Solemnity of Pentecost

Pentecost 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 wondering what would come next. At the day of Pentecost, a flame rested upon the shoulders of the apostles and they began to speak in tongues, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Thus Pentecost is a time for many Catholics and other Christians to celebrate two realities they may often overlook: 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.

Pentecost is also the Greek name for Jewish Feast of Weeks, 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 Western Christian tradition, Pentecost is also known as Whitsunday. The reason for this name is unclear, but probably comes from “White Sunday,” referring to the practice of baptizing converts 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.


As with the term Pascha, in Pentecost Christians borrowed a Jewish term and applied it to their own festivals. Tertullian (3rd century) knew of the Pentecost Feast, 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 revision of the current Roman calendar by Pope Paul VI, but retained in the Extraordinary Form (1962 Missale Romanum) and in the Byzantine Rite.

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