The Liturgical Home: Pentecost

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The Day of Pentecost is one of the highest feast days in the liturgical year. It is the day that we remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. This pivotal moment in Christian history is the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send a helper, a comforter, who would empower and guide his followers after his Ascension into heaven. The descent of the Holy Spirit transformed the lives of the followers of Jesus, emboldened them to preach the Gospel, and marked the beginning of the Christian mission in the world.

The term Pentecost comes from Koine Greek and means “fiftieth” since it fell fifty days after Passover. It was the Greek name for the festival of Shavuot, or The Feast of Weeks, during which the people brought the first fruits of the harvest as an offering to Jerusalem. This is why Jews from every nation were gathered in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit fell. 

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Although the Christian Pentecost no longer aligns with the Jewish festival, we still call it Pentecost in commemoration of the event and because we celebrate it on the fiftieth day of Easter. It is also known as Whitsunday, an abbreviated form of “White Sunday,” because the Day of Pentecost, much like Easter, has been a favored day for baptisms. Through the years, it has been common for those who received baptism that day to wear white baptismal robes, symbolizing the washing away of sins and their new life in Christ. This important day not only concludes the Easter season but also marks the beginning of the season after Pentecost, or Ordinary Time. 

Pentecost in Scripture

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he instructed his disciples to wait and pray in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, bringing a baptism of fire and power. The disciples and the women waited and prayed in the upper room for ten days. On the tenth day, the Day of Pentecost, a loud noise like a mighty rushing wind filled the house. Then tongues of fire appeared and rested on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues languages. 

At the same time, devout Jews from every nation had gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. When they heard the sounds, a crowd came together in bewilderment because each one heard their own language. They were astounded and asked, “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:7-11).

This amazed many people, who believed something miraculous was happening. Others mocked the disciples, thinking them drunk. Hearing this, Peter addressed the crowd. He explained that they were not drunk but that this fulfilled a prophecy from Joel: 

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)

Peter proclaimed that Jesus, who performed miracles and was crucified, was raised by God and had ascended to heaven. He stated that Jesus was now Lord and Messiah.

This moved many in the crowd, and they asked what to do. Peter urged them to repent and receive baptism in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. About 3,000 people accepted his message and received baptism.

These new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). The apostles performed signs and wonders, and the believers lived in unity, sharing everything they had. They sold their possessions to support each other, met in the temple courts daily, broke bread in their homes, and shared meals with glad and sincere hearts. Praising God, they enjoyed the favor of all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily of those being saved.

Meaning

The Day of Pentecost is rich with such deep theological significance!

  • Pentecost is the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 which foretold that in the last days, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, leading up to the return of Christ. It also fulfills Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit upon his disciples after his Ascension (John 14:16-17, 26; John 16:7).
  • The Church sees Pentecost as the birth of the Church. Before this event, the followers of Jesus were a disparate group of disciples. The coming of the Holy Spirit empowered them. It united them into a single body with a shared mission, marking the beginning of the Church as a distinct entity committed to following Jesus. The Holy Spirit united the followers of Jesus were united and called them to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission—to spread the Gospel through all the earth.
  • The Holy Spirit’s descent on Pentecost gave the disciples the spiritual gifts necessary for ministry and mission. God not only called but empowered them. This empowerment was immediately demonstrated through Peter’s bold proclamation of the Gospel and the conversion of about 3,000 people in a single day. 
  • Pentecost reverses the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), where God confused human languages, scattering the people. On the Day of Pentecost, the miracle of the apostles speaking in various tongues enabled them to communicate across language barriers, symbolizing the unifying power of the Holy Spirit and the universal nature of the Gospel’s reach. The disciples gained the ability to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, and the people who heard it gained the ability to understand and believe. 
  • The Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost leads to spiritual transformation within individuals—producing spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), granting diverse spiritual gifts to build up the Church (1 Corinthians 12), and renewing hearts and minds to reflect Christ more closely.

Celebrations Around the World

Similar to Ascension Day, a popular custom is to climb a hill or a mountain, often barefoot, to pray for the Holy Spirit. In the Alps, people decorate the cattle with garlands of flowers and send them up into the high pastures.

In Austria, young men go out with long whips and crack them. Then, ancient guns fire on the mountainsides. 

Since red is the liturgical color for Pentecost, symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit, people wear that color and use it as decoration. Priests wear red vestments, red paraments adorn the church, and red banners are hung from walls or ceilings to symbolize the blowing of the “mighty wind” of the Holy Spirit.

In the Middle Ages, Western European cathedrals had a Holy Ghost hole: a small circular opening in the roof that symbolized the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the midst of the congregation. On Pentecost, red flower petals or burning straw (!) would rain down upon the congregation through the Holy Ghost hole. Sometimes, they would lower a figure of a large wooden dove through the hole and would hover over the congregation while a lector read the narrative of Pentecost. 

In many churches in France, trumpets will sound to suggest the mighty wind that accompanied the Holy Spirit’s descent.

In Australia, Pentecost comes during the fall, so red poinsettias decorate churches.

Many churches select members of their congregation to stand up all at once and read aloud the story of Pentecost in their particular language. They do this to reflect the first Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in various tongues. 

Ways to Celebrate

  • Read Jesus’ description of the work of the Holy Spirit in John 15:26-27 and 16:12-15. Then, read the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-11.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and discuss the different gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then, make a fun Pentecost Mobile with a dove and seven tongues of flame for the seven gifts of the spirit. You can find the tutorial here.
  • Wear red clothes.
  • Decorate your dining table with red roses or scattered red rose petals.
  • Set your dining table with a red tablecloth or napkins.
  • Make red, orange, and yellow fabric or paper streamers, and hang them over your dining room table.
  • Eat red foods like Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Red velvet cupcakes for Pentecost
Photo by Ashley Tumlin Wallace.

Cake Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs at room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients

  • 8 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Directions for Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Combine the buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in a large measuring cup.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed for one minute until it is light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry and wet ingredients alternately in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Stir with a rubber spatula to mix the batter.

Pour the batter into two 8-inch cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pans and frost the cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Directions for Frosting

Place the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed just until combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.


Image: Pentecost medieval illustration. Photo by jasonnlw from Pixabay, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

May 16, 2024

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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