Pentecost, Ascension and the Christian Holidays That Start 40 Days after Easter

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Ladder of Divine Ascent

Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, honors the day Christ rose to heaven. Pentecost, or Whitsunday, 50 days after Easter, honors the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church with the Apostles. Marking the end of Easter period and regarded as the day of the inception of the church, Pentecost is a Christian adaption of a Jewish holiday that commemorates the day in which the Law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Trinity Sunday is the Sunday after Whitsunday. It honors the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). It comes very late on the liturgical calendar because the unity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is regarded as the beginning and the end of the entire Christian life. Whitmonday is the day after Whitsunday.

Corpus Christi Day is two Thursdays after Whitsunday and the Thursday following Trinity Sunday. Celebrating the Eucharist, it is a popular festival marked by the worshipping and procession of the Holy Sacraments. Several towns around he world are famous for their spectacular processions. The procession route is sometimes strewn with foliage or decorated with designs made from dyed sawdust.

Sacred Heart is a festival celebrated on the second Friday after Trinity Sunday. It is centered around the idea that Christ’s humanity lives as suggested by the episode during which his heart was pieced after his death on the cross and blood and water flowed from the wound, symbolizing the sacraments, which spring forever from Jesus’s open heart.

Transfiguration, August 6, is when Christ's disciples saw him talking with Moses and Elijah, and his face "did shine as the sun, and his raiment was as white as the light." The Assumption, on August 15, marks the day when the Virgin Mary was bodily taken into heaven, where she rejoins her son. As opposed to Christ who ascended to sky on his own, Mary was taken up by angels. Assumption is from the Latin word “assumere”, “to lift up, to raise.”

Websites and Resources “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; BBC on Christianity ;Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Internet Sourcebook ; Christian Denominations: Holy See ; Catholic Online ; Catholic Encyclopedia ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches BBC on Baptists ; BBC on Methodists ; ; Orthodox Church in America ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church

Ascension Day

Ascension Day celebrates Jesus's ascension to heaven after he was resurrected on Easter Day. According to Mark 16:9-20: He appeared first to Mary of Magdala. She went and carried the news to his mourning and sorrowful followers, but when she told them that he was alive they did not believe her. Later he appeared to two of the disciples as they were walking into the countryside. They also went and took the news to the others, but again they did not believe that the Lord was alive. [Source: February 4, 2004, BBC |::|]

“Then, when the eleven disciples were at the table. He appeared to them and reproached them because they had not believed those who had seen him after he was raised from the dead. Then he said to them: 'Go forth to every part of the world, and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Those who believe it and receive baptism will find salvation; those who do not believe will be condemned, Faith will bring with it these miracles: believers will cast out devils in my name and speak in strange tongues; if they handle snakes or drink any deadly poison, they will come to no harm; and the sick on whom they lay their hands will recover.' So after talking with them the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven, and he took his seat at the right hand of God. Jesus's prophecy in this passage is believed to foreshadow the later events of Pentecost.

Describing the Ascension Festival in Bethlehem in the A.D. 380s, Egeria wrote: “On the fortieth day after Easter, that is, on the fifth weekday — (for all go on the previous day, that is, on the fourth weekday, after the sixth hour to Bethlehem to celebrate the vigils, for the vigils are kept in Bethlehem, in the church wherein is the cave where the Lord was born) — On this fifth weekday, the fortieth day after Easter, the dismissal is celebrated in its due order, so that the priests and the bishop preach, treating of the things suitable to the day and the place, and afterwards every one returns to Jerusalem late. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, ]



Pentecost is the festival when Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is the way Christians understand God. The symbols of Pentecost are those of the Holy Spirit and include flames, wind, the breath of God and a dove. |::|

“Pentecost is a happy festival. Ministers in church often wear robes with red in the design as a symbol of the flames in which the Holy Spirit came to earth. Hymns sung at Pentecost take the Holy Spirit as their theme, and include: Come down O Love Divine
Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire
Breathe on me breath of God
O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us
There's a spirit in the air
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me |::|

Pentecost is held on the seventh Sunday after Easter. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. The Jewish feast of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is sometimes called Pentecost. It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals and begins 50 days after Passover. Pentecostalism is movement within Christianity, that emphasizes grace, expressive worship, evangelism, and spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and healing

According to the BBC: “ It is celebrated on the Sunday 50 days after Easter (the name comes from the Greek pentekoste, "fiftieth"). It is also called Whitsun, but does not necessarily coincide with the Whitsun Bank Holiday in the UK. Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Christian church, and the start of the church's mission to the world. [Source: June 23, 2009 BBC |::|]

History of the Pentecost

According to the Acts of the Apostles, on the Pentecost — 50 days after the Jesus’s resurrection on Easter Sunday — the Holy Spirit, descended on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire accompanied by the sound of a rush of wind, and gave them the power of speaking in such a way that people of different languages could understand them. The Christian feast of Pentecost is an annual commemoration of this event, and it is solemnly observed as the birthday of the church and the feast of the Holy Spirit. |~| [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed..]

The first Pentecost: Pentecost comes from a Jewish harvest festival called Shavuot. The apostles were celebrating this festival when the Holy Spirit descended on them. After the strong wind sound and tongues of fire the apostles then found themselves speaking in foreign languages, inspired by the Holy Spirit. People passing by at first thought that they must be drunk, but the apostle Peter told the crowd that the apostles were full of the Holy Spirit. |::|

In the Catholic Church there are special observances, such a penitential vigil, and in ancient times neophytes were baptized at this time. From the white garments of these converts comes Whitsunday, an English name for Pentecost. The great liturgical Latin hymns Veni Creator Spiritus and Veni Sancte Spiritus were composed for Pentecost. The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday; until Advent the weeks are counted from Pentecost or Trinity. |~|

The Pentecost is a special day for any Christian, but it is emphasised particularly by Pentecostal churches. Pentecostal Christians believe in the direct experience of the Holy Spirit by believers during all of their services. Pentecostalist worshippers are known for speaking in tongues, prayer cloths, healing by laying on of hands and rarely serpent handling.

