the poor, is the responsibility of the individual, the local community, and the entire Church. (CCC 948)
Ch 2:46-47 The first Christians did not consider themselves separated from the Jewish faith, nor did most Jews regard them as such. Many considered them a sect within Judaism. They worshiped in the Temple with the rest of the Jewish community on the Sabbath but celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday in private homes.
Praising God and having favor with all the people: For a time, the Christians were able to worship freely and openly. Only later were they expelled from the Temple and persecuted.
The Lord added: God was given the credit for the prodigious number of conversions, which is rightly the work of the Holy Spirit through the witness of the Apostles, who are his instruments. (CCC 47, 584, 1329, 1342, 2640)
Romans 2:1-24 Using a common literary device of his time, Paul portrayed himself as having a dispute with an imaginary Jew, in which he chided the Jewish people for the hypocrisy of judging the Gentiles for not being bound to the Law which the Jews themselves often transgressed. There was a belief among many Jews that they would be spared judgment for their transgressions because they were descendants of Abraham and hers to God’s covenant. Paul stated that it was not just in approving or accepting the Law itself that one was saved; rather, God is just and judges us by our works, whether Jew or Gentile. (CCC 682)
Ch 2:14-16 A good moral conscience prevails upon us to do good and avoid evil in light of objective moral norms. It renders a practical judgment that determines whether or not our actions reflect God’s law. A well-formed conscience is the voice of God speaking within us, guiding us in fulfilling God’s will with concrete acts within our particular circumstances. (CCC 678, 1777, 1796)
Ch 2:15 Written on their hearts: The natural law is inscribed in the mind and heart of every person. Just as we can come to know God through natural means, we can also discern the fundamentals of objective morality, which is a sharing in God’s eternal law. This enlightenment gives us a natural sense of good and evil. Knowledge of the moral law forms the basis for a good conscience that guides us in our moral choices. Because of this innate knowledge, even a non-believer can lead a virtuous life and keep the Commandments even if never introduced explicitly to the Ten Commandments. Meanwhile, those who have faith in God and know the moral law but transgress that law will be held more accountable. (CCC 1959-1960)
Ch 2:19-20 Guide to the blind...truth: God intended that Israel would serve as an example to the rest of the world and win the Gentile nations over to the one true God. If the Jewish people did indeed abide by God’s covenant through fidelity to the Mosaic Law, they would have been effective lights for those living in darkness. (CCC 210, 218)
Ch 2:24 God is blasphemed: Israel’s history of slavery, exile, and dispersion due to their sinful infidelity to God’s covenant led pagan nations to mock the one true God (cf. Is 52:5). Because our lived witness to nonbelievers is so powerful, we bless God’s name when we act morally and dishonor his name when we do evil. (CCC 2814)
Ch 2:25-29 For Jewish men, circumcision was a sign of their participation in Israel’s covenant with God. It required them to keep the Law of Moses in its entirety. Justification, however, does not come from the Law but solely from Christ’s Redemption. We receive justification in Baptism, which removes sins and conforms us to Christ. It is symbolically called “circumcision of the heart.” (CCC 1150)
Ch 3:1-8 In the Old Testament the Jewish people had the benefit of the Law and the Prophets. When Christ came, some Jews rejected him and his message of salvation. Yet, God always remains faithful to his covenant. Simply stated, he rewards those who keep his covenant through fidelity to the moral law and punishes those who reject the law. (CCC 71)
Ch 3:4 That you may be justified...judged: The line is from a Psalm of David (cf. Ps 51:4). In context, David asked for God’s forgiveness but recognized that God is just in judging and punishing him for his very grave sins. Likewise, while the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation forgives all sins, a person must still make reparation for all sins committed. (CCC 1470)
Ch 3:8 And why not do evil that good may come?: God’s infinite mercy revealed in Christ’s Passion and Death in response to the sins of humanity obviously does not condone sin in the least. The Exultet of the Church’s liturgy for the Easter Vigil proclaims, “O truly necessary sin of Adam...O happy fault/ that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Such language is intended to express awe at God’s overwhelming gift of mercy and salvation rather than diminishing the gravity of sin. (CCC 647, 1756, 1759-1761, 1887)
Ch 3:9-20 In and of itself, the Law cannot save anyone. No one can keep the Law perfectly, and so all are sinners. With the notable exception of Mary, who was preserved from all stain of Original Sin, all human persons are conceived with Original Sin and suffer from concupiscence, i.e., the inclination to sin. Therefore, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, needs the grace of redemption obtained by Jesus Christ. We are called to keep the Law and the Commandments but are powerless to “earn” salvation merely by our works without God’s abundant help; God’s gift of grace and his mercy are always indispensable in obtaining salvation and holiness. (CCC 387, 402-403, 708)
Ch 3:20 Through the law comes knowledge of sin: To delineate what is prohibited necessarily reveals what is evil. With the Law, the sins of Israel were highlighted, and in a similar manner, knowing the nature of sin highlights our culpability if we fall into sin. (CCC 708)
Ch 3:21-31 Paul’s underlying purpose here was to explain that Gentiles were not second-class Christians but rather enjoyed equality with the Jewish converts. His argument countered the Pharisees’ perspective that salvation came through a meticulous observance of the Law. It also touched upon the debate over whether Gentile converts must first be circumcised and bound to the Old Law before being baptized as Christians. Paul explained that righteousness, or “justification,” is always a free and unmerited gift from God. Anyone who abides by the Law, even in a most faithful manner, still must rely on God’s gift of grace for salvation. Hence, there is no salvation without grace merited by the redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Faith is a virtue bestowed in the Sacrament of Baptism. The grace of the Holy Spirit conferred at Baptism justifies us by cleansing us of Original Sin and all personal sins and making us share in the life of Christ. (CCC 1987, 1992, 2010, 2543)
Ch 3:21 Christ is the visible manifestation of the righteousness of God. He is the Messiah, whose coming was foretold in Scripture, who would redeem humanity from sin and establish a New Covenant. (CCC 436, 453)
Ch 3:23 All have sinned...glory of God: Young children and those who do not possess the will or intellect to make rational decisions do not commit actual sins. Nevertheless, they are marked from conception with Original Sin, which Adam and Eve brought into the world through their violation of God’s Commandment. The sole exceptions to this are Christ, the Son of God, and his Mother, Mary, who by the grace of God was preserved from all stain of Original Sin. Apostolic Tradition and Church dogma teach that Mary was conceived without sin, a doctrine known as the Immaculate Conception. (CCC 399, 705, 1862)
Ch 3:25 Expiation: A ritual sacrifice by which sins are forgiven. The Death of Christ on the Cross to redeem humanity is the supreme example of expiation. (CCC 433, 1460, 1991-1992)
Ch 3:28 We are not justified by the works of the Law but only through faith in Christ. Faith is much more than a passive acceptance of truths revealed by God; true faith involves giving ourselves completely to Christ and conforming ourselves to his life. Just as Christ loved perfectly, even unto death, those who have faith in Christ will also lay down their lives as they strive to love as Christ loved. (CCC 818, 1271, 2542)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Pentecost and the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples, about 120 according to Luke’s earlier count (Acts 1:15), are all gathered in one place.
