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What is Pentecost Sunday (Whitsunday)?

Pentecost History, Information, Prayers, Resources, Traditions, & More

Pentecost Definition and Summary

Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday, celebrates the birthday of the Christian Church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in the Acts of the Apostles. Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter, on Pentecost Sunday. Christian Pentecost differs from the Jewish celebration. In 2013, Pentecost falls on May 19th in the Catholic Calendar (dates in other years). Prayers: Pentecost Prayers

Basic Facts About Pentecost

Liturgical Color(s): Red
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation
Time of Year: 50 days after Easter
Duration: One Day (or an entire octave in older custom)
Celebrates/Symbolizes: The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the founding of the Church
Alternate Names: Whitsunday
Scriptural References: Acts 2:1-11; The Book of Acts

Introduction

Pentecost, the 50th and final day of the Easter Season, celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles in the book of Acts, ushering in the beginning of the Church. 50 Days after Jesus' resurrection (and 10 days after his Ascension), the apostles were gathered together, confused and contemplating their future purpose and mission.

On the day of Pentecost, a flame rested upon the shoulders of the apostles and they began to speak in tongues (languages), by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus Pentecost is a time for many Catholics and other Christians to celebrate two important realities: the Holy Spirit and the Church. Pentecost has long been a very important feast in The Catholic and Orthodox Churches because it celebrates the official beginning of the Church. It is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Eastern Church, second only in importance to Pascha (Easter). Pentecost always falls on a Sunday, fifty days after Easter Sunday (inclusive of Easter Sunday), and occurs during mid-to-late Spring in the Northern hemisphere, and mid-to-late autumn in the Southern hemisphere. The summer season of Ordinary Time begins on the Monday immediately following Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecost is also the Greek name for Jewish Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), falling on the 50th day of Passover. It was during the Feast of Weeks that the first fruits of the grain harvest were presented (see Deuteronomy 16:9). New Testament references to Pentecost likely refer to the Jewish feast and not the Christian feast, which gradually developed during and after the Apostolic period.

In the English speaking countries, Pentecost is also known as Whitsunday. The origin of this name is unclear, but may derive from the Old English word for "White Sunday," referring to the practice of baptizing converts clothed in white robes on the Sunday of Pentecost. In the English tradition, new converts were baptized on Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints Day, primarily for pragmatic purposes: people went to church these days. Alternatively, the name Whitsunday may have originally meant "Wisdom Sunday," since the Holy Spirit is traditionally viewed as the Wisdom of God, who bestows wisdom upon Christians at baptism. In other parts of the world, Pentecost has other names, including "Green Sunday" in the Ukraine and "Green Holiday" in Poland. These names are derived from Pentecost customs that involve taking green plants into homes and churches as symbols of new life. These customs also may hearken back to the harvest festival themes of the Jewish Pentecost.

History

As with the term Pascha, in Pentecost Christians borrowed a Jewish term and applied it to their own festivals. Tertullian (3rd century) knew of Christian Pentecost, and the Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) speak of the Pentecost feast lasting a week. In the Western Church the vigil of Pentecost became second only to the Easter Vigil in importance. Eventually in the West, Pentecost became a Sunday set aside for baptisms. Pentecost was not kept with an octave (an 8 day celebration) until a later date, although now that practice has been largely abandoned. For the most part, Pentecost is now in Western churches celebrated for only a Sunday. Traditionally, the Sundays between Pentecost and Advent have been designated "Sundays After Pentecost." However, this has been dropped in the West, although it continues in the East. The date of Pentecost is determined based on the date of Easter, and since Western churches calculate Easter differently than Orthodox Christians, usually Western and Eastern Christians celebrate Pentecost on different dates. Using the Western Easter calculation, the earliest possible date for Pentecost is May 10, and the latest possible date is June 13.

Worship and Prayer Resources

Prayers and Collects for Pentecost
Pentecost Sermon I St. Leo the Great
Sermon for Pentecost: Come Upon Mighty Wind

Pentecost Art, Photos, and Images

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Pentecost (Egg Tempera on Poplar) (Giotto)

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Descent of the Holy Spirit Icon

More Liturgical Artwork

Traditions, Symbols & Typology

Traditions
Baptizing New Converts
Red Vestments and Linens
Scattering rose leaves from church ceilings (symbolizes tongues of fire falling)

Symbols
Dove (Symbol of the Holy Spirit)
Lighthouse
Mountain/Rock
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Any Symbol of the Church (like the Ark)
Fire (Symbol of the Holy Spirit/Tongues of Fire)

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing Pentecost
Stone Tablets Given to Moses
Descent of Fire On Elijah's Altar

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why Haven't I Heard of Pentecost?
In many evangelical churches that do not have a developed liturgical year, Pentecost is an ignored Church holiday (ranking it up there with Lent and Epiphany). Nonetheless, many evangelicals are discovering the Church year. Pentecost is a perfect time for Christians of all denominations to focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in their individual lives and in their worshipping communities, while commemorating the beginning of the Church some 2000 years ago. In many evangelical churches in the United States, the secular Mother's Day holiday is probably celebrated more frequently than the ancient and revered Christian Pentecost feast.

2. Is Discussing the Gifts and Charisms of the Spirit appropriate for Pentecost?
Certainly. In fact, many charismatic Catholics emphasize Pentecost as a time for personal and corporate spiritual renewal. Many modern Catholics are suspicious of claims of miracles and spiritual gifts because materialist science has taught us that they are impossible. However, the Church has never ceased believing in these charisms. The Holy Spirit's operations both individually and corporately (in the Church) are often misunderstood, especially in some modern Protestant churches, where "having the Holy Spirit" is synonymous with an adrenaline rush or histrionic behavior. Catholic and liturgical churches have never disavowed the works of the Holy Spirit, nor should we cease from praying for the Holy Spirit's guidance and illumination. Catholics see the Holy Spirit working in a variety of ways: through baptism, charity, prayer, ordination, faith, exorcism, service, etc, and speaking in tongues is one of the many workings of the Holy Spirit, and even then, according to St. Paul, one of the lesser gifts. Thus, just because one is not dancing in the aisles at Mass, or speaking an unknown language, doesn't mean the Holy Spirit is absent. For Catholics, living one's vocation in love is evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit; one need not be showy or emotional.

3. Are Catholics Pentecostal?
The term Pentecostal is often used as a synonym for "charismatic," although we must note that generally the term "Pentecostal" refers to American Christian groups founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that emphasize speaking in tongues, healings, and spontaneous worship. Some of these groups even deny the Trinity, and baptize in the name of Jesus. Catholic and Apostolic Christians cannot claim the title "pentecostal" in this sense. However, the word "Pentecostal," in a generic sense, just means "relating to Pentecost," i.e. having the Holy Spirit and the Church. Thus, those who are baptized and confirmed in the Church are, by definition, Pentecostals. However, most self-professed Pentecostals would deny that Catholics have a claim to this title.

Pentecost, Church, Holy Spirit, and Church Year Books

Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit (McDonnell and Montague )
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Holy Bible: New Jerusalem Bible
Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Cross and Livingstone, eds.)
New St. Joseph People's Prayer Book
The Study of Liturgy (Jones, ed.)
Spirit of the Liturgy (Ratzinger)
More Christian & Church Year Books

General Links

The Jewish Pentecost from the Catholic Encyclopedia
How to Celebrate Pentecost With Your Family
Catholic Charismatic Renewal
I Can't be Charismatic. I'm Catholic! D. Bennett
Possible Dangers of the Charismatic Movement D. Bennett
Table of Movable Major Catholic Seasons and Holidays

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This page written by . Last updated 05-01-2013.



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