PENTECOST and the Season Afterward: The 50th Day. June 10, 2019 - November 30, 2019

posted May 23, 2016, 3:48 PM by CalvaryEpiscopal Church   [ updated Jun 10, 2019, 12:25 PM ]


The term means "the fiftieth day." It is used in both the OT and the NT. In the OT it refers to a feast of seven weeks known as the Feast of Weeks. It was apparently an agricultural event that focused on the harvesting of first fruits. Josephus referred to Pentecost as the fiftieth day after the first day of Passover. The term is used in the NT to refer to the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), shortly after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. Christians came to understand the meaning of Pentecost in terms of the gift of the Spirit. The Pentecost event was the fulfillment of a promise which Jesus gave concerning the return of the Holy Spirit. The speaking in tongues, which was a major effect of having received the Spirit, is interpreted by some to symbolize the church's worldwide preaching. In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is now the seventh Sunday after Easter. It emphasizes that the church is understood as the body of Christ which is drawn together and given life by the Holy Spirit. Some understand Pentecost to be the origin and sending out of the church into the world. The Day of Pentecost is one of the seven principal feasts of the church year in the Episcopal Church (BCP, p. 15). The Day of Pentecost is identified by the BCP as one of the feasts that is "especially appropriate" for baptism (p. 312). The liturgical color for the feast is red. Pentecost has also been known as Whitsun or Whitsunday, a corruption of "White Sunday." This term reflects the custom by which those who were baptized at the Vigil of Pentecost would wear their white baptismal garments to church on the Day of Pentecost. The BCP provides directions for observance of a Vigil of Pentecost, which begins with the Service of Light (p. 227). The Hymnal 1982 provides a variety of hymns for Pentecost (Hymns 223-230) and the Holy Spirit (Hymns 500-516).

The Season After Pentecost
The Church fulfills the Great Commission
The Season After Pentecost lasts from the day after Pentecost to the day before Advent. Thus it begins on 10 June 2019 and ends on 30 November 2019.
In most churches, the decorations are green to symbolize the growth and life of the Church. You can read more about color in worship
Scripture Readings:
The Revised Common Lectionary appoints Scripture readings for use in worship during the Season after Pentecost.

View the Scripture Readings for the Season after Pentecost

The East:
In Orthodox churches, this season lasts from the day after Pentecost through 14 November.
Special Days:
See below.

The Season After Pentecost is essentially the part of the year that is left over after everything has been accounted for. The name of this season varies widely from church to church—it can be called Kingdomtide, Dominiontide, or Ordinary Time. In most churches, the general theme of the Bible readings and sermons concerns the church’s mission in the world.

The Season After Pentecost begins on 10 June 2019, the day after Pentecost. In the western Church, it ends on 30 November 2019, the day before the First Sunday of Advent. In the eastern Church, it ends on 14 November.

The main holy days during this season are as follows:

The Western Church

  • Trinity Sunday (16 June 2019) is the Sunday after Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Trinity.
  • The Transfiguration. In many churches, 6 August is the commemoration of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor. The Revised Common Lectionary moved it to the Last Sunday After the Epiphany.
  • Holy Cross Day (14 September of every year) is originally commemorated the alleged discovery of the true cross in Palestine in the fourth century. In Lutheran churches, it is the occasion for preaching on the theology of the cross.
  • Reformation Day (31 October of every year) is the day on which Martin Luther posted 95 theses on a church door, an act that led to the Reformation. Don’t imagine him angrily vandalizing the church door by forcefully nailing his theses to it as onlookers gasped. Instead, imagine him humming to himself as he casually tacks up his invitation on the church door as passers-by hardly give him a second glance. After all, they couldn’t read it because it was in Latin. It was customary for a scholar to set up a debate and invite the others by nailing an announcement in Latin on the thick wooden church door. This much was routine. On this occasion, however, someone took the debate topics down from the church door, translated them from Latin into German, and distributed them among the general public. What Luther intended to be a debate among scholars turned first into a public debate and then into the Reformation.
  • All Saints’ Day (1 November of every year) is the Christian Memorial Day on which all who died for their testimony of Jesus are remembered. Many American churches use All Saints’ Day as an educational, Christian alternative to the secular Halloween, by having a party and a special service for children, who dress in costumes to represent heroes of the Christian faith. The practice of having a harvest festival to avoid the secular Halloween is ironic, since that puts us right back into the pagan things we were trying to avoid. The word Halloween itself is a contraction of All hallows’ evening, which is the original English-language Christian term for All Saints’ Eve. (‘Hallow’ is an old word for ‘holy’ and ‘saint.’)
  • Christ the King Sunday (30 November 2019) celebrates Jesus, the King of the universe, who rules over all things to our ultimate benefit.
  • The Reign of Christ (30 November 2019) is an equally valid alternate name for Christ the King Sunday. The terminology puts the emphasis on the throne rather than the King.


