Pentecost: Christians celebrate the birthday of their church

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
Acts 2

Church altar draped in red cloth with dove and flames on it, candles on top of cloth

An altar decorated for Pentecost. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 9: The ancient feast of Pentecost is marked with red drapery and vestments, symbols of the Holy Spirit, processions and holy sacraments. Though Pentecost originates from the Greek translation of the Jewish springtime festival now celebrated as Shauvot, it has long been observed by Christians as the birthday of their church.

In Christian tradition, Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, women and other followers of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in many languages for the purpose of spreading the Word of God. In this manner, some Christians regard Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church.”

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS—This year, Pentecost is observed by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church on June 16, because their Pascha (Easter) was celebrated after the Western Christian Easter.

TRADITIONAL STORY

According to the Book of Acts and Christian tradition: Approximately 120 followers of Christ were gathered on the morning that the Pentecost took place, in the Upper Room. A roar of wind came into the room, and tongues of fire descended upon those in the room. With the gift of the tongues of fire, those gathered believed evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit; they began speaking many different languages. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.)

When the group left the Upper Room, a crowd had gathered. While some accused the followers of Christ of sputtering drunken babble, Peter corrected them and declared that an ancient prophesy had been fulfilled. When the crowds asked what they could do, Peter told the people to repent and be baptized—which thousands did.

You can read the key passage from the second chapter of the Book of Acts yourself, in this New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Rose petals strewn on floor

Rose petals fill a Roman church on Pentecost. Photo by Stefano Costantini, courtesy of Flickr

PENTECOST IN THE WEST:
FIRE AND DOVES

Pentecost services in the Western Christian Church often involve red flowers, vestments and banners, all representing the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire. Trumpets and brass ensembles may depict the sound of the “mighty wind” in a musical manner.

Churches in some parts of the world have Holy Ghost holes in the ceiling, a design feature popular in the Middle Ages. These openings often are decorated with flowers and, on Pentecost, may feature rose petals or a dove descending through the hole. In the UK, a Holy Ghost hole still exists at Canterbury Cathedral.

In Italy, rose petals scattered from above represent the fiery tongues; in parts of England, Whit Fairs and Morris dancing are commonplace on and around Whitsunday, or Pentecost.

 

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