If you live in America, especially here in the south, you probably associate the words “Apostolic” and “Pentecostal” with one of the evangelical Protestant denominations that use those words in their names. You probably don’t immediately think of the Catholic Church. But you should.
The term Pentecost means “fifty days.” It was the name of a Jewish harvest festival that took place fifty days after Passover. Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred during the Passover feast, so when the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles fifty days after that first Easter, it took place during the Pentecost festival. This is why Christians no longer celebrate Pentecost as a harvest festival, but as a commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. In fact we consider it the “Birthday” of the Church.
Just as the Church is the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is the soul that animates (gives life to) the body. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, the Body of Christ — the Church — became alive. Therefore to be a Christian to any degree at all is to be Pentecostal; to be united with the Church that was born at Pentecost.
What Pentecost is to the Church, the sacrament of Confirmation is to the individual member of the Church. It is your share in Pentecost. The Apostles received the Holy Spirit to strengthen them and to guide them. And so any confirmed Catholic is also strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit received in confirmation, in union with the Church. The confirmed Catholic receives power from the Spirit for two primary purposes. One is to strengthen you to resist temptation and live a holy life. The other is to empower you to go out into the world and be Christ’s witnesses.
Just as individual Christians have a share in the Church’s Spirit, we also have a share in the Church’s mission. Which brings us to our next term.
The word apostle comes from the Greek word for “messenger” or “one who is sent.” The Apostles are called apostles because they are sent by Jesus on a mission. They are His messengers, sent to proclaim His good news (evangelion in Greek) to the world.
If you have paid attention to the gospel readings over the past couple of weeks, as we have drawn closer to the time of Pentecost, there is often this movement expressed in the gospels from God to Jesus, from Jesus to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to the world.
Two weeks ago, for example, the Sunday gospel was from Jn 15:9-17. In this passage Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” He then instructs His disciples to “love one another as I love you.” Notice the movement: God the Father loves Jesus. Jesus loves us. We are to love one another with that same love.
The gospel for daily Mass this past Wednesday is from Jn 17:11-19. Jesus is praying to His Father that the Church be one, as He and the Father are one. He says, “You sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” The Father sends Jesus. Jesus sends the Church.
Last week when we celebrated the Ascension of Christ to Heaven, we read in the gospel of Christ leaving the Apostles with a mission to make disciples of all nations. In the gospel for Pentecost, Christ also gives the Apostles a mission.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:21-23).
The Apostles are called apostles because they have a mission. It was given to them by Christ. It is the same mission He has from the Father. It is to reconcile sinners with God. It is to divinize humanity.
Apostolic Pentecostal Catholic?
So I will ask again the title at the top of this post. Are you an Apostolic Pentecostal Catholic? If you share in the Spirit of the Church, then yes, you are Pentecostal. And if you share in the mission of the Church, then yes, you are Apostolic.
And if you still are unsure how to answer that question, I’ll make it easier for you. To be Christian means sharing in the Church’s Spirit and mission. The Church is the Body of Christ and to be in union with Christ means being in union with His Church. You cannot be in union with the Church without sharing in her Spirit and mission.
You can’t choose to be a Christian and then opt out of the mission of the Church. That’s not an option.
This means you have a job to do. You have a mission. And you also have the power to accomplish that mission (given by the Holy Spirit).
If you think the mission of the Church is something only the clergy and professed religious need to worry about, you’ve got it wrong. Lay people don’t get a pass on the hard work of evangelization. In fact, evangelization is primarily the work of the laity. The Church has a word to describe the work of the lay faithful — apostolate. Sound familiar? It’s from the same Greek word as Apostle. It describes the missionary activity of the Church, which is primarily done by lay men and women out in the world, in families, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.
This is why the final words of the Mass are Ita missa est. We usually translate these words into English as “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” or “Go in peace.” But they literally mean, “You are sent!” In fact the very word Mass comes from the Latin word missa which means “to send.”
It is true that we come to Mass to worship God and receive spiritual nourishment, but then we are sent into the world. We are meant to take what we receive in the Church out into our daily lives, into the world we inhabit, be it a classroom, a dorm room, an office, or our family living room (and yes, even Facebook and Snapchat).
Think about that for a while. Take it to prayer. As a baptized Christian, you are Christ’s apostle. You have a mission from God to take His love out into the world. As a confirmed Catholic, the Holy Spirit has given you the grace needed to fulfill this mission. What are you doing with these gifts? How are you living your mission as an Apostolic Pentecostal Catholic?