Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost – the fiftieth day after Easter! Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and other followers of Christ, as told in tonight’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
The term Pentecost comes from the Greek word Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē) meaning “fiftieth.” It refers to the Jewish of Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. Hence, in the story of the coming of the Spirit in Acts, it starts with “When the day of Pentecost had come” (NRSV translation). Pentecost is also sometimes considered the “birthday of the Church,” because, while on the day of Easter, after the women visited the tomb and found Jesus was raised, they were “the Church,” Pentecost is the day Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles and those gathered, and sent them out to spread the Good News.
Liturgically, Pentecost ends the season of Easter. We have celebrated Easter for fifty whole days, and while we continue to celebrate the Resurrection every time we celebrate Mass, this marks the end of this liturgical season. You’ll notice that a few things we have grown accustomed to over the past seven weeks will change: the Paschal Candle, lit at the Easter Vigil, and placed in a place of prominence near the ambo (where the readings are proclaimed), will return to its normal place – at St. Vincent’s that is near the Baptismal Font; it will also be the last Sunday of the Sprinkling Rite replacing the Penitential Act (at DePaul, anyway) as a way to recall our own baptism. At DePaul, we also have had incense in the procession during the Lenten and Easter Seasons, to mark their importance and solemn nature.
You’ll see the priest wearing red vestments. Red is only worn a few times a year: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Pentecost (as well as celebrations of apostles, evangelists, martyrs and of the cross at Daily Mass). This color symbolizes (on this occasion) the Holy Spirit, which was given to the gathered apostles and others as tongues of fire.