This “one place” is often assumed to be the “upper room” where Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with his apostles, but this is unlikely for several reasons.
First, it is doubtful that the upper room could have held 120 people.
Even if it could, the events that soon transpired brought a crowd of immense size, from which 3,000 people were baptized (Acts 2:41).
What place would be a fitting location for the disciples to be gathered in worship and prayer, accommodate a massive crowd, and have enough water at hand to baptize 3,000 people?
It seems most likely that the “house” where they were gathered was God’s house, the Temple.
The large courts of the Temple, as Luke describes in the following chapters, were a favorite gathering place for the early Christians (Acts 2:46, 5:42).
In addition, just outside the gates of the Temple was a network of cisterns for ritual washing (the remains of which can still be seen today at the southern steps of the Temple), which would have provided an excellent place for baptizing the new converts.
Under the Old Covenant, the feast of Pentecost celebrated God’s revelation of the Torah fifty days after the Passover, where God manifested himself in fire and thunder before Israel, who were gathered at the base of Mount Sinai.
Now, during the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the house of God is filled with a great wind, and all the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit manifested as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-4).
Pentecost celebrated the gift of the law, which was the center of Judaism.
Now, the Holy Spirit is poured out and will become the center and source of life for the new Israel.
This event transforms the feast of Pentecost.
Just before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 B.C., Ezekiel had a vision of God’s Spirit leaving the Temple because of Israel’s sins (Ez 10).
Later in his oracles, the prophet predicted that God’s Spirit would one day return to be with God’s people, and that return would begin at the Temple (Ez 43-47).
Since the people’s return with Ezra and Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the Temple, there had been no visible manifestation of God’s return to the Temple, a manifestation that occurred with the completion of both the tabernacle (Ex 40) and the first Temple (1 Kgs 8).
Now, at long last, God has returned to his Temple and is pouring out his Holy Spirit upon all those who believe in his Son, Jesus, fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophetic oracles.
Peter stands, addresses the crowds, and explains that this outpouring of the Spirit fulfills the oracle of the prophet Joel, who foretold that one day God would pour his Holy Spirit upon all of his people.
Joel’s words echoed the Exodus, when God poured his Spirit upon Moses and the seventy elders, and Moses prayed that one day God might pour his Spirit out upon all of Israel (Nm 11:29).
Now a new and greater Exodus has occurred, and Moses’ desire is realized; all Israel is able to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father.
The Christian Community
Luke describes the four characteristics of the early Christian community: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The shared faith (the apostles’ teaching) created a community (fellowship), the center of which was the re-enactment of Jesus’ Last Supper in the Eucharist (the breaking of bread) and the life of prayer.
This faith and life in the community called together in Christ Jesus overflowed in charity towards others (Acts 2:45).
Here is a glimpse of how life, guided and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, builds up unity and community, whereas the marks of sin, as at Babel, are division and isolation.
With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Jews who have made pilgrimage to the Temple from all over the Roman world, from North Africa, from Asia, and from Rome itself, hear the preaching of Peter and the disciples in their own native languages.
This miraculous gift of tongues is a profound sign that recalls the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.
Because of sin, humanity was divided and communication disrupted by diverse languages.
Now, with the manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit, people from different nations all hear and understand Peter’s proclamation of Jesus.
With Pentecost, Babel begins to be reversed, and God begins to re-gather humanity into his “catholic” (i.e., universal) family.
The scattered and divided family of Adam, to whom God promised to give worldwide blessing through Abraham’s descendants, is being united in the New Adam, Jesus Christ, through the pouring out of the Spirit, marking the beginning of the new creation and the continued fulfillment of God’s promises.
Luke began his gospel with the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary so that Jesus was conceived in her womb.
He now begins the Acts of the Apostles with the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary and the disciples, giving birth to the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
Just as Jesus went forth from the Jordan River anointed in the Holy Spirit, manifested in the form of a dove, his disciples now go forth from Pentecost empowered and baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The same Spirit that empowered Jesus to perform mighty deeds and healings likewise empowers the apostles.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible By Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)