The Feast of Pentecost

Apr 12, 2023 / Written by: Tonia Long

Worth the Wait!

Our Lord walked with His followers for 40 days after His resurrection. Forty sublime days of living proof that He did indeed conquer death, that the greatest fear of mankind had been conquered. One can only imagine the intimacy that existed at this time between the Teacher and His disciples. The founding of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church seemed the most natural “next step.”

And then, on one of their frequent excursions to the countryside, Jesus turned to His friends and spoke these words, which would be His last words spoken on this earth:

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7)

Ascension of Jesus into Heaven

Before having a chance to process this information and the profound impact it would have on their individual lives, not to mention the trajectory of all human history, the intimate friends of Christ watched in stunned silence as their precious Lord rose into the bright Judean sky, only to be removed from their sight by a passing cloud.

Over the past 40 days, the Apostles had become almost accustomed to His leaving and arriving in rather unconventional ways. Could it be that He would return? Should they wait? What should they do?

As if in answer to their unspoken perplexity, two “men dressed in white” stood beside them with this advice:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky here? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will return like you have seen him go into heaven.”

This somewhat veiled counsel brought little comfort and even less direction. As one, the men all returned to Jerusalem, gathering around Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the upper room that has come to be known as “The Cenacle.” And there, as if in delayed answer to Christ’s request made ages ago when in the Garden of Gethsemane, they waited and prayed.

The First Novena

Between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary spent nine days praying, awaiting Christ’s promise to send His Spirit.


This was the origin of the novena, or nine-day prayer, which became one of the most popular forms of Christian intercessory prayer asking God for something.

From the earliest days of the Church, the period between Ascension and Pentecost has been celebrated by praying the novena to the Holy Ghost, asking God the Father to send His Spirit and to grant us the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

As a woman waits nine months for the birth of her child, so these pious souls prayed and waited nine days for something–they knew not what exactly. Consoled by the reassuring presence of the Mother of God and their spiritual Mother, Mary, they persevered in prayer. Little did they know that their waiting was pregnant with promise; the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the “birth” of the Holy Catholic Church.

Novena to the Holy Spirit*

O Holy Spirit, O my God, I adore Thee, and acknowledge, here in Thy divine presence, that I am nothing and can do nothing without Thee. Come, great Paraclete, Thou Father of the poor, Thou comforter the best, fulfill the promise of our blessed Savior, Who would not leave us orphans, and come into the mind and the heart of Thy poor, unworthy creature, as Thou didst descend on the sacred day of Pentecost on the holy Mother of Jesus and His first disciples.

Holy Spirit

Grant that I may participate in those gifts that Thou didst communicate to them wonderfully and with so much mercy and generosity. Take from my heart whatever is not pleasing to Thee, and make of it a worthy dwelling-place for Thyself. Illumine my mind, that I may see and understand the things that are for my eternal good. Inflame my heart with the pure love of Thee, that I may be cleansed from the dross of all inordinate attachments, and that my whole life may be hidden with Jesus in God. Strengthen my will, that I may be made conformable to Thy divine will, and be guided by Thy holy inspirations. Aid me by Thy grace to practice the divine lessons of humility, poverty, obedience, and contempt of the world, which Jesus taught us in His mortal life.

Oh, rend the heavens, and come down, consoling Spirit! Inspired and encouraged by Thee, may I faithfully comply with the duties of my state, carry my daily cross most patiently, and endeavor to accomplish the divine will with the utmost perfection. Spirit of love! Spirit of purity! Spirit of peace! Sanctify my soul more and more, and give me that heavenly peace the world cannot provide. Bless our Holy Father the Pope, bless the Church, bless our bishops, our priests, all Religious Orders, and all the faithful, that they may be filled with the Spirit of Christ and labor earnestly for the spread of His kingdom.

O Holy Spirit, Thou Giver of every perfect gift, grant me, I beseech Thee, the intentions of this novena. May Thy will be done in me and through me. Mayest Thou be praised and glorified forevermore! Amen.

*Taken from:

A Grand Entrance

The Jewish people had long celebrated the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, which took place 50 days after Passover. “Pentecost,” meaning 50 days, was first given to this Jewish holy day. Like God’s revelations throughout the Old Testament, it was fulfilled with the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the feast of Pentecost, the old was indeed made new.

