Here’s a step-by-step guide to the ancient Pentecost Vigil

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Similar to the Easter Vigil, the Vigil of Pentecost can be celebrated in a way that preserves its rich traditions.

Fifty days after the high feast of Easter, the Church comes together to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is one of the principal feasts of the year and marks the end of the Easter season. Historically the feast of Pentecost was given a greater emphasis and its vigil the day before was connected to the Easter Vigil in many ways.

There was a service called by the English Whitsun Eve, during which the catechumens who had not been baptized at Easter received the sacraments on the eve of Pentecost. Similar to the Easter Vigil, it was celebrated in a “night watch” liturgy that included the reading of six prophecies and a solemn blessing of the baptismal font.

After the celebration of Baptism, the newly baptized would be vested in a white alb, symbolizing their new birth in the life of grace. Thus Pentecost is also called Whitsunday by English speakers, a word that simply means “White Sunday,” in reference to the white albs the newly baptized would wear.

In recognition of this ancient tradition, the current Roman Missal has revived this extended vigil. Below is a brief guide to how Pentecost can be celebrated according to the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.

Evening Prayer

Prior to the start of Mass, it is an option to begin the celebration with the recitation of Evening Prayer (Vespers). This includes several Psalms and ends right before the Liturgy of the Word during Mass.

Liturgy of the Word

Similar to the Easter Vigil, there are four readings from the Old Testament that are read. The priest will pray the following prayer before these readings, which summarizes the overall “spirit” of the Pentecost Vigil.

Dear brethren,
we have now begun our Pentecost Vigil,
after the example of the apostles and disciples,
who with Mary, the mother of Jesus, persevered in prayer,
awaiting the Spirit promised by the Lord;

like them, let us, too, listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God.
Let us meditate on how many great deeds

God in times past did for his people
and let us pray that the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father sent as the first fruits for those who believe, may bring to perfection his work in the world.

These readings reflect various prefigurements of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost starting in Genesis, and ending in the book of Joel. Each reading has its own proper prayer, which bring out the truths revealed in this ancient texts. Here is the one after a reading from the book of Exodus.

O God, who in fire and lightning
gave the ancient law to Moses on Mount Sinai
and on this day manifested the new covenant
in the fire of the Spirit,
grant, we pray,
that we may always be aflame with that same Spirit
whom you wondrously poured out on your apostles,
and that the new Israel,
gathered from every people,
may receive with rejoicing
the eternal commandment of your love.
Through Christ our Lord.

After the fourth reading and its Psalm is completed, the Gloria is sung with great jubilation. Then a reading from Romans is recited, which recalls the how the Holy Spirit helps us in our need. The Gospel is then proclaimed and Mass continues as usual.

In the Ordinariate Missal of Divine Worship, the Litany of Saints is sung, again echoing the Easter Vigil Mass.

Celebration of Baptism

Though not a requirement of the Pentecost Vigil, it remains fitting to celebrate baptisms during this Mass after the homily. This can occur for various pastoral reasons and reflects the continuity of the liturgy throughout the ages.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

The remainder of Mass is the same as usual, with no special additions. Mass is concluded with the solemn dismissal, “Go forth, the Mass is ended, Alleluia, Alleluia.” Pentecost marks the last use of the Easter season double Alleluia.

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