by  Francis Weiser (1952)

Feast of Pentecost


"And when the days o£ Pentecost were drawing to a close, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as o£ a violent wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak" (Acts 2:1-4).

Whitsunday (Pentecost), 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.1

Names • 

The official name of the feast is "Pentecost." This word was used in the Old Testament. It comes from the Greek pente-koste (the fiftieth), meaning the fiftieth day after Easter. On this day the Jews celebrated a great religious festival of thanksgiving for the year's harvest, the Feast of Firstfruits (Exodus 23:16). It was also called the "Feast of Weeks" because the day was reckoned by counting seven weeks after the Pasch (Leviticus 23:15-21). Being the second in importance of the festivals of the Old Testament, it annually drew large crowds of Jewish pilgrims from the Diaspora (dispersion) into Jerusalem. This fact is mentioned in the report of Saint Luke: "There were staying at Jerusalem devout Jews from every nation under heaven . . ." (Acts 2: 5-11).

The Jews used the word Pentecost to indicate not only the feast itself, but also the whole season of fifty days preceding it. In this sense Saint Luke mentions it in his Acts (2, 1): "When the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close . . ." The early Christian Church accepted the Jewish usage and called the whole season from Easter to Whitsunday "Pentecost." It was a festive time of religious joy, no fasts were kept, and the faithful prayed standing in honor of Christ's resurrection.2


TO  PENTECOST  -  Keith Hunt)

In most European languages the name of the feast comes from the ecclesiastical term: Pentecdte in French, Fentecostes in Spanish, Pfingsten in German, Binkosti in Slovenian, Piinkosd in Hungarian, Pintse in Danish, Fentikosti among the Slavs of the Eastern Church, and Pentiqosti in Syrian. A word meaning "Feast of the Holy Ghost" (Duhovi, Twice) is used by some Slavic nations, including the Serbs, Croats, and Slovaks, and by the Romanians (Domineca Spiritului Santu). The English word Whitsunday (White Sunday) originated because of the fact that the newly baptized appeared in white garments for the services of. the day. Among the Arab-speaking Christians of the Near East the festival is called 'id el-uncure (Feast of the Solemn Assembly), the word coming from the Hebrew 'asereth (festive meeting).3

Some nations have appropriately named the feast after the ancient custom of decorating homes and churches with flowers and boughs. This practice goes back to the nature lore of the Indo-European races. At the time of full spring, when trees stood in their early foliage and flowers blossomed in abundance, our pre-Christian ancestors celebrated a gay festival, with maypole, May Queen, and May dance, during which they adorned their homes with flowers and branches of pale-green tender leaves. This custom was retained in Christian times, and some of its features were transferred to the Feast of Pentecost. Thus the festival is called the "Green Holyday" {Zielone Swieta) in Poland and among the Ukrainians, "Flower Feast" (Blumenfest) in Germany, "Summer Feast" (Slavnost Letnice) among the Czechs. In the Latin countries a similar term is used: Pascha Rosatum, in Latin, meaning "Feast of Roses." The Italian name Pascua Rossa (Red Pasch) was inspired by the color of the liturgical vestments.4



THE  FEASTS  OF  GOD  -  Keith Hunt)

Origin • 

Pentecost was held annually from a very early date. Since the liturgical celebration of the Lord's feasts started with Easter in apostolic times, Pentecost must have naturally suggested itself as a complementary festival commemorating the fulfillment and fruit of Christ's redemptive task and of His resurrection.

If and how Pentecost was observed in the first two centuries as a separate feast is not known.5 The first mention of it as a great feast was made in the third century by Origenes and Tertullian.6 The latter mentioned it as a well-established Christian feast and as the second date for the solemn baptism of catechumens (the first being Easter).7 Bishop Eusebius of Caesaria (339) called it "all-blessed and all-holy [panseptos kai panhagia], the feast of feasts."8 Saint John Chrysostom (407) used similar phrases in his sermons on Pentecost: "Today we have arrived at the peak of all blessings, we have reached the capital [metropolis] of feasts, we have obtained the very fruit of our Lord's promise."9

During the early centuries, just the day itself was celebrated in the Western Church. After the seventh century, however, the whole week came to be considered a time of festive observance.









Keith Hunt)

Law courts did not sit, and servile work was forbidden during the entire octave.10 The Council of Constance (1094) limited this prohibition to three days.11 Pope Clement XIV, in 1771, abolished Tuesday as a prescribed holyday. Finally, in 1911, Pope Saint Pius X abolished Monday as a holyday of obligation; but most European countries, both Catholic and Protestant, still observe it as a legal holiday.


