“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.”
SUNDAY, MAY 31: 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 7, because their Pascha (Easter) was celebrated after the Western Christian Easter.
Wearing Red This Year?
The color red largely defines Pentecost in the West, symbolizing joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Clergy often wear red vestments, varying by Christian denomination, and people in the congregation often are encouraged to wear red clothing.
In the 2020 pandemic, many congregations around the world are meeting virtually. Even Pope Francis will not allow crowds to join him inside St. Peter’s, this year, for the Pentecost liturgy. So, many clergy and lay leaders have encouraged Christians to post social media photos wearing red to spread awareness of the holiday.
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.
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.