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Pentecost: Raiders of the Lost Octave

For the last few years, since finding out that Pentecost used to be an octave and in fact one that ranked even higher than Christmas, I have been on a mission to advocate for restoring what once existed. To do that I have taken any opportunity that I can to explain what an octave does for our liturgical life and the danger in minimizing the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Given that we are a Church living out the mission and purpose of Pentecost in hopeful waiting for the Second Coming, this Solemnity gives our life intentionality. It should direct our days and call our hearts, minds, and actions towards fervent discipleship.

The Way It "Was"

An octave is a 8 day prolongation of a feast day. In our current liturgical calendar this only arises on two occasions, Easter & Christmas.

But did you know that Pentecost used to be an octave as well?
In fact, it was an octave that ranked even higher than Christmas!

I know I said this earlier, but in case you didn't catch the shock and amazement that I was in when I found this out, I thought it worth repeating. Many do not know this, but it followed immediately after Easter in importance on the liturgical calendar. In the Tridentine Calendar there were many octaves so as a better way to classify them, Pope Pius X created categories that are called "privileged," "common," and "simple."

Here is a breakdown of this to give you a better view.

The Privileged Octaves

1st Rank: Easter and Pentecost

2nd Rank: Epiphany and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

3rd Rank: Christmas, the Ascension, and the Sacred Heart

The Common Octaves

-Immaculate Conception

-The Assumption

-The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

-The Solemnity of St. Joseph

- Saints Peter and Paul

- All Saints

- The principal feast day of a parish patron saint or cathedral

The Simple Octaves

-St. Stephen

-St. John the Evangelist

-St. Lawrence

-The Nativity of Mary

During the revisions of the liturgical calendar most of these were removed. You could say there might have been a legitimate need for pruning, but as you can see we went from 18 to 3 octaves: Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost. And then in 1969 Pentecost was removed from the list as well.

There is a little story that goes like this.

"Blessed Pope Paul VI rose early and went to his chapel to celebrate Mass.

Instead of the red vestments he expected, green ones were laid out for him. He asked the Master of Ceremonies, “What on earth are these for? This is the Octave of Pentecost! Where are the red vestments?”

“Your Holiness,” replied the Master of Ceremonies, “this is now The Time Throughout the Year. It is green, now. The Octave of Pentecost is abolished.”

“Green? That cannot be," said the Pope, “Who did that?” “Your Holiness, you did.” And, the story concludes, Paul VI wept.

The authenticity of the story remains in question, but it points to the deep sadness many Catholics felt when the Pentecost Octave was abolished."


It was known as the Church's second greatest feast, and Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman referred to the breviary offices of the octave of Pentecost as the “grandest of the liturgical year."

The Effects on Liturgical Life

To clearly articulate the multiplicity of reasons I have for seeing the restoration of the Pentecost octave as a liturgical good for the entire Church, I have written my reasons below.

Reason Number One:

The loss of an octave is less time to contemplate a divine reality, time that we absolutely need!

It is abundantly clear that we live in fast paced societies that demand what we want, when we want it. We have allowed ourselves to be groomed by TV, the internet, smart phones, and social media to have attention spans that can now only last the span of 5-7 seconds before scrolling on. Yet here is the Church revealing to us the truths of our inherent nature, our immortal souls, timeless teachings and traditions, and an omnipresent God.

The distinction is clear, the world directs us to live for the moment, the Church reminds us that we are to live for eternity.

That means it is evermore important that the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church not crumble under the weight of the modern world. The Church must continuously stand as a lighthouse calling our attention to what is everlasting and reminding us to live by and celebrate the faith.

Pentecost was a momentous event in the life of the Church! Christ is no longer physically with them but the third person of the Trinity is, the Holy Spirit. On this day we see the apostles and disciples go out and convert thousands. This feast marks a pivotal day in the Church that is still ongoing and has everything to do with us and the role we continue to play in living out the faith as witnesses.

By prolonging this Solemnity we are able to sit with and reflect on its profound effect on the Church and the world. It gives us a reason to not approach Pentecost with the quickness and brevity that we do many things in life, but to wonder at it. To see it and allow our gaze to rest on something beautiful.

Reason Number Two:

This was the one time in the year where there was any extended emphasis on the Holy Spirit as the third person in the triune God.

Pentecost shows us how the Holy Spirit enlivens and quickens the apostles and disciples in the upper room with gifts that were needed to minister to the world. This event, which we should not just see as a nice scripture story but as a real experience, is a lesson to us. It communicates the ongoing role the Holy Spirit not only plays in our lives, but in the life of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit, God, sustaining us as a body and inspiring us with the virtues we need to boldly share what was witnessed during Easter.