In the Acts of the Apostles, it is related that:

"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly, a noise like a strong driving wind came from the sky, filling the entire house where they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim." (Acts 2:1-4)

Drawing of Pentecost in black and white

This powerful supernatural event made a loud commotion, which brought a crowd of thousands to gather outside the upper room from which the sound had emanated. And at that moment, the Apostles, who had been hiding from public view for fear of facing a pain-racked and humiliating death like that of their Lord, were led by Saint Peter to proclaim the essential Truth:

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

The Birth of a New Church

Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit on this New Pentecost, preached his first sermon to Jews and other non-believers, in which he opened the scriptures of the Old Testament, showing how the prophet Joel prophesied events and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

St Peter

He also told the people that the Jesus they crucified was the Messiah and Lord and was raised from the dead, which “cut them to the heart.” When they asked what they should do, Peter exhorted them to repent of their sins and be baptized. According to the account in Acts, about 3,000 people were baptized following Peter’s sermon.

For this reason, Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church: Saint Peter, the first Pope, preaching for the first time, had converted thousands of new believers. The apostles and believers were miraculously united by a common language, zeal, and purpose of going and preaching the Gospel.

Traditions of Celebrating Pentecost

Red symbolism

One sign of Pentecost in the West is the color red. It symbolizes joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Priests and choirs wear red vestments, and in modern times, the custom has extended to the lay people of the congregation wearing red clothing in celebration as well. In some cases, red fans, or red handkerchiefs, are distributed to the congregation to be waved during a procession. Other congregations have incorporated red balloons, signifying the “Birthday of the Church.” The congregants may hold these, decorate the sanctuary with them, or released them all at once.

Lowering of doves

Holy Ghost Hole, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Söll.
Holy Ghost Hole, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Söll.

In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and great churches throughout Western Europe were fitted with a peculiar architectural feature known as 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. At Pentecost, these Holy Ghost holes would be decorated with flowers, and sometimes, a dove figure was lowered into the Church. At the same time, the narrative of Pentecost was read. Holy Ghost holes can still be seen today in European churches such as Canterbury Cathedral.

Similarly, the image of a large two-dimensional dove would be, and in some places still is, cut from wood, painted, and decorated with flowers, to be lowered over the congregation, especially during the singing of the sequence hymn, or Veni Creator Spiritus. In other places, particularly Sicily and the Italian peninsula, rose petals were thrown from the galleries over the congregation, recalling the tongues of fire. This practice has been revived and adapted to include strewing origami doves from above or suspending them from the ceiling, sometimes by the hundreds.

Hymns and music

As Pentecost closes the Easter Season in the Roman Catholic Church, the dismissal with the double alleluia is sung at the end of Mass. The Paschal Candle is removed from the sanctuary at the end of the day. Veni Sancte Spiritus is the sequence hymn for the Day of Pentecost in the Roman Catholic Church. Veni Creator Spiritus is sung during liturgical celebrations on the feast of Pentecost as an invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Trumpeters or brass ensembles are often specially contracted to accompany singing and provide special music at Pentecost services, recalling the sound of the mighty wind. While this practice is shared among a wide spectrum of Western denominations, Eastern Churches do not employ instrumental accompaniment in their worship.

Another custom is reading the appointed Scripture lessons in multiple foreign languages recounting the speaking in tongues recorded in Acts 2:4–12.

Our Lady Honored

Pentecost and Our Lady in the middle seated

The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the day of Pentecost and her central role in the divine concession of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles ought to have a prime role in the celebration of this important feast day. Jesus’ entrusting her to Saint John the Apostle during the Crucifixion further proves the intimacy she and her Son’s Church share.

According to tradition, the Latin encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi officially stated:

"It was through her powerful prayers obtained that the spirit of our Divine Redeemer, already given on the Cross, should be bestowed, accompanied by miraculous gifts, on the newly founded Church at Pentecost; and finally, bearing the tremendous burden of her sorrows and desolation with courage and confidence, she, truly the Queen of Martyrs, more than all the faithful 'filled up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ... for His Body, which is the Church'; and she continues to have for the Mystical Body of Christ, born of the pierced Heart of the Savior, the same motherly care and ardent love with which she cherished and fed the Infant Jesus in the crib." — Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, March 2, 1943

The Catholic Church accords the Mother of God a unique form of veneration called hyperdulia. It corresponds to the remarkable power of intercessory prayers dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary over those of all saints. Popes have stated that Mary prayed to God, and her intercession could persuade God to send the Holy Spirit as a permanent gift to the Twelve Apostles and their successors, thus forming the Apostolic Church.

*For an alternate Novena to the Holy Spirit, please click here