also known as


Pentecost is, as the name denotes, the fiftieth day (Greek: pentēkostē) of Easter, the last day of the Great Fifty Days. Although it does, like Ascension Day, commemorate its own major event in the history of salvation (i.e., the coming of the Holy Spirit), it cannot stand alone. Properly speaking, it is not the beginning of a new season of the Church year. Rather, it is the end of a season, the last hurrah, as it were, of the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Descending Dove, stained glassNevertheless, Pentecost (or Whitsunday as it has been known in England) has traditionally been treated as a new feast. In effect, the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church observed an octave of the feast, appointing propers that focused on the work of the Holy Spirit for the weekdays between Pentecost and the following Sunday. (Curiously, though, the week was still described as being part of Eastertide.) This was also reflected in older Anglican practice where The Book of Common Prayer used to provide propers for the Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun Week. Furthermore, the Ember Days which were observed at the end of the week also focused implicitly on the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, however, Ember Days have become a liturgical footnote and most modern Anglican use no longer explicitly connects the week to the feast day that begins it. On the day after Pentecost, ferial (non-festal) time begins. The numbered Sundays after Pentecost do not constitute a season of Pentecost. Rather, Pentecost, the last day of the previous season, is just a convenient marker to begin counting from. Oddly enough, if Pentecost has a season at all, it consists of the nine days that precede it. Both biblically and liturgically, the novena which is properly Ascensiontide is a period of preparation for Pentecost.

Even without all of this confusion about the status of Pentecost, it does at times seem to be on the verge of going the way of the dodo, or at least the way of Ascension Day. It has traditionally been regarded as equal to the two principal feasts of our Lord:  Christmas and Easter Day. It is, along with those feast days, one of the three days each year on which the faithful were expected to receive Communion in order to maintain their status as communicants in good standing in the Church. But it is no longer a day on which one can expect church attendance to spike. Indeed, it is a day which has become much like any other Sunday, distinguished only by the red vestments of the clergy, but with no other customs or traditions to distinguish it.

It was not always so. There are both liturgical and non-liturgical customs that once characterized Whitsunday and some of them are worth reviving in our ongoing effort to restore a truly homely divinity to Anglican practice.


Liturgy is drama. It is not playacting, but it is a dramatic presentation of the Gospel, replete with script, costumes, choreography, and a stage. Every Eucharist is a presentation of the essential drama of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That service enacts his Incarnation at Christmas (and throughout the year). That service enacts his Resurrection presence at Easter (and throughout the year). That service enacts the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (and throughout the year). Whether the ceremonial is simple or elaborate, humble or grand, that service enacts the drama of salvation through the year. Often, the essential drama is enriched with action that calls to mind a particular occasion or theme: the procession to the crèche at Christmas, the imposition of ashes at the beginning of Lent, the Palm Sunday procession, the lighting of the Paschal Candle at Easter, and so forth. Pentecost, too, has had its unique liturgical expressions.

The particular events of Pentecost are described in the Acts of the Apostles: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4) This is a story full of action and symbol, and one with tremendous potential for dramatic expression.

