What is the Pentecost Vigil?

In the early Church, Christians didn’t wait to celebrate big feasts on the day of the feast. They had huge celebrations the night before called vigils. They gathered early and left late, and somewhere in between they celebrated Mass with the bishop. Of all the vigils, the Easter Vigil and the Pentecost Vigil were the biggest. They were bigger than Christmas, bigger even than celebrations during the day on Easter and Pentecost.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, Mary and Apostles gathered in Jerusalem in the upper room and prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, every year from Ascension to Pentecost, the Church prays for the Holy Spirit to come again. This urgent prayer reaches its most intense moment on the Vigil of Pentecost. The next day, on Pentecost Sunday, the Church rejoices in God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, and the feast of Pentecost brings the Easter season to a close.

For many centuries, these two great vigils of Easter and Pentecost were largely forgotten. Then, in the 20th century, during the pontificate of Pius XII, the Church started celebrating the Easter Vigil again. After Vatican II, the Pentecost Vigil was also restored. Even though the Roman Missal includes it as an option, the Pentecost Vigil is rarely celebrated in its full form. It is a treasure waiting to be rediscovered.

The Pentecost Vigil is a great way to bring together young adults in their 20s and 30s in your community. Parishes and dioceses are warmly encouraged to host Pentecost Vigil Celebrations for the young adults in their midst—for renewal, for community, and for spiritual solidarity with their peers across the country.

When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts of the Apostles 1:13-14)