The Catechism No. 766 says: “ ‘The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus.’ ‘For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the “wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.”’ 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.”
Some have called Pentecost the “birthday of the Church,” but that is more of a pious custom and is not an official teaching or declaration. The image is used since, in a way, the Church comes forth from her initial formation in the “womb” of Galilee during Christ’s public ministry. She comes forth now to begin her mission to the ends of the earth.
The problem with this image is that the Church that comes forth is no infant. She has been formed and is now clothed with power from on high to begin a mission, having been schooled, prepared and enabled. The image of birth falls short here, since birth bespeaks a helpless infant in need of complete formation. But the Church at Pentecost was far more mature.
One might argue that in the image of Eve coming forth from Adam’s side she came forth as an adult, not an infant, and thus “birthday” here can be understood in that manner. And this may be fair enough, but it is not the usual manner in which we speak of birthdays. At some point an image with too many qualifiers suggests a possible flaw in the image itself.
What Pentecost surely is, is the commissioning of the Church to go forth unto all the nations. She has been formed, purified, taught, equipped and enabled to go forth with joy and confidence. On the day of Pentecost, a fire fell on the Church. Those who had been frightened, confused disciples went forth with confidence and holy boldness, their minds made clear.
Rev. Msgr. Charles E. Pope is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.