In some ways, the technology of the middle ages may seem primitive to us--until we stop and think for a moment about the tremendous accomplishments of medieval architects, building massive stone edifices without the benefit of modern machinery. Green Man, Ceiling boss in Canterbury CathedralLiturgists were equally ingenious in their use of these buildings. Visitors to medieval churches will be familiar with the elaborately carved keystones (or "bosses"), such as this Green Man from Canterbury Cathedral, that look down from the center of the stone vaulting of the church ceiling. The observant visitor may also be aware that sometimes, near the east end of the church, there is a large hole where a carved boss would normally be. This is the "Holy Ghost hole" which had a special function on Whitsunday. In the middle ages, a dove descended from this hole as the story of the first Pentecost was read. The dove could be either live or a model lowered by ropes. As it appeared, the sound of the rushing wind was imitated either by the choristers shuffling their feet or by the blast of trumpets. And the show did not end there, for next there would shower down from the Holy Ghost hole, "tongues of fire"--either red rose petals or pieces of burning straw.

The dove derives, not from the story of Pentecost, but from the story of the Baptism of Jesus. Its use in the liturgy of Pentecost makes a visual connection between two important stories about baptism, the Baptism of Jesus and the baptism on the first Christian Pentecost of some three thousand converts to the faith. The baptismal motif is the source of the traditional English name of the feast. On Whitsunday, literally "White Sunday," those who had  been baptized on Easter Day once again put on the white clothing which they had worn for the first time on the day they were baptized, thus ending the feast as they had begun it and reminding the whole congregation of their own baptisms. Traditionally, Whitsunday had a Vigil much like the Great Vigil of Easter. The Whitsun Vigil also celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, gathering into the membership of the Church those children who were born during the Great Fifty Days and those adult catechumens who may not have been ready for baptism at the beginning of Easter.

Modern churches are not likely to have Holy Ghost holes and the facilities for a deus ex machina, but it would be possible to hang a figure of a dove over the nave or over the altar, as in this photograph. (The dove in the photo is actually a hanging pyx (a vessel containing the reserved sacrament) at St. Barnabas' Church, Southfields, London--that is a subject for another time.) During the reading from Acts, the choir or the congregation can shuffle their feet at the appropriate time or perhaps the organist could provide a suitably windy effect--encourage her/him to be creative, but not to drown out the voice of the reader! If there is a way to have something shower down from above, we recommend rose petals rather than burning straw--your insurance company may not approve of the latter. The trick in things like this is to pull it off "decently and in order." Liturgy is drama, but its purpose is to engage and involve the congregation, not to entertain them. Liturgy should be joyful, but it is also serious. If the net effect is going to be that the people respond by giggling, it should not be done. However, one of our parishes did try the feet shuffling last year and it really worked, because they were prepared and took it seriously.Wild Columbine

Doves present many possibilities, in church, in church school, and also at home. In the middle ages, families in some parts of Europe had wooden doves that they suspended from the ceiling in their homes during Whitsuntide. An origami (folded paper) dove would be a relatively easy modern substitute for this custom. Here is a link to a site that shows you how to make origami doves. This would be a good project for children in church school. The doves could be brought into church and blessed before they are taken home. If the children (or some adults) are really ambitious, they could make enough doves to distribute to everyone in the congregation. Or you might have origami doves, rather than rose petals, shower down during the reading of the story of Pentecost. Another dove-related decoration for church or home at Whitsuntide is columbine. This flower got its name from the Latin word for dove, columba, because the flowers were thought to resemble a dove in flight. Columbine is the Whitsun flower and, if it blooms in your area at Pentecost, it would be wonderful to have it in profusion in the church, at home, and in gardens. Another flower that is sometimes in bloom on Whitsunday is the peony. For that reason, the Germans know it as the "Pentecost rose."

Back to the liturgy: clearly Whitsunday is a day for celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. We do not know many parishes that have a Vigil service for Pentecost. Since the feast itself has, for the moment, lost some of its former luster, reviving the Vigil is likely to be a hard sell, though we do hope that the day will come when the Church once again keeps this feast in all its splendor. Nevertheless, whether at a Vigil, as at Easter, or on Sunday morning, this is one of the days when baptisms are particularly appropriate.