OF  GOD  -  Keith Hunt)

Liturgical Observance • 

There are no special liturgical ceremonies on Whitsunday apart from the Holy Sacrifice, which is usually celebrated with festive splendor and solemnity. In the Latin Church the color of the liturgical vestments is red, symbolizing the love of the Holy Spirit Who descended upon the Apostles in tongues of fire.

After the Gradual of the Mass the ancient sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit) is recited or sung on each day of Pentecost week. This hymn appeared first in liturgical books around the year 1200. It has been variously ascribed to Pope Innocent III (1216), to King Robert of France (1031), and even to Saint Gregory the Great (604). Most probably, however, its author was Cardinal Stephen Langton (1128), Archbishop of Canterbury. The poem has been known from medieval times as the "Golden Sequence" because of its richness in thought and expression. Each one of the short stanzas is a sentence in itself, thus facilitating meditation.12

Another liturgical hymn used in the Divine Office is the prayer poem Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit). It was probably written by Rabanus Maurus (856), Archbishop of Mainz, and has been widely used from the end of the tenth century on.13 Perhaps the best known among more than sixty English versions is the translation that John Dryden (1700) published in his book EccamenPoeticum (1693).

In addition to its place in the Pentecost liturgy, the Veni Creator has also been assigned as the official opening prayer for Church councils and synods. It is recited and sung by the faithful all over the world at the start of important undertakings, such as the beginning of a school year, at conventions, missions, retreats, and on many similar occasions. It is interesting to note that the Veni Creator is the only ancient breviary hymn that has been retained in the official prayer book of the Protestant Episcopal Church (in the service of ordination).

In the churches of the Byzantine Bite a moving Vesper service is held on the evening of Whitsunday. After the joyful and festive note of the day, this evening service suddenly assumes the character of a sorrowful, penitential ceremony. In simple vestments of dark color the priests recite prayers of contrition and penance accompanied by humble prostrations and genuflections (gonuJdisia), The purpose of this ancient ritual is to atone, at the end of the festive season, for all negligences and excesses that might have been committed during the fifty joyful days between Easter and Pentecost.14

In the Latin Church, a similar motive of atonement is ascribed by Pope Saint Leo I (461) to the fast of the Ember Days in Pentecost week. The fasting should be a penance for faults committed during the feasting and joyful celebrations of the Easter season.15

No Octave Day • 

Pentecost is the only one of the high feasts having an octave (octava) without an octave day (dies octavo.). The following Sunday has always been called "First Sunday after Pentecost." The liturgical notation in the breviary (after the None of Saturday) also proclaims this fact: "End of the Easter season" (explicit Terrvpus Paschale). This lack of an octave day is explained by the liturgical character of Pentecost, which in itself concludes and terminates the great chain of commemorative celebrations connected with the Feast of the Resurrection.16

For the purpose of Easter Communion, however, the Church has allowed the extension of "Easter time" to include the Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday).17

Pentecost Vigil • 

As early as the third century the vigil service of Whitsunday included the solemn rite of baptism in the Latin Church. On Saturday afternoon the catechumens gathered in church for prayers and preparation. The baptismal water was blessed by the bishop. All these ceremonies followed quite closely the ritual of the Easter Vigil.18 In some churches they even blessed a large candle and sang a hymn of praise (praeconium) as was done during the Easter Vigil. These rites are no longer performed today.

In the Eastern churches Pentecost Vigil is not a fast day as it is in the Latin Church. They adhere to the ancient tradition of keeping the full fifty days from Easter to Pentecost as a time of joy, without penance or fast. A solemn and joyful vigil service is kept during the evening or night in the Byzantine Bite. The churches are brightly iUuminated, and the congregation takes part in the hymns, prayers, and lessons of the vigil office (pan-nychida: all-night service), since they understand the language of the liturgy.19

Like Saturday before Septuagesima, this Saturday, in the countries of the Byzantine Rite, is also devoted to special prayer for the souls of the departed (psycho-sdbbaton: Saturday of the Souls).20 Before the vigil service starts (during and after the Office of the day), a fourfold blessing is bestowed upon a bowl of cooked wheat cereal mixed with ground nuts, spices, and honey. Cakes and breads of wheat flour, which the people bring, are also blessed.21 These foods, called Kollyba (fine pastry), are a symbol of the resurrection of the body (see John 12, 24). They are offered by the faithful to friends and strangers, and are received with the words "May God grant them [the holy souls] the beatitude of Heaven."22

After the blessing of the Kollyba, a solemn procession is made to the cemetery, where the graves, decorated with flowers, are blessed by the priest. A joyful meal in the style of the ancient Christian agape (love feast) follows the ceremonies.23



LORD  -  Keith Hunt)


Holy Ghost Dove • 

From the earliest centuries of the Christian era preachers and writers have mentioned the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.24 This symbolism, of course, was inspired by the Gospel report of Christ's baptism (Luke 3: 21-22). The dove, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, may be seen in churches, on priestly vestments, on altars, tabernacles, sacred utensils, and in many religious paintings.

