Is Pentecost the Birthday of the Church? (and if not, should we be mad about it?)

by | Jun 6, 2022 | Blog, Liturgical Living, Pentecost | 10 comments

Health update: The husband’s treatments are progressing and we * finally * got the test results we were waiting for and it was good news for the spine! Thanks so much for your prayers.

Happy feast day! Red for Pentecost! #dontcountus #someofusareoutsick

I’ve had some questions in my Instagram DMs today asking

  1. Is Pentecost really the “Birthday of the Church”? and,
  2. If it’s not, is it important that Catholics try to stop people from celebrating it as such?

My answers are

1. Not . . . really.

and 2. Dude, no.

Lemme explain.

Folks were sharing with me conflicting information from different Catholic sources, some saying (I’m paraphrasing here), “Yay, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church! We must all have a birthday cake and celebrate!” and another saying, “Pentecost is not the birthday of the Church. That’s Protestant nonsense. We good Catholics have a solemn duty to ruin everyone’s party and let them know the Truth.”

I don’t find either of these positions particularly defensible, Catholic-wise.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (766) says,

“The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross.”

And references a quote from St. Ambrose (+397):

“As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.” 

So, according to the Catechism, the Church was “born” on Good Friday at Jesus’ death, with assistance from the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. 

But the issue with hoping to call ANYTHING the “birthday” of the Church is that “birthdays” are not a Christian thing. Early Christians considered celebrations of birthdays to be both pagan and vain. Early Christian writer Origen in his Homilies on Leviticus states,

The saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birthdays, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse that day. 

He sounds fun, right?

Christians historically celebrated (and in some countries still do celebrate) their saint namedays in lieu of birthdays. Saints are honored by a liturgical feast on their “dies natalis” meaning “day of birth” but referring to the anniversary of their “birth” into heaven a.k.a. their day of death. 

Today, most Christians see birthdays as a harmless cultural tradition that can be celebrated alongside religious holidays.

But early Christians wouldn’t have been looking to find a birthday of the Church. It wouldn’t make sense to them to be trying to insist that one “birthday” is correct and another is incorrect. Instead, we have multiple feast days on which we remember different aspects of how the Church came to be. We celebrate the Incarnation on Christmas and the Annunciation nine months before that. We remember the establishment of the Eucharist and of the sacramental priesthood at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. We remember Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. On Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, giving the disciples the strength to spread the gospel and face their martyrdoms. We remember the founding of particular early church buildings. It’s a whole calendar. ALL YEAR 😉 . It’s all important and worth honoring.

Do Protestants who say that what happened at the Last Supper was just symbolic have a vested interest in preferring to highlight the preaching and missionary spirit part of the birth of the Church over the Eucharist and sacramental priesthood part? Yes, they do.

Does that make it wrong for them to celebrate it? Or for Catholics to celebrate that part as well?

I say no.

We should ALL be celebrating Pentecost. It’s an important feast day that IMHO doesn’t get enough attention because there aren’t secular traditions associated with it. In our family we like to play up the “tongues of fire” part of the story and we celebrate with a bonfire, and wearing red, and (as of this year) tongues of fire bopper headbands. So fun. The aspect of Pentecost that I highlight in our family discussions is how the descent of the Holy Spirit made the apostles so fearless when that was definitely not the case previously. We are given that gift as well . . . in the sacrament of confirmation. (More on the muttonheadedness of the apostles here.

But there is absolutely nothing that says you can’t celebrate any feast day you choose with a cake. Except, ironically, Good Friday! 😆

In our house, we have a birthday cake for baby Jesus on Christmas. We have a lamb cake on Holy Thursday to celebrate the Eucharist and the priesthood. We fast on Good Friday. There’s nothing that says we can’t celebrate a different PART of the founding of the Church on Pentecost with a cake. And far be it from me to try to squelch the liturgical living inclinations of our Protestant brothers and sisters. A birthday cake on Pentecost today, and, who knows, maybe next year they’re getting confirmed at the Easter Vigil. 

There are times when, as Catholics, we HAVE to take a stand. I don’t think this is one of them. I hope you were able to celebrate in the way that worked best for your family. If you missed it, hey, you can always do a belated celebration! (Check out the resources in the June Liturgical Living Box here.)

Happy Pentecost! 


  1. Andrea Serra

    Terrific post, Kendra! And your children are simply the most adorable little people ever–especially in their tongues of fire bopper headbands. Love them!

  2. cmerrill625

    What a great post! Thanks for this Kendra. Also, Barbara’s mass outfit was probably the cutest thing I’ve seen yet. That big bow! Those little silk bloomers! Those adorable shoes! Too precious.

    • Kendra

      Hah, thank you! The girls were sad to find that we didn’t have a red dress for her, but we were all pretty pleased with the ensemble we cobbled together for her.