Another way of enacting the events of Pentecost in the liturgy is to have the Lesson from Acts or the Gospel of the day read in different languages. In Acts, Luke tells us that visitors who had come to Jerusalem from different lands and spoke a variety of different languages exclaimed "in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." (Acts 2:11) We would suggest that the idea of having various people read the lesson or the Gospel in various languages only makes sense if each language that is read is a living language and there are people in the congregation who understand it. No one speaks Latin today or classical Greek, so it is meaningless to read a story about the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit in those venerable, but dead, languages. On the other hand, it is quite possible, and even likely, that a congregation in a typical American community will have some people present whose first language is Spanish. We know an urban parish that has had a large Chinese contingent for many years and a Midwestern parish that welcomed Hmong refugees from Laos. Even though these immigrants may now speak English, many of them probably still speak their first language among family and fellow immigrants. It can be a potent sign of the universal appeal of the Gospel to continue to proclaim it on this particular occasion in the various tongues that are still alive in a parish.

On certain major feast days, the Church has a hymn called a "Sequence Hymn," which is sung just before the reading of the Gospel. The name actually comes from the first words which used to announce the reading of the Gospel, "The continuation (sequentia) of the Gospel according to...." The Sequence Hymn appointed for Whitsunday is a particularly fine Latin poem, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, composed in the 12th century, and known as "The Golden Sequence." It is found in various English hymnals in different translations. There are actually two translations (really paraphrases) in The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. However, we particularly like the slightly altered translation found in The Hymnal 1940, which was made by the Tractarian, and later convert to the Roman Catholic Church, Edward Caswall.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
Et emitte caelitus
     Lucis tuae radium:
Veni, pater pauperum;
Veni, dator munerum;
     Veni, lumen cordium.

Consolatur optime,
Dulcis hospes animae,
     Dulce refrigerium,
In labore requies,
In aestu temperies,
     In fletu solacium.

O lux beatissima,
Reple cordis intima,
     Tuorum fidelium:
Sine tuo numine
Nihil est in homine*,
     Nihil est innoxium.

Lava quod est sordidum,
Riga quod est aridum,
     Rege quod est devium,
Fove quod est languidum
Flecte quod est rigidum
     Sana quod est saucium.

Da tuis fidelibus
In te confidentibus
     Sacrum septenarium;
Da virtutis meritum,
Da salutis exitum,
     Da perenne gaudium.
            Latin, 12th century

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come!
And from thy celestial home
     Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, thou Father of the poor!
Come, thou source of all our store!
     Come, within our bosoms shine!

Thou, of comforters the best;
Thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
     Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
     Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessèd Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of thine,
     And our inmost being fill!
Where thou art not, man hath naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought
     Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew;
     Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
     Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
And confess thee, evermore
     In thy sev'nfold gift descend;
Give them virtue's sure reward;
Give them thy salvation, Lord;
     Give them joys that never end.
                 Tr. Edward Caswall, alt.

*The original text had lumine, but this was later changed to homine.

In addition to its rich contribution to the liturgy, this hymn gave rise to a lovely non-liturgical custom. From these words in the fourth verse, "Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour thy dew," there arose the custom of walking barefoot through the dewy grass on Whitsunday morning. Coming from above, like the Spirit on Pentecost, and recalling the water of baptism, this custom was thought to bestow a special blessing on those who practiced it and is a truly homely way to begin the feast.

Finally, in our catalogue of Pentecostal liturgical ideas, we have a suggestion about the Gospel reading. The traditional reading in the Western Rite is from John 14, the section of the Last Supper discourse in which Jesus promises to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit after he is gone. However, more recent Eucharistic lectionaries, including those of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Church of England, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, assign John 20:19-23, generally as the preferred reading, or at least as an option. We agree with this preference, for two reasons. First of all, the story in John 20 is a resurrection appearance and its use underscores the fact that Pentecost is a continuation of the celebration of Easter. Secondly, as Reginald Fuller points out in Preaching the Lectionary, this story is about baptism: "forgiveness of sins is baptismal language (see Luke 24:47), and what we have here is the Johannine version of the tradition, which includes in the appearance stories the command to baptize." (p. 100)A bishop baptizes on Pentecost

A Red, White, and Green Whitsun

The usual liturgical color for Pentecost in the West is red, the color of the fire which descended on the apostles on that day. In modern times, laypeople have also adopted the custom of wearing something red to church on Pentecost. Although the alternative name for the feast is Whitsun, the custom of the newly baptized wearing white on Pentecost seems to have disappeared, except in the case of those who are actually baptized on the day of Pentecost and may then be wearing a white christening outfit. In the photograph at right, the bishop is vested in red for the feast and also wears the mitre which represents the tongues of fire that were seen over the heads of the apostles on Pentecost. The newly baptized child is clothed in a traditional white christening gown.

