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Happy Birthday, Church!

10 Jun

What is the birthday of the Church: Good Friday or Pentecost?

Both! Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter Sunday, is commonly called “the birthday of the Church.” At the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Christ who were gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2:1-41). Thus empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples—led by Peter and the other Apostles—emerged from the Upper Room as a child emerges from the womb. This marked the beginning of the “age of the Church,” in which Christ lives and acts in and with His mystical body.

At the same time, we can also say that the Church was “born” or came forth from the side of Christ on the Cross. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting St. Ambrose, teaches: “As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (no. 766).

When we speak of the “birthday” of the Church, we obviously are not speaking literally. Instead, we are using a metaphor common to our own experience to explain a profound, complex reality. In different but complementary ways, both Jesus’ death on Good Friday and the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost were life-giving events analogous to a human birth.

So as we celebrate the feast of Pentecost this Sunday, we’d like to wish all of you a happy birthday!