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What Happened at Pentecost?

Descent of the Holy Spirit Chapel of the Great Upper Church

The disciples experienced a series of dramatic highs and lows ­– they had seen Jesus die, come back to life, and ascend to heaven. What happened next?

Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit. Though the disciples had the hope of his promise, they were living in a time of uncertainty. Then one day, when they were gathered together, the Holy Spirit came to them:

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. – Acts 2:1-4

Equipped for the Great Commission

With the descent of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were equipped to proclaim the Gospel. Christ had given them the Great Commission to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Christ did not leave them alone to carry out this task; he sent the Holy Spirit.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to proclaim the Gospel in many different languages, and many were saved:

Descent of the Holy Spirit as portrayed in the Rosary Walk and Garden
Descent of the Holy Spirit as portrayed in the Rosary Walk and Garden

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.Acts 2:37-38, 41

What Does Pentecost Mean for Us Today?

We can rejoice, because as believers in Christ, we have that same power – the power of the Holy Spirit – equipping us for the work to which Christ calls us. Not only that, but our redemption is secured through the Holy Spirit’s work:

In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

Descent of the Holy Spirit Dome

Depictions of Pentecost in the Basilica

In the Basilica, the chancel dome mosaic depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit. Red “tongues of fire” descend upon Mary and the Apostles. In the four corners are persons from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, symbolizing the sanctification of the world by the Spirit. With more than 1.25 million tesserae, the mosaic covers 3,950 sq. feet, and contains 2,500 different colors.

The descent of the Holy Spirit is also interpreted in the stained glass of the Trinity Dome windows, the Glorious Mysteries Chapels of the Great Upper Church, and in the Rosary Walk and Garden.

Light a Candle at the Basilica

Light a Candle at the BasilicaAs we observe Pentecost, we invite you to light a candle today at the Basilica. Vigil candles burn in the chapels throughout the Upper Church and lower crypt level of the National Shrine. Each candle represents the faith of the supplicants and their fervent prayers entrusted to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

A Guide to the Miracles of Jesus in the Basilica
Why Do We Observe the Solemnity of the Ascension?