We are of course Easter people, but we are currently living in post Easter time generations later waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, just as the apostles and disciples were. And what we are called to do in that waiting is to be filled with the Holy Spirit which descended upon us to breathe life into us as the Church and the world. Allowing us more time to reflect on God and how He reveals Himself in the third person is highly important to our understanding of who God is.

Additionally, by observing the Pentecost octave, Trinity Sunday is seen in a more robust context as the closing day of celebrating the Easter season and the Holy Spirit.

Reason Number Three

Not having the Pentecost octave effects the liturgical life of the faithful.

By omission of this 8 day invitation to celebrate and better understand the Holy Spirit, we aren't reminded and called explicitly through the liturgical calendar to live the mission of Pentecost. Even in the language of the liturgical calendar, the Sundays following Pentecost used to be referred to as, "the first Sunday after Pentecost," "the second Sunday after Pentecost," and so on until you got to Advent. Referring to them as such, instead of the weeks of Ordinary Time, tells us very clearly that we are still in that season of the Church.

By this I mean the season of discipleship, evangelization, mission, conversion, repentance, and hopeful waiting for Christ to return. There is little about Ordinary Time that reminds me of the last item on the list, hopeful waiting for Christ to return. This is highly important because if the second coming of Christ is a central theme in my life, then my actions are certainly called with greater awareness to ongoing conversion and repentance. The focus then becomes the salvation of my soul, and the souls of others, and this is the inherent meaning of Pentecost! This is Pentecost lived out.

A big part of this is in the way that we communicate and live according to the seasons of the Church. When I hear the word Pentecost I know what that scriptural event means, I know what happened, I understand what I am called to. Yet when we take that language away and when we remove that from the liturgical calendar, which is supposed to guide the faithful in living a liturgical life, then we subtly rid ourselves of that fundamental focus. Pentecost becomes the period at the end of the Easter season instead of the life long call to ongoing action.

I also see that it in some way affects the approach to liturgical living as a whole. Pentecost was a joyful time, they were filled with courage and virtues that gave their life fulfillment and purpose. Yet how many lackluster Catholics do we know, afraid to witness to their faith? I don't think removing the Pentecost octave and the liturgical language that surrounded that is fully to blame, but I think it's another piece that obscurely contributes to our lack of understanding that we are called to live joyfully. We are meant to carry out our days filled with the Holy Spirit, overflowing with love of Christ, and sharing that with as many people that we can.

Reason Number Four

The liturgical calendar is meant to take us through the entire life of Christ. By removing the octave, and the way we name the weeks to follow, we create disconnectedness in the Church's year, and in turn the way people understand their faith.

Every year, beginning in Advent, we take a journey with Christ through His entire life. True liturgical living will help you to have a much deeper relationship with Christ by living day in and day out with His story, and the story of Mary and the saints.

Through the liturgical seasons we follow alongside Christ and the apostles while striving to faithfully walk our own specific path, hopefully as models for future generations of Catholics. There is continuity in the story as it unfolds from season to season, until you get to Pentecost. The transition is very abrupt, Ordinary Time seemingly comes out of nowhere then lasts for the better part of the year.

Right now Pentecost is one day and acts as an end to the Easter season. Yet this is a Solemnity that is meant to look back at all we had been through in Easter, but also progress us forward through the months where we should live like those early Church apostles and disciples. The subtle message seems to be that Pentecost is just an end to Easter, and there is no call to look ahead. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit can't be found in Ordinary Time, but that the discontinuity in the calendar creates an quick break in the momentous experience of Pentecost in the life of the Church, an event that propelled the faith forward!

They lived their lives with the experience of Pentecost close in heart, mind, and action. This was not a one time event for them, this was a daily manifestation that went on for the rest of their lives. And while those apostles and disciples were alive, they shared their Pentecost moment with as many people as they could in anticipation of the parousia. This is exactly what we should be called to through the liturgical calendar. There was not disjointedness in their lives, so there should not be a break in the calendar which we are called to live by. It's a tool that exists precisely so that we can live the year, every year, with the Trinity for the sake of our faith and salvation.

With all that said, even if you live by the Novus Ordo calendar like I do, there are still things that can be learned and practiced from where the Church has been and what it has done. Pentecost was seen as a highly important feast day in the life of the Church until 1969, relatively recent years! So we really challenge ourselves to celebrate the Octave in our home. We don't do something huge every single day, but through family prayer, meals, or smaller activities we make it known and present because we see that it is good. My family wants to be reminded of this Solemnity and all that it means for our lives with intentionality. Help me spread the word about this octave!

See you in the Eucharist,

His Girl Sunday

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Excellent article. I was uneducated about this. Thank you for enlightening me & many others. The Holy Spirit needs more recognition.

His Girl Sunday
His Girl Sunday
Jun 15, 2022
Replying to

You’re very welcome. I completely agree, it’s a beautiful liturgical tradition that helps give our faith meaning. Thank you for reading.

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