Pentecost in The Bible

The events of the first Christian Pentecost are recounted in Acts of the Apostles2.1–41. The text is structured as follows: 1) Introductory notice on the gathering together of the Christian community; description of charismatic phenomena: a roar like that of a mighty wind fills the house, and tongues like tongues of flame rest on everyone present. They are filled with the holy spirit and begin to "speak in foreign tongues" (verses 1–4). [Source: New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2003]

2) Following an introductory notice on the "devout Jews from every nation under heaven" staying in Jerusalem, there is described the gathering of a crowd, drawn by the sound of the community's charismatic prayer. Foreign visitors hear God praised in their own native tongues and ask, "What does this men?" Some, however, dismiss the phenomenon with "They are full of new wine" (5–13).

3) The discourse of Peter, which has three parts. Part one (14–21) explains the phenomenon of the community's prayer: not wine, but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as promised in the Prophets. Part two (22–36) gives the explanation of how it is that the Spirit has come. And this explanation is the kerygma: the recounting of Jesus' ministry and Passion, the proclamation of His Resurrection and messianic enthronement at the right hand of the Father: "He has poured forth this Spirit which you see and hear." And all this is in fulfillment of the prophecies of old. Part three (38–40) is spoken in answer to the crowd's bewildered query, "Brethren, what shall we do?" The answer is, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (14–40).

(4) A concluding notice narrates, "Now they who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (41).

Meaning of Pentecost.

20120508-Pentecost_(Kirillo-Belozersk).jpg <br/> Pentecost by Kirillo-Belozersk According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, The eschatological (end of the world) expectations of the Old Testament and Judaism are supposed by the meaning of Pentecost. According to ancient rabbinical teaching, all the pious and upright in the age of the Patriarchs had been initiated through the Spirit of Yahweh into the whole range of God's mysteries. But from the time of Israel's adoration of the golden calf, God had restricted this gift to a chosen circle of Prophets and high priests. [Source: New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2003]

“Still later, with the death of the last of the chosen Prophets, the Spirit was altogether denied Israel; God spoke to His people exclusively through "the heavenly voice" and through omens. Only with the coming of the Messiah and the outbreak of eschatological salvation would the Spirit reappear. At that privileged moment Israel would be purified of its sins and again become "a people of prophets"

“In this context it becomes clear why the prophetic figures of John the Baptist and of Jesus had wakened expectations of imminent salvation. But above all the meaning of the Pentecostal event is illuminated. For, at Pentecost salvation is realized in the messianic blessings of "the forgiveness of your sins" and "the gift of the Holy Spirit". |~|

“These are truly messianic blessings, accorded a community messianic not simply by aspiration but in the full consciousness of an already accomplished messianic event: the enthronement of Jesus at the right hand of God. Jesus made "Lord and Christ" (Acts of the Apostles2.36) is the final explanation of the Pentecostal gifts (cf. verse 33), and these gifts, in turn, are the consummation of His ministry, death, and resurrection. |~|

“Pentecost, then, is a salvific and messianic event, but it is also and par excellence an ecclesial event: 1) In the forgiveness of sins and the outpouring of the Spirit Israel is supremely blessed by its Savior. But these gifts are offered it only on condition of entry into the community of the saved (verses 38–40). For it is precisely this community of believers in Christ that is now revealed as the object and organ of salvation. 2) By the outpouring of the Spirit the messianic community is equipped to accomplish its salvific purpose. The immediate effect of the Spirit's advent is the joyous proclamation of the magnalia Dei in ecstatic prayer

Whitsuntide (Pentecost) in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “Whitsunday: Morning Station: XLIII But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord's Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord's Day, namely, the account of the Lord's resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis, just as throughout the whole year. 2. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium, and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord's Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour. And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, ]

“3. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course. For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion — there is another church there now — where once, after the Lord's Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: " Let us all be ready to-day in Eleona, in the Imbomon, directly after the sixth hour."

Station at the Mount of Olives in the 4th Century

Christ on the Mount of Olives

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “4. So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, ]

“5. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord's Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. “6. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour, and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

Night Procession in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. 7. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is a good distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, ]

“8. Where also on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion.

“9. When they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalms and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop's hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight.

“Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

Resumption of the Ordinary Services in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “XLIV Now, from the day after the fiftieth day all fast as is customary throughout the whole year, each one as he is able, except on the Sabbath and on the Lord's Day, which are never kept as fasts in this place. On the ensuing days everything is done as during the whole year, that is, vigil is kept in the Anastasis from the first cockcrow. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, ] “2. And if it be the Lord's Day, at the earliest cockcrow the bishop first reads in the Anastasis, as is customary, the passage from the Gospel concerning the Resurrection, which is always read on the Lord's Day, and then afterwards hymns and antiphons are said in the Anastasis until daylight. But if it be not the Lord's Day, only hymns and antiphons are said in like manner in the Anastasis from the first cockcrow until daylight.

“3. All the apotactitae, and of the people those who are able, attend; the clergy go by turns, daily. The clergy go there at first cockcrow, but the bishop always as it begins to dawn, that the morning dismissal may be made with all the clergy present except on the Lord's Day, when (the bishop) has to go at the first cockcrow, that he may read the Gospel in the Anastasis. Afterwards everything is done as usual in the Anastasis until the sixth hour, and at the ninth, as well as at lucernare, according to the custom of the whole year. But on the fourth and sixth weekdays, the ninth hour is kept in Sion a

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time,, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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