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Monday, May 21, 2012

Rose Petals and Doves: Pentecost and The Holy Ghost Hole

By Eistreter (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Worshipers were showered with rose petals and a dove, from the church ceiling, on Pentecost in the Middle Ages.


Churches in the Middle Ages had a hole in the ceiling, called the Holy Ghost Hole, that both signified Christians' openness to the Holy Spirit, and served as an opening through which a dove and bundles of red rose petals were released from the ceiling on Pentecost Sunday, during the reading of the story of the first Pentecost.  Sometimes the dove was real; in other cases it was a large wooden model which was lowered through the hole.  The intent was to represent the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles that first Pentecost, and, through them, upon the whole church.  The rose petals, or sometimes bits of burning straw, were intended to represent tongues of fire. I'm sure it had a dramatic effect.

Tapfheim St. Peter 344
By GFreihalter (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of the liturgical year, and of cyclical observances.  I believe that material and physical representations of inward spiritual realities have great value, and can be powerful.  (Not that the dropping of rose petals is a Sacrament...but you know what I mean.)

At the same time as the petals and doves were released upon the congregation, altar boys or choristers moved through the congregation shuffling their feet and making "whooshing" noises.  This makes me giggle.  In a time when we have modern media and movies with advanced technical effects, it seems like...underkill.  But, at the same time, it seems just right, because the Holy Ghost has a gentle touch.  That touch is not always easy to recognize, unless we are listening closely, watching intently, waiting for the feather light brush of grace.

Rehling St. Vitus und Katharina 631
By GFreihalter (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I wonder whether we are too overpowered, by all of the competition for our senses that life in a modern world  bombards us with, to recognize that gentle touch.  I wonder whether it isn't rather difficult to hear the 'still small voice' of God these days.  I suspect that we could use those doves and rose petals today, more than ever.

Instead, we must draw upon the modern accouterments of the season to remind ourselves of the tremendous importance of this "birthday of the church".  On Pentecost, the church was endowed with the Holy Spirit and empowered by that Spirit to do great things.  We are the Church and, as the Body of Christ, are gifted with the charge to receive that endowment and bear fruit.

Sometimes, I think, Christians tend to focus an awful lot on what we get from the church.  We may not give as much attention to what we can give to the world because we are part of the church.  Each Sunday, Anglicans are dismissed from church with a giving of thanks, and with a charge to take the gifts they have received in the mass out into the world, and to bless others with them. I'm sure that other liturgical churches have a similar dismissal. Pentecost is a day to celebrate the reception of the Spirit, and of that charge to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the love of Christ into all the world.

Pentecost in Western Churches is this Sunday, May 27, 2012.


The dismissal from the Book of Common Prayer:

St.Peter und Paul in Söll - Heilig-Geist-Loch
By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL (
or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons
Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The Bishop, when present, or the Priest, may bless the people.

The Deacon, or the Celebrant, dismisses them with these words

                 Let us go forth in the name of Christ.

People         Thanks be to God.
or thisDeacon      Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
        Thanks be to God.

or thisDeacon      Let us go forth into the world,
               rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
       Thanks be to God.

or thisDeacon       Let us bless the Lord.
        Thanks be to God.

From the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost "Alleluia, alleluia"
may be added to any of the dismissals

The People respond     Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia.

(Authors: Conway: Protestant, Gross: Protestant, Newland: Catholic, Farley: Orthodox)

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  1. That is quite fascinating. I never knew of that tradition but I will say I am ALL about the drama of liturgy.

    In the Orthodox church the priest showers the people with rose petals on Pascha. It is quite exciting. There are lots of bells, parading and chanting around the outside of the church. Basil was tossed out on Holy Saturday and the monks went nuts stomping on it making a big ruckus ( I joked that they don't get out much, haha).

    Sometimes I have noticed these signs of the Holy Spirit happen quite a brilliant ray of sun shining through the windows of the dome or the chandeliers swaying all on their own. Glory to God!

  2. I really also found this fascinating. I had never heard this.. and i can picture it to! I may just have to throw some rose petals. Thanks!

  3. Count me among the uninformed!!! Ha ha.

    Wow! What a beautiful practice! And now when I go into the older churches, I'll know what the "holes" in the ceiling are for!

    Oh, and Catholics are charged at the end of Mass to take forth our gifts and bear them to others, too. :)

  4. Another wonderful post! I love the story of Pentecost, and for me, rose petals and a dove coming through the ceiling would help plant the visual in my head.

    Thanks for linking to Saints and Scripture Sunday!

  5. I had no idea about the holes in the ceilings! Very interesting.


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