Red symbolizes God’s Spirit

By | May 27, 2009

For almost 50 days we have celebrated the great feast of Easter. There have been white vestments, an abundance of flowers and the lighted Easter candle to signify the presence of the Risen Lord. Pentecost is the 50th and final day of our Easter celebration. As we enter the church, we still see flowers and the lighted Easter candle (we no longer snuff it out during the reading of the Gospel on the Ascension), but today the color RED dominates the décor.

On Pentecost we celebrate the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ final gift to the church. It is a day of hope and renewal of purpose and mission — a time to celebrate God’s ongoing work in the world which has been entrusted to us. The red of the vestments, flowers and banners symbolizes the fire, passion and energy of God’s Spirit.

Christians celebrate Pentecost in a variety of ways. In Italy, they formerly scattered rose petals from church ceilings to imitate the “fiery tongues” described in Acts. In France they often blow trumpets to recall the “sound like a strong driving wind.” Russians carry flowers and green branches on this day and the Orthodox Church celebrates the Vigil of Pentecost with the genuflexion ritual — a series of “kneeling prayers” which marks the start of kneeling again at the consecration of the Mass. (Orthodox Christians do not kneel during the Easter season).

Our parishes will probably not use rose petals or trumpets, but the Sunday’s liturgy will be festive. In addition to the red vestments and decorated sanctuary, there will be hymns to the Holy Spirit, a special preface, a Sequence and a solemn blessing.

Following the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians describing the “fruits” or signs of the Spirit’s presence, we will sing or recite the Sequence — a 13th century prayer asking for the gift of the Spirit. Those of us old enough to remember have sung the Veni Sancte Spiritus in Latin. The Spirit is described as Father of the poor, source, comforter, guest, refreshment, solace and light and we ask the Spirit to fill us, strengthen, heal, wash us, melt us, bend us, warm us and guide us for the work of building the church.

If you attend Mass on Saturday evening, however, the readings for the Vigil of Pentecost will be used and there will be no Sequence. Vestments will be red, the solemn blessing or a special Prayer over the People will be used and on both days the liturgical celebration ends with the Easter dismissal and for the final time (until next year) we sing. “Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia.”


Sr. Rehrauer is president of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, Bay Settlement, and former associate director of the Liturgy Secretariat for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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