There is another color that rightly belongs to Whitsun, and that is green. In the Orthodox Churches, green, the color of life, is the color of the vestments on Pentecost and churches are decorated with both cut and live greenery.  Green also has a place in the spectrum of Pentecost in the West. It is, in some ways, a tenuous connection. Nonetheless, it is one that should not be overlooked. The Hebrew feast of Pentecost, Shavuoth, fifty days after Passover, was a harvest festival, the occasion for the offerings of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. In northern Europe and Britain, the Christian feast of Pentecost attracted to itself elements of various celebrations which celebrated the greening of the land in late spring and early summer. In some northern areas, Pentecost takes the place of the Mayfest. For example, in Silesia the Maypole was not erected until Pentecost and greens were gathered from the woods and fields to decorate churches and homes in a celebration of new life that reflects the church's celebration of new life given by the Spirit. Often, the gathering of greens was accompanied by a search for a figure who embodied in a personal way the idea of new life, a man known by different names in different places, but eventually dubbed the "Green Man." Covered with greens and a mask of bark, he would be escorted into town to preside over the Whitsun games and feasting.

Carvings of the Green Man appear in British churches beginning in the 12th century. His prototype, of course, is much older. His origins are to be found in the ancient god of the woodlands who was known as Sylvanus by the Romans and Cernunnos by the Celts and was related to Dionysos, Misericord (choir seat) - 17th century Belgian, now in the Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, NYthe Greek god of the vine and its fruit. He first appears as a human face in the midst of foliage, but in time the foliage seems to grow from his face and, finally, to grow out of his mouth. Early Christian representations of the Green Man treat him as a demon, a pagan spirit to be resisted. In time a transformation takes place: the Green Man becomes a generally more friendly character, as in the boss from Canterbury, above, a symbol of the goodness of creation and the fruitfulness of the land which spring and summer festivals celebrated. But there always remains a grimmer side to him, as in the misericord at the left, which reminds us that nature also has the potential to harm if it is not properly used and respected. 

The remarkable assimilation of the Green Man into Christian symbolism is particularly well-illustrated by an Easter Sepulchre at the Minster in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Christ reposes behind the stone tracery of the sepulchre, mourned by his friends, while each corbel on the canopy above is decorated with a Green Man. The gods of the soil who die and rise again annually have come to mourn the true God who died but once and rose again. The marriage of the two similar, yet very different, worlds encapsulates the full meaning of the Incarnation, for when God puts on human flesh in the Incarnation, he unites himself with the whole created order in order to redeem that which is fallen and to restore that which has been corrupted by the Fall of humankind. Although the ancient gods are discredited as gods in the new creation, the cycles of life which they represent continue on with renewed vigor and the ancient symbols are infused with new meaning.

Pentecost is the day on which the Church is empowered by the Spirit and, as we read in Acts, it does indeed spread and bear much fruit, proclaiming the Gospel of the One who died and rose again. As we recognize and welcome the Green Man into our celebrations of the feast, we should not confuse him either with Jesus or with the Holy Spirit, or even with the human race. The Green Man is neither divine nor human. Rather, he is the world in which the drama of salvation takes place, and as such he deserves and even requires our attention and respect. He is cause for celebration as he symbolizes the good creation in which God has placed us. He is cause for celebration as he represents all of the fruits with which creation nourishes us. And he is cause for celebration as his ancient character calls forth in us a spirit of joy and wonder. But he is also cause for concern. He is a reminder of our responsibility as stewards of creation and he is a reminder that we have not always been good stewards. The grimmer Green Men who peer at us from stone and wood in medieval churches look out at a world that has too often exploited the created order and as a result stands in danger of damaging it beyond repair.

How we choose to live out our vocation as Whitsun stewards of the Green will vary, but a full homely divinity compels us to move beyond both church and home to the world beyond to celebrate the good gifts that ultimately come from above and to ensure that the creation which provides them is properly cared for.

Green Man, cast metal, unknown provenance