Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sunday

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 Book of Acts.

Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter.

Christian Pentecost differs from the Jewish celebration.

In 2009, Pentecost falls on May 31 in the Catholic Calendar.

Basic Facts About Pentecost

Liturgical Color(s): Red
Type of Holiday: Feast
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


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 Jesus' Ascension), the apostles were gathered together, probably confused and contemplating their future mission and purpose.

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.


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.

1 comment:

Cody said...

While high church Christians keep Pentecost differently than Jews, it seems that separating Pentecost into Jewish Pentecost and Christian Pentecost obscures what God was doing when He created this prophetic Feast. I have some thoughts on Pentecost from a Jewish perspective on my most recent blog if you're interested in checking it out.