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Family Celebration of Pentecost

"On the day of Pentecost when the seven weeks of Easter had come to an end, Christ's Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested, given, and communicated as a Divine Person: of His fullness, Christ, the Lord, pours out the Spirit in abundance." (Catechism of the Catholic Church §731)

This is truly an occasion for a celebration! And there has been a long tradition of special celebrations and feasting on Pentecost.

"Arthur, the good King of Britain, whose prowess teaches us that we, too, should be brave and courteous, held a rich and royal court upon that precious feast day which is always known by the name of Pentecost."

Yvain, Chrétien de Troyes (trans. W.W.Comfort)

Although festive observance of this "precious feast day" (other than at Mass) has nearly disappeared in our culture, it is a tradition that we think is long overdue for revival in Catholic homes today.

In many places, Confirmation takes place on Pentecost -- often at the Cathedral with many children being confirmed at the same time. If there is a Confirmation in your family, there will, of course, be a special celebration of the occasion.

Unlike Christmas or Easter, however, with their familiar narratives and many customs and symbols from many cultures and regions -- and perhaps because it is not really possible to visualize the Holy Spirit -- Pentecost is not as easy to explain to young children as holidays like Christmas and Easter.

The great liturgist and pastor Monsignor Martin Hellriegel told of the customs for celebrating the feast of Pentecost in his family in Heppenheim, Germany when he was growing up. This practice could easily be imitated by Catholic families today.

"Pentecost was another special occasion for the Hellriegel family. As on each major feast day, the family dinner was served with the best linen and silverware. The centerpiece for this day was a large candle as a symbol of the Spirit with red streamers going to each place at the table. The streamer going to the place of the father was of double width, indicating his role as head of the family. Seven large rosebuds represented the seven gifts of the Spirit."

Martin B. Hellriegel: Pastoral Liturgist , Noel Hackmann Barrett.
St. Louis, 1990. Bureau of the Catholic Central Union of America


(Monsignor Hellriegel came to the United States in 1906, at the age of fifteen, where he studied for the priesthood. As longtime pastor of Holy Cross in St. Louis, he deepened the appreciation of all his parishioners for the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, teaching the entire parish to sing Gregorian Chant at Sunday Masses and respond to the prayers of the Mass before this became common practice. He also initiated the revival of the Easter Vigil in the United States.)

The Hellriegel family's celebration of Pentecost can be an inspiration for our own festivities.


The Pentecost Cake

Pentecost is really the birth day of the Church. Children do understand birthdays -- and birthday cakes! Why not ask them to help make a special cake for Pentecost -- with candles and decorations?

The cake can be a home-made or store-bought layer cake with white icing. (The ruffle shown surrounding the cake can be purchased from a bakery.)

The central large candle represents Christ our Light, who promised to send the Holy Spirit. It is surrounded by twelve white birthday candles, representing the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire. (Note: the large candle can be an ordinary 8" taper.)

The seven hearts (icing or candy) and seven red ribbons radiating from the cake represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (The hearts could be replaced by red icing roses.)

Twelve strawberries (or red cherries) represent the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.

If the children help decorate, this is an ideal time to review with them the seven gifts and twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Before the cake is cut, let all the children blow out the candles "with a mighty rushing wind"!

Serve the cake with vanilla ice cream with strawberries or raspberry topping to carry out the red and white theme.

Alternative: If the cake project seems too ambitious, a bouquet of a dozen red roses (representing the twelve apostles and the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit) would be a lovely centerpiece. Surround the bouquet with twelve votive candles or tea lights, if possible. A red tablecloth could be used, with seven flame-shapes cut from white paper, each labeled with one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, written with red marker and placed around the centerpiece.

Other suggestions:

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