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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pentecost Traditions

It is a little odd to be writing this now, as this is the first year in a long time that we aren't hosting the Pentecost feast. However, I was asked if I was interested in participating in a Pentecost Blog Carnival, and I thought there were some things we do that might be of interest to other people.

For those who do not know the history of this feast day, it is the second most important holiday in the Christian year. It is a commemoration of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples of Jesus in the upper room and sending them out to do the work given them. It is, in many ways, the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is the 50th day after Resurrection Sunday, so it always falls on a Sunday, but it is a moveable feast like Easter, as it is dependent on the day of Easter. This year, it is May 31st. It is also called Whitsunday, for the white clothes worn by catechumens who were baptized during Easter.

There are many traditions associated with this day. The liturgical color for Pentecost is Red, for the Holy Spirit, all feasts of the Holy Spirit, as well as feasts of martyrs, are red. So, it is common to wear red on Pentecost. It is a memorial also of the distributing of the gifts of the Spirit, so there are many traditions involving dishes using the same number of parts as there are gifts. The church from which we were married had a talent show for Pentecost, so the parishioners could display the gifts God had given them. One church we attended decorated with red, yellow and orange balloons, which the children took home with them after church.

For the past six years, we have hosted a Tongues of Flame barbecue at our home on Pentecost. It seemed like a fun and appropriate celebration, since the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of flame over the believers in the upper room. We basically barbecued any kind of meat including that from fish and fowl. Other people brought side dishes, appetizers and desserts, we provided the meat and drinks. This has been a fun way to remember the day.

The church year is set up so people will remember each event, rather than just hoping that they will pay attention to each one on their own. The reminders are perfect for families and children, as they are sensual: We see the colors, we smell the incense or holy water or anointing oil, we taste the food, we hear the bells, we touch the crucifix or other holy objects. It is also physical in that we do something with our bodies as we pray. There are particular passages of scripture that are read for particular holidays, there are songs sung on those days. These all help teach and tie together what and who each celebration or memorial is about, so that we get a better understanding of it.

Our children especially have enjoyed the ways we have brought the Church Year home. This is not just something we do at church, it is something we live each day, in our homes and lives. Our family has been blessed to travel a bit more lately than we have over the last year, and in that time we have visited other churches. Although we have enjoyed the services (for the most part), they were not liturgical, didn't follow the Church's calendar and afterward we found ourselves having a greater appreciation for that Church year. Rich commented to me after one of our visits to another church that he was so glad that we had the cycles of the Church year to anchor our daily life. We didn't have to try to come up with something to prepare ourselves at the last minute, each day was a preparation for the next day, the next holiday, the next season.

The Church, in her wisdom provided Lent to prepare for Easter, so we didn't have it sneak up on us, we don't have to cram all of Holy Week and Good Friday into Easter Sunday, when we should be rejoicing in the resurrection, not recalling the crucifixion. Our Christmas season begins with Christmas day, not the day after Thanksgiving, focusing on the Incarnation and Nativity, not the Macy's window or how many presents are under a tree. In much the same way, Pentecost is a reminder of the Spirit which empowers each believer as well as the authority given to the apostles (and their successors, the bishops) and the Church. It is the close to Eastertide. Ascension day (and the eight days following it) is a mini-season within the Paschal season, but it is Pentecost that empowers us to go forth and do as Christ commands.

Celebrating it in a tangible way, like our feast, is a way to tell our children about what we believe, not just in a Bible lesson or a sermon at church, but when we are sitting in our house, walking by the way, lying down and rising. We have had opportunities to see our children's faith in action recently, and we cannot help but notice how our daily piety and practice has affected them. We are pleased to see how much has seeped in to their very beings, by being immersed in a life that is oriented toward God, around His Church.

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