  3. Alyssa Jura

    Hmm, both/and rather than either/or. I think there was a previous post from you on this. 😉 But thank you, I was debating the birthday issue internally yesterday and suspected I was over thinking it.

    We were going to barbecue but felt a bit under the weather so we simplified our plans. We sang “Come, Holy Ghost” and I made Portuguese sopas, which is usually eaten at Festas, which are celebrated in honor of the Holy Spirit as started by Queen St. Isabel (or Elizabeth) of Portugal. I though it was an appropriate trade off for fire themed foods, *and* a better cure for a cold than chicken soup. 🙂

  4. aitchem

    Hmmmm. The Church is certainly born from Christ’s heart in His outpouring of self on the Cross…but it seems like the fullness of her very purpose and calling is then sealed and established at Pentecost in the outpouring of His Spirit, at which point she is publicly proclaimed, and sent outward on a mission (which she didn’t seem to have the resources to go and do before He came down and sealed her/filled her up).
    Now I’m thinking of how in Baptism we are said to be baptized into His death (Romans 6:4), which begins our Christian journey…but then Confirmation is what completes the Sacraments of initiation, accomplishes what Baptism began, seals us through the Holy Spirit as His full-blown members, and sends us outward to do His work. You need both to be a full member of Christ’s Church. Neither is merely optional. But they are both births in a sense. In Baptism, we’re born as God’s children, and in Confirmation, we can say we are additionally “born” into being His “soldiers”/”co-workers,” right? Seems like it is often viewed more as a maturity thing…but I don’t think it’s illegitimate to see the latter as a new “birth” either, a birth into the Church’s mission (via the outpouring of the Spirit), which before Confirmation you just haven’t been fortified to take on yet.

    I think John 3 also adds to this discussion: “1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.’ 3 Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.'”
    So this sounds to me like Jesus was just fine with the concept of more than one birthday.
    The Church was born in the water (and blood) that flowed from her dead Savior’s side on the Cross, washing her clean (like Baptism), and she was then sealed in/fully born of the Spirit at Pentecost (like Confirmation). Both are necessary. And they were distinct events. And it seems to me that both really can be called birthdays: one in the water (and blood) that washed her clean, one of the Spirit that sent her forth to do His work, will, calls.
    …Now I’m really contemplating celebrating our confirmation anniversaries each year at least as much as we celebrate baptism days…. Hmmmm….

    But anyway, it does seem like the Church is fine with birthday language about Pentecost nowadays anyway. At least one of our Catholic kids’ books in the “St Joseph Picture Books” series states that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, and the book does have an imprimi potest, nihil obstat, and imprimatur.
    So I think these two “birthdays” can exist simultaneously without issue, and I am personally totally okay with referring to the Church’s birthday, and the Church’s other birthday. The second of which definitely has cake in my house.

  5. johnstonsandcompany

    “And far be it from me to try to squelch the liturgical living inclinations of our Protestant brothers and sisters. A birthday cake on Pentecost today, and, who knows, maybe next year they’re getting confirmed at the Easter Vigil.”

    This is me!! So thank you so much for your graciousness toward those of us poor Protestants who are slowly groping our way toward liturgical living on the way into the Church!!

    • Kendra

      Well, keep it up! We’d love to have you!

      • johnstonsandcompany

        Thank you! We’re on our way! 🙂

  6. Sophia Lebano

    Facebook comment:

    Heather Hatch: Thanks for always tackling these questions Kendra! Interested to see how you might respond to the catechism quote in the article, which frames things differently:

    Kendra: I’d say that the catechism quote they include squares with my position that the “birthday” of the Church would have to be celebrated over the course of the liturgical year and over a number of feast days. I don’t think it squares at all with the article’s conclusion that the completion of the Paschal mystery and the entering into the “last days” equates to a birth. That’s . . . not how birth works. The development of the Church which, really, began at creation and developed through God’s relationship with the Hebrew people, through the Annunciation to Mary and the Incarnation, through the various annunciations to the Jewish people at Jesus’ baptism and the gentiles at Epiphany, and continued through Holy Week and Easter and Pentecost, and beyond, can’t reasonably be assigned ONE particular day. It historically has not been. If Pentecost marked the day that the Church was fully mature, wouldn’t that mean it’s more like the Church’s quinceañera or its 18th/21st/25th/50th birthday? Not its birth. And to call it the birthday of the Church is a VERY recent, Protestant-based assertion. To me that doesn’t mean we can’t/shouldn’t have a cake. I, personally, have come up with many novel ways to celebrate feast days! Have a cake if you want. I just find it . . . odd, that in just the last few years Catholics have picked up this notion, rather than the more traditional Catholic liturgical living practices. But if this helps people get started with a deeper understanding of the liturgical year and how the Church came to be, it’s okay with me.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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