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Catholic Activity: Pentecost Picnic

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A way to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday is with a picnic, and toasting with "Whitsun ale."

DIRECTIONS

But He did not leave us only days like this. He told us to wait and watch and work — for the great day of the Holy Spirit was close at hand. Then, no matter how discouraged or dismayed we may be, we shall find fortitude enough to "renew the face of the earth." For Whitsunday or Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and all seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are the birthday presents which we receive.

Christians of years past understood this day much better than we do. When they celebrated Whitsunday with games and races and feasts, they were marking another milestone in the years of the Church's existence. When we celebrate Pentecost, we think of it as a day long dead and gone when something mysterious happened in an "upper room." When they toasted the Church with Whitsun ale, they were giving her praise here and now as a living, holy mother, a mother who came home with them for "birthnight festivities." When we hear our Mass on Pentecost, that is enough and we leave our mother without so much as a nod. When they made merry with dances and decorated their houses with newly budded beech branches, they were enjoying an anniversary of their own. This was the close of the Easter feasting and as members of the Church this was their birthday, too. We, on the other hand, forget the festival, ignore the implications, and lose another feast day.

Those who have lived through years of the great prohibition experiment have developed phobias about drinking and making merry. We have been infected by the puritanical idea that all intoxicants are harmful to all peoples at all times. At the same time secularism has declared beer and ale and wine to be no longer gifts of God, but trappings of the elite or the guzzlings of the gutter. Many Catholics today would be shocked or mildly surprised, depending on their intake of intoxicants, to know that the Church actually blesses ale in its liturgy,

Bless, O Lord, this creature, ale, which by Thy power has been produced from kernels of grain. May it be a healthful beverage to mankind, and grant that through the invoking of Thy holy name all who drink thereof may find it a help in body and protection in soul.
God has given us many good gifts to use, but not abuse. So with a mug of Whitsun ale, we toast the Church who teaches her children self-control rather than "other-fellow-control."

In England the Pentecost dinner was crowned with a roasted goose stuffed to bursting with apples and onions and sage. In France cold meat pies and Galantine were packed into picnic baskets, and the entire family went off for a day in the woods. In Germany great dishes of sauerkraut were accompanied by partridges or bratwurste, depending on the purse of the host. In the Netherlands Whitsunday was a family outing day when everyone put on his new spring clothes and feasted. The impression of the festival has lasted all these years in the hearts of the settlers of the Hudson Valley in New York. Pinkster Sunday is still celebrated in these days with tempting dishes.

All this fine food was once served on the Sunday of the Holy Spirit in each mother country, but each year the celebration grows less and less. As the wars have drained these countries of material wealth, their traditions, too, are left homeless. It remains for Americans, who are still financially able to feast, to gather the placed customs into their own households.

In our family we also favor the picnic for Pentecost, but, instead of gelatined meat pies or loaves, we choose American steak to grill. Instead of sauerkraut or dumplings, we strip the garden of its earliest greens for a tossed salad. New dandelions are sending their teeth-like leaves up through the grass. Baby lettuce and endive have scarcely lived long enough to turn green. Curly spinach stands ready in its garden row. Our watercress tumbles down the hillside, bound in bunches with the silver ribbons of the creek. Mary and Ann have already gathered the greens, and I have promised to do the more tedious work of thoroughly washing them. Kathy can toss them on a clean towel so that the leaves entirely dry. We carry the greens to the picnic in our wooden salad bowl, and I make up the dressing in a pint Mason jar.

Just before serving, I mix the vegetables with herb dressing.

Herb vinegars are especially easy to use because they give the essence without the actual herb being present. You never have to worry about leaving a clove of garlic in a salad bowl if you use herb vinegars. They are very simple to make, too. Cover several handfuls of the fresh herb with two quarts of vinegar. Let it stand for 10 days. Strain. If the resulting vinegar seems weak, repeat the operation. Usually once is enough. Use three cloves of garlic to two quarts of vinegar. These vinegars will give you herb-flavored salads in the dead of winter — and in summer, too, when you are hurrying to prepare a Pentecostal picnic.

Our dessert is ready to pack, and I notice that little fingers already have picked off several of the glazed strawberries which decorated the top. This cake is something special, a glorified strawberry shortcake, a descendant of the French apricot rum cake. It is often used as the festive cake of France, and the Holy Spirit undoubtedly inspired the baker who first conceived it. Its frosting is as red as the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles, as red as the vestments at Mass on Pentecost. With it your picnic will be a great success. The best part is, you can make it the Saturday before.

Our whole family piles out to the strawberry patch to gather the berries for Strawberry Cake. Daddy insists that each picker carries two baskets, one a little chip basket and the other a very large "bread basket" located somewhere between neck and knees. For every berry in the chip basket, at least two or three land in this great "internal cavity where the chief part of digestion is carried on." The miracle of it all is that the patch even produces enough to freeze or store for winter. The Lord must manage a multiplication of berries when boys and girls eat so many.

As the Church continues the Pentecostal theme through the week, we are again reminded of the close connection between spiritual and material in this human world of ours. While the Holy Ghost lavishes His seven-fold gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord upon Christ's orphans, we — the newly adopted "little ones" — are taught "to speak and understand" by our mother the Church. We who have received great spiritual riches turn to our farms and gardens and give our little gifts of the new season to God. The Ember Days, days on which man offers his first fruits to his heavenly Father, always fall during the octave of Pentecost. This overflowing of the spirit into our puny endeavors is expressed so well in the prayer,

Sanctify we beseech Thee, O Lord, the gifts which we offer to Thee, and may the outpouring of the Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts, O Lord, and by the inward sprinkling of His heavenly dew, may they be made fruitful.
So even the cultivating of food in our gardens is sanctified in the full vision of Christian life.

Activity Source: Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310, 1949, 1999

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