In medieval times the figure of a dove was widely used to enact in a dramatic way the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. When the priest had arrived at the sequence, he sang the first words in a loud and solemn voice: Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Ghost). Immediately there arose in the church a sound "as of a violent wind blowing" (Acts 2: 2). This noise was produced in some countries, like France, by the blowing of trumpets; in others by the choirboys, who hissed, hummed, pressed windbags, and rattled the benches. All eyes turned toward the ceiling of the church where from an opening called the "Holy Ghost Hole" there appeared a disc the size of a cart wheel, which slowly descended in horizontal position, swinging in ever-widening circles. Upon a blue background, broken by bundles of golden rays, it bore on its underside the figure of a white dove.

Meanwhile, the choir sang the sequence. At its conclusion the dove came to rest, hanging suspended in the middle of the church. There followed a "rain" of flowers indicating the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and of water symbolizing baptism. In some towns of central Europe people even went so far as to drop pieces of burning wick or straw from the Holy Ghost Hole, to represent the flaming tongues of Pentecost. This practice, however, was eventually stopped because it tended to put the people on fire externally, instead of internally as the Holy Spirit had done at Jerusalem. In the thirteenth century in many cathedrals of France real white pigeons were released during the singing of the sequence and flew around in the church while roses were dropped from the Holy Ghost Hole.25

Like all such religious pageants this dramatic addition to the liturgy of Whitsunday was attacked and ridiculed by the Lutheran reformers. Among other instances there is a report from the town of Biberach in Germany describing how in 1545 children broke the Holy Ghost Dove of the local church and carried the pieces in a mock procession through the streets.26

A fairly general custom in medieval times, and one still practiced in many sections of central and. eastern Europe, is the use of artfully carved and painted wooden doves, representing the Holy Spirit. Usually this figure is suspended over the dining table. Often it is encased in a globe of glass, into which it has been assembled with painstaking effort, a constant reminder for the members of the family to venerate the Holy Spirit.







Other Customs • 

Like Easter night, the night of Pentecost is considered one of the great "blessed nights" of the year. In many sections of Europe it is still the custom to ascend hilltops and mountains during the early dawn of Whitsunday to pray. People call this observance "catching the Holy Ghost." Thus they express in symbolic language the spiritual fact that only by means of prayer can the divine dove be "caught" and the graces of the Holy Spirit obtained.

In rural sections of northern Europe superstitions ascribe a special power of healing to the dew that falls during Pentecost night. To obtain these blessings people walk barefoot through the grass on the early morning of the feast. They also collect the dew on pieces of bread which afterward are fed to their domestic animals as a protection against disease and accidents.27 In many places, all through Whitsunday night can be heard the noise of shooting (Pfingstschiessen) and cracking of whips (Pfingstschnalzen) .28 In pre-Christian times this observance was held to frighten harmful powers away from home and harvest; in Christian times it assumed the character of a salute to the great feast.

The modem version of the ancient spring festival (maypole and May Queen) is connected with Pentecost in many sections of Europe. The queen is called "Pentecost Bride" (Pfingstbraut). Other relics of the Indo-European spring festival are the games, dances, and races held at Whitsuntide.29 This tradition used to be most popular everywhere in the Middle Ages, and still is in central Europe. In England, Pentecost Sunday was a day of horse races, plays, and feasting (Whitsun ale). In Germany, too, people would hold banquets (Pfingstgelage) and drink "Pentecost beer." Finally, there exists a Christian version of ancient nature lore in the custom of blessing flowers, fields, and fruit trees on the Vigil of Pentecost.30 In German-speaking countries the red peony (paeonia officinalis) bears the name Pftngstrose (Rose of Pentecost), and the oriole (oriolus oriolus) is called Pfingstvogel (Pentecost bird).


To  be  continued




FEAST  OF  GOD  -  Keith  Hunt.