The word ‘Pentecost’ is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘fiftieth’. Fifty days after Jesus was raised from the dead came the first Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles and the Christian Church was formed and has continued to grow ever since to this day. So Pentecost is not only the Feast of God the Holy Spirit, but is also the Birthday of the Church. It is a day which we celebrate with great joy and thanksgiving.
The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit is in Acts 2:1-21. It describes the “rushing mighty wind” which filled the house where the Apostles were sitting, and the “cloven tongues like as of fire” which came upon each of them. The liturgical colour is red, representing this fire.
The Book of Common Prayer refers to this feast as Whitsunday. The old spelling was ‘Wit’ and it has been suggested that this referred to the gift of knowledge which the Apostles received on the Day of Pentecost. Another opinion is that this was originally ‘White Sunday’ and referred to the Whitsunday custom of rich people giving all their cows’ milk to poor people. However, the opinion most generally held is that ‘White Sunday’ referred to the white garments worn by converts baptised on Whitsunday. (1)
1. Wright, A.R. and Lones, T.E. (editor) (1936) British Calendar Customs. England. Vol I, movable feasts, London: William Glaisher Ltd.
Short talks entitled Fire of enthusiasm, Love and boldness, The Holy Spirit in the Church and The work of the Holy Spirit are available in this section of the Holy Faith website. See also In the power of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost and Pentecost: spanning the centuries both of which are suitable for children.