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Catholic Activity: Pentecost Activities

Pentecost or Whitsunday is a great feast. Ethel Marbach explains the significance, and offers many ideas on how to make the message of Pentecost reach home.


Whitsunday is the feast of feasts. It is a time of flowers and fruition; the completion of the work of redemption; the fullness of grace for the Church and us. According to St. John Chrysostom, "Today we have arrived at the peak of all blessings, we have reached the capital of feasts, we have obtained the very fruit of our Lord's promise." It is the Green Holyday among Poles and Ukrainians, the Flower Feast in Germany, Summer Feast in Czechoslovakia, and the Red Pasch in Italy.

The night of Pentecost, like Easter night, is considered by many to be one of the great "blessed nights" of the year. Ascending hilltops and mountains in the early dawn is called "catching the Holy Spirit," which symbolically expresses the thought that only by means of prayer can the graces of the Holy Spirit be caught. The superstitious ascribed a special power of healing to the dew which fell that night, and walked barefoot through it at dawning. In Germany, banquets are held (Pfingstgelage) and a Pentecost Bride (May Queen) is chosen (Pfingstbraut) and whips are cracked all through Whitsunday night (Pfingstschnalzen.) The red peony is designated the Rose of Pentecost (Pfingstrose) and the oriole becomes the Pentecost bird (Pfingstvogel). Creative parents using these customs as idea-starters, can work up many other pfingst in their personal welcome to the Holy Spirit's coming.

Since Pentecost is the time for brilliance, red in all its restraints and outbursts should sparkle on the festive table. It could be cherry pie, with pastry dove cut-outs, or a red Jello with marsh-mallow doves tooth-picked atop individual servings; or a conventional white cake with vanilla frosting and a dove outlined in tiny red-hot cinnamon drops (for the tongues of fire!); or the holy bird drawn in red jelly, with seven small candles set into red Life-Savers, edging the cake — for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

White doves may be cut from parchment or heavy, rich-looking paper, with a gift and a fruit of the Holy Spirit written on each wing. The wings may be stapled together (as if the dove were in flight) so the words can't be seen, and the birds should be hung by red ribbons from a good spot. We hang ours, in the spirit of the occasion, from our canary's cage, but a more dramatic focal point would be from the dining-room chandelier (or light fixture, as we of the middle-class call it.) Each one in the family chooses his bird, and the gift written on it is the one the Holy Spirit (working through the gift written on it) wishes him to work on for the year. We try to discourage the exchange of "gifts," the back-room haggling, until each one is pleased that he has the easiest one. We argue, with parental pontification, that there is no Long-Suffering without Fortitude, or accept what Providence has given you. Or — make the best with what you're stuck with. But I suspect such Counsel is not accepted with Wisdom or Understanding and the bartering goes on.

In the days when Lifebuoy stood out in its locker-room individuality, before it succumbed to the bland-coloring, sweet-smelling trend, we used it to carve the tongues of fire accompanying our Ivory soap dove. The children used them in their bath, and I don't know if it made them clean clear through, but it was fun. That, however, was yesterday, and our red Lifebuoy tongues linger only in the memory. Unless we find a grocer with a slow-moving stock.

The prayer we pray all year round comes into its own today. Once more, with feeling, we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us in all manner of ordinary or great endeavors (asking the boss for a raise, returning spoiled meat to a hostile grocer, writing a Petrarchan sonnet, weighing punishment for childish misdeeds, expressing thanks for a gift you did not want from a person you do not like, etc.):

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy Faithful; and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
So, drill, ye Holy Spirit, until you penetrate our understanding! Brush off indecision, hanging from us like lint. Fill the void in head and heart so that we may do what we must wisely and in the manner of Christ.

Pentecost is also the Feast of Witnessing. Its grace is the grace that makes us saints; it is a living thing; it must act to keep its life. It challenges us to be living witnesses to Christ. For young people as yet uncommitted to specific vocations, this is an exciting, wide-open opportunity. Even scratching the surface of life today, they can see the need for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be put into action, and not through especially "Catholic" channels.

The normal, everyday outlets for charitable work done with a supernatural motive can give witness to one's involvement with the Family of Man. Whether it be working in a slum soup kitchen, reading to bed-ridden old people, joining the Peace Corps, being Candy-Stripers in hospitals, going out to the homes of new mothers to lighten their work load—they must find their own niche, develop their own spiritual learnings, so that their work may be the source of joy, a true prayer.

Come, my children in the world, come and be my witnesses: I need every mouth that still prays, I need every hand that still traces the sign of the holy Cross! For the day is heavy with storms of temptation— There are many along the road who no more find the way home: You must be light to light their way .... —Gertrud von LeFort.

Activity Source: Family Liturgical Customs No. 4: Easter by Ethel Marbach, Abbey Press Publishing Division, St. Meinrad, Indiana, 1964

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