Pentecost: Western Christians embrace Holy Spirit’s descent, more, with ancient feast

receiving oil on forehead, pentecost

A girl receives oil on her forehead on Pentecost Sunday in England. Photo by Marcin Marzur, via Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MAY 19: Today, the ancient feast of Pentecost is marked with red drapery and vestments, symbols of the Holy Spirit, processions and holy sacraments. Traditionally, Pentecost falls seven weeks after the Christian Easter.

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 23, as Pascha (Easter) was celebrated weeks 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. Then, 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. Peter proclaimed the fulfillment of a prophesy.

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.

As is stated by Catholic Culture.org: Pentecost (Whitsunday), with Christmas and Easter, ranks among the great feasts of Christianity. It commemorates not only the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Disciples, but also the fruits and effects of that event: the completion of the work of redemption, the fullness of grace for the Church and its children, and the gift of faith for all nations.

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. There is even an old tradition of Holy Ghost holes in the roofs of churches, so that the Holy Spirit could “descend” upon the congregation; at Pentecost, the holes were decorated and a dove was lowered into the church. In Italy, rose petals scattered from above represent the fiery tongues; in parts of England, Whit Fairs and Morris dancing were commonplace on Whitsunday, or Pentecost.

Trinity Sunday: Western Christians honor Trinity, Orthodox mark Pentecost

Trinity Sunday window

A stained-glass window with a visual representation of the Holy Trinity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 4: It’s been one week since Pentecost, and for Western Christians, this marks Trinity Sunday: a time to recognize a central and unfathomable mystery of the Christian faith. Believers hold that all members of the Blessed Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—are equal, uncreated and infinite, and a celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is celebrated across Western liturgical churches.

Though the Holy Trinity is honored every Sunday, the early church observed no specific day in honor of this holy mystery until Thomas Becket (1118-70 CE) helped spread the idea of an observance of such a day, saying that the day of his consecration would be held as a new festival for the Holy Trinity. Even still, a day set aside solely for recognizing this mystery continued to vary in several regions until Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church, in 1334 CE.

IN THE CHURCH

White shines from the décor and vestments of most Western churches today, as the faithful ponder the one God that is three Persons. For many centuries, Christian leaders have taught that this mysterious truth must be believed by true followers of the faith, as a joyous Gospel passage proclaims that God’s nature has been revealed: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

It’s said that no mortal can truly grasp the concept of the Holy Trinity, but efforts can be made! Try picking a shamrock today, or a viola tricolor; light a candle with three flames; or decorate a home altar with symbols of the Trinity. CatholicCulture.org has more ideas.

Note: Trinity Sunday falls the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian Church each year, and on Pentecost Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

Trinity Sunday, Pentecost: Christians celebrate the Holy Spirit and three persons of God

Holy Trinity stained glass Sunday

An interpretation of the Holy Trinity in stained glass. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 12: A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday is observed by both Eastern and Western Christians today, calling to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—plays in Christianity. In the Western Christian church, white banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity, one week following the Pentecost holiday; in the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the same day as the Sunday of Pentecost.

Did you know? Some Christians may be surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.

CUSTOMS & THE ATHANASIAN CREED

On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

Pentecost: Christians recall descent of the Holy Spirit with fire and doves

Pentecost scene

A Pentecost scene. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

Sunday, May 23: Today, the ancient feast of Pentecost, is marked with red drapery and vestments, symbols of the Holy Spirit, processions and holy sacraments. Traditionally, Pentecost falls seven weeks after the Christian Easter.

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 20, as Pascha (Easter) was celebrated weeks after the Western Christian Easter.

TRADITIONAL STORY

Pentecost candles, drapery, altar

An altar decorated for Pentecost. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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. Then, 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.) Peter proclaimed the fulfillment of a prophesy.

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.

