For the past twenty years or so, the feast of Pentecost is celebrated in a spectacular way at Rome’s Pantheon. Few visitors realize that this pagan temple was consecrated as a Catholic church around 600 AD, and is officially known as Santa Maria ad Martyres (Saint Mary of the Martyrs)–and you can attend Sunday Mass here every week!
On Pentecost, a select group of Rome’s fireman climb up to the top of the dome from the outside, equipped not with firehoses, but with bags of red rose-petals. There they wait, perched around the edge of the dome, 142 feet (43 meters) from the ground … until the very end of Mass, when the organ and choir break into Veni Creator Spiritus.
And at that moment, standing inside the Pantheon, you get a vague idea of what the first Christian Pentecost must have been like:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they w ere sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit… (Acts 2:1-4).
That’s because the firemen begin hurling the rose-petals through the oculus in the ceiling, onto the congregation below. The petals flutter down, caught by the air currents, and the appearance is a lot like “tongues as of fire.”
And they keep coming, too, until every versicle of the hymn has been sung! At the end, the floor of the Pantheon is literally carpeted with roses. Now there’s something you don’t see every day!