The forgotten feast

Sunday, May 19 is the Day of Pentecost. Why is this celebration so much quieter than Christmas and Easter? Artwork: Zvonimir Atletic
Sunday, May 19 is the Day of Pentecost. Why is this celebration so much quieter than Christmas and Easter? Artwork: Zvonimir Atletic
Published May 17, 2013

Why doesn’t the Anglican church avidly celebrate Pentecost, and its important encounter with the Holy Spirit, with the same fervour as the mega-feasts of Christmas and Easter? The Rev. Dr. David Reed, professor emeritus of pastoral theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, offers this possible explanation.

“There has been debate over the centuries as to how much attention ought to be given to the Holy Spirit. Some call the Holy Spirit the ‘shy member of the Trinity’ because in John’s gospel, Jesus says that when the Spirit comes, he will not speak of himself but only the words Jesus gives him.”

Reed adds that institutional theology places very little emphasis on the human experiences of the Spirit. “Such episodes have been associated with fringe groups and revivals and their excesses,” he says. Even evangelical Luther caustically noted that the radical reformers of his day had “swallowed the Dove, feathers and all.”

In mainstream doctrine, the immanent work of God through the Holy Spirit has been either marginalized as too extreme or domesticated into inoffensiveness. “Some argue that, historically, the church became suspicious of potentially uncontrollable aspects of what were claimed to be the work of the Holy Spirit,” says Reed.

Nonetheless, Pentecost is an important public celebration in countries such as Germany and the Philippines, while the U.K. has replaced its former Whit Monday holiday with a permanent secular holiday in May.

The Rev. Dr. Todd Townshend, dean of theology at Huron University College in London, Ont., would like to see Pentecost take its place as one of the Big Three holidays, but he concedes that the coming of the Holy Spirit may get shoved aside in favour of the coming of summer and Victoria Day.

“Another reason for the low status of Pentecost might be that Acts 2:1-13 stands as a critique of the lack of unity in today’s multi-denominational Christian church,” he adds.

And although the blowing of the life-changing Holy Spirit wherever it will may not appeal to some, “We could use Pentecost to create a festival to boost a flagging ecumenical movement,” says Townshend. “A day where divided Christians come together and devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers.”


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

Related Posts

Skip to content