As is stated by Catholic Culture.org: Pentecost (Whitsunday), with Christmas and Easter, ranks among the great feasts of Christianity. It commemorates not only the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Disciples, but also the fruits and effects of that event: the completion of the work of redemption, the fullness of grace for the Church and its children, and the gift of faith for all nations.

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. There is even an old tradition of Holy Ghost holes in the roofs of churches, so that the Holy Spirit could “descend” upon the congregation; at Pentecost, the holes were decorated and a dove was lowered into the church. In Italy, rose petals scattered from above represent the fiery tongues; in parts of England, Whit Fairs and Morris dancing were commonplace on Whitsunday, or Pentecost.

Trinity Sunday (Pentecost): Eastern, Western Christians embrace Trinity mystery

Stained glass window with Trinity mystery

The Trinity mystery on stained glass. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY MAY 27: A central and unfathomable mystery of the Christian faith takes center stage today, on the feast of Trinity Sunday. (Note: Trinity Sunday falls the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian Church each year, and on Pentecost Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.) White shines from the décor and vestments of most Western churches, as the faithful ponder the one God that is three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For many centuries, Christian leaders have taught that this mysterious truth must be believed by true followers of the faith.

Though the Holy Trinity is honored every Sunday, this day was officially introduced in the ninth century to focus on this particular doctrine.

For Christians, a joyous Gospel passage proclaims that God’s nature has been revealed: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” The sacrament of holy communion still is celebrated in the name of the Holy Trinity. Believers hold that all members of the Blessed Trinity are equal, uncreated and infinite.

It’s said that no mortal can truly grasp the concept of the Holy Trinity, but efforts can be made! Try picking a shamrock today, or a viola tricolor; light a candle with three flames; or decorate a home altar with symbols of the Trinity. (CatholicCulture.org has more ideas. And, if you’d like to learn more about the viola tricolor, visit the American Violet Society’s page for this delightful little blossom.

 

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Trinity Sunday: Christians celebrate Father, Son, Holy Spirit after Penetecost

SUNDAY, MAY 22: It’s been one week since Pentecost, and for Western Christians, this marks Trinity Sunday. A celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—Trinity Sunday is celebrated across Western liturgical churches. Though the early Church observed no specific day for the Holy Trinity, Thomas Becket (1118-70 CE) helped spread the observance of such a day across Western Christendom when he said that the day of his consecration would be held as a new festival for the Holy Trinity. Still, a day set aside solely for the Holy Trinity continued to vary by Sunday in several regions until Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church, in 1334 CE.

Note: The Thursday following Trinity Sunday is observed as the Feast of Corpus Christi. In some countries, this feast may be moved to the following Sunday.

According to Christian tradition: Following the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost, Christians regard that the Holy Trinity has been fully revealed. Last week, signs of the Holy Spirit were evident in red banners, roses and doves; this week, vestments are white and a new season begins. The shamrock and viola tricolor pansy symbolize the Trinity, and in some churches, the Athanasian Creed is recited or read.

ACTIVITIES & MORE

Families, youth groups and others can teach St. Augustine’s simplified explanation of the Trinity to children today. Children can also go outdoors to search for shamrocks and pansies, or prepare a dinner with cloverleaf rolls and a three-in-one fruit salad. The table may be decorated with a “Trinity” candle, and a vase of collected tri-petal wildflowers.

Pentecost: Red flowers and doves for birthday of the Christian 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

SUNDAY, MAY 15: 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 been observed by Christians for centuries, and falls seven weeks after Easter.

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 19, as Pascha (Easter) was celebrated long 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. Then, 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.) Peter proclaimed the fulfillment of a prophesy.

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. There is even an old tradition of Holy Ghost holes in the roofs of churches, so that the Holy Spirit could “descend” upon the congregation; at Pentecost, the holes were decorated and a dove was lowered into the church. (Wikipedia has details.) In Italy, rose petals scattered from above represent the fiery tongues; in parts of England, Whit Fairs and Morris dancing were commonplace on Whitsunday, or Penecost.