Liturgical Note for the Day of Pentecost & the Season after Pentecost
One of the seven principal feasts of the Church (BCP, p. 15), The Day of Pentecost takes its name from the Greek Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē), which translates as “fiftieth”—the fiftieth day after the Passover. For Christians, Pentecost marks the day the Holy Spirit came down and rested upon the Apostles like tongues of flame, as described in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles.
We acknowledge this event as marking the birth of the Church as we know it, and we celebrate the occasion of its remembrance with red vestments and altar hangings. It is likewise traditional in many Episcopal parishes for the congregation to wear red, as well, when attending worship on the Day of Pentecost.
As the final day of the season of Easter, Pentecost fulfills the promise made by the Risen Jesus prior to his Ascension—that, when he went to the Father, he would sent the Holy Spirit to us, to complete his work in the world and to teach us all things, to be our Helper and Advocate. In our liturgical year, then, the Day of Pentecost is a point of transition; even as on Easter Sunday we move from the season of Lenten fasting to the season of Easter feasting, on Pentecost we move from the time of the Resurrected Christ in our midst to the time of his reign in Heaven, and the time of the Holy Spirit resting upon us, abiding within us … and lighting us up!
The segment of the liturgical year which follows the Day of Pentecost is known, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the Season after Pentecost; it is also called “ordinary time.” That is not at all to suggest that it is a season of bland, pointless, mundane normality. No, the term “ordinary time” refers to the regular (“ordered”) progression of Sundays from Pentecost to the first Sunday of Advent, when we begin a new liturgical year. It is time devoted neither to a specific feast nor to a particular season in Christ’s earthly life; green is its traditional liturgical color.
Personally, I find it remarkable that, for Christians, “ordinary time” means the time of living our lives in the presence and loving embrace of God’s Holy Spirit. It should indeed be “ordinary” for us (in both senses of the word) to be continually inflamed and illumined by the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Is not that the very meaning of one of the names of our Lord and Savior? Emmanuel, God is with us.
(There is, by the way, also a shorter period of ordinary time between Epiphany and the Tuesday--Mardi gras—before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, but the Season after Pentecost is the “long green.”)