Pentecost Sunday

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window
A stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit overlooking the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pentecost Sunday is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated early enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (16:8). Pentecost is celebrated on the 50th day after Easter (if we count both Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday), and it supplants the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after the Passover and celebrated the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai.

Quick Facts

The History of Pentecost Sunday

The Acts of the Apostles recounts the story of the original Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2). Jews "from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5) were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. On that Sunday, ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord, the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary were gathered in the Upper Room, where they had seen Christ after His Resurrection:

And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which 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 2:2-4]

Christ had promised His Apostles that He would send His Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost, they were granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles began to preach the Gospel in all of the languages that the Jews who were gathered there spoke, and about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day.

The Birthday of the Church

That is why Pentecost is often called "the birthday of the Church." On Pentecost Sunday, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ's mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated. It's interesting to note that Saint Peter, the first pope, was already the leader and spokesman for the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday (see Acts 2:14ff).

In years past, Pentecost was celebrated with greater solemnity than it is today. In fact, the entire period between Easter and Pentecost Sunday was known as Pentecost (and it still is called Pentecost in the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox). During those 50 days, both fasting and kneeling were strictly forbidden, because this period was supposed to give us a foretaste of the life of Heaven. In more recent times, parishes celebrated the approach of Pentecost with the public recitation of the Novena to the Holy Ghost.

 While most parishes no longer publicly recite this novena, many individual Catholics do. 

For more information on Pentecost, associated holy days, and the Holy Spirit see Pentecost 101: Everything You Need To Know About Pentecost in the Catholic Church.