In Traditional Anglicanism, the great Feast of the Holy Ghost, Pentecost, is usually referred to by its ancient moniker Whitsunday, so named because on this day, in celebration of the gift of that birth from above conveyed by the Holy Spirit in the font of Baptism, candidates would receive the laver of regeneration attired in white clothing. ‘White Sunday’ refers to the mystery of Baptism, conferred on the feast of the Descent of God the Holy Ghost on the Holy Catholic Church, and to the purity of the souls and the very clothing of the bodies of those who are born again of water and the Spirit (St John 3.5). The ancient festival of Pentecost originates in the Old Testament. It was celebrated by the ancient Israelites to commemorate the giving of the Old Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. In that celebration, God made a solemn covenant with His chosen people while a thanksgiving feast for the new harvest (Exodus 23.16) and the first-fruits of the earth (Numbers 28.26) was rendered to the Lord.
The old feast of Pentecost (‘fifty’) was solemnised at the culmination of seven weeks, on the fiftieth day after Passover. The Old Testament calls it the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16.9-10). Like all of the other feasts of the Old Covenant, Pentecost is fulfilled in Our Lord Jesus Christ: on the day of the revelation of the Mosaic Law, fifty days after the glorious Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Ghost descended on the Blessed Mother of the Lord, the Apostles and the disciples of the New Covenant in accordance with and in fulfilment of the promise of Our Divine Lord (St John 14.26). The descent of the Holy Ghost brings to perfection the achievement of the New Covenant which God thereby established with the New Israel of God – the Catholic and Apostolic Church. On the new Pentecost, Whitsunday, the New Law of Grace, the love, life and power of the Holy Spirit, replaces the old statutes and ordinances of the law of Sinai (Jeremiah 31.31-34, Acts of the Apostles 2.1-11). The Holy Ghost constitutes the new chosen People of God, the new and spiritual Israel (Galatians 6.11-18), the royal, priestly, prophetic Body of Christ, the new Temple of God’s elect and consecrated family (I St Peter 2.4-10).
The mystery of Whitsunday unveils for us the truth that the Three Persons of the Undivided Trinity differ from one another in their manifestation to the Church, although all Three always act as one in relation to us. The Father does all things through the Son in the Holy Ghost. The Son is the One through whom we know the Father and through whom the Holy Ghost is sent. The Spirit, the Life-Giver, proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son, and in us, the sons in the Son.
On Pentecost, as the Holy Ghost descends on the earliest Church, we behold the revelation of the Trinity in His fulness. The Holy Ghost culminates God’s self-revelation; the Third Person of the Trinity is the final fulfilment of Christ’s promise, as God is revealed as Love, as Trinity. Now, because of this pentecostal Day, we know the true and living only God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity. The sanctifying grace of the Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father through the Son, discloses to us that which we could not know except by divine revelation: the Holy Trinity, Three Persons in One Substance, undivided in essence and yet distinct in Persons. The central dogmatic truth of the orthodox Christian Faith is finally revealed, finally given by God. ‘When we say God, we mean Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ (Saint Gregory Nazianzus). As the Trinity was revealed to our bodily senses at Our Lord’s Baptism, when the Son stood in the Jordan River as the Father spoke and the Spirit in the form of a dove descended, so now on Pentecost, the grace of the Holy Ghost descends on us, who were redeemed by the Son, enlightening our whole being and causing us to participate in the divine life of the Father. At Pentecost, we become Trinitarian; we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (II St Peter 1.4); we are made capable of becoming by grace what God is by nature. Now we have the capacity to see God, to enter His Kingdom, to life in His Life. We are swept up into the divine Love of the One Who is Three, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In the descent of the Holy Spirit upon us, we realise in ourselves the promise and prophecy of all Scripture: ‘The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men may become the sons of God.’
For orthodox Anglicans, the feast of Whitsunday holds particular importance in that the first Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England was promulgated on Pentecost, 9th June 1549, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI. From this Liturgy, the first of its kind in the English language, derive all the orthodox Books of Common Prayer of the Anglican Tradition. This incomparable vernacular Liturgy, which brought about a truly pentecostal renewal in the spiritual, theological and prayer life of the English Church, remains for ever the highest standard of orthopraxy, doctrinal truth, beauty, dignity, reverence and sublimity to which all subsequent Anglican Liturgies since have aspired. For Catholic Anglicans, the Book of Common Prayer continues to serve as the foremost repository and compendium of Holy and Apostolic Tradition, which is the living memory of the Church, the Life of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding the Spirit-possessed Body of Christ into all truth (St John 16.13-14, II Thessalonians 2.15). The Prayer Book is our teaching office, our magisterium. At Saint Barnabas, we shall commemorate the 461st anniversary of the issue of our mother Liturgy with a celebration of the Holy Communion on the Vigil of Pentecost, Saturday 22nd May, at 8pm. We shall use this venerable Liturgy of the 1549 English Prayer Book. Please join us!
COME, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart
Thy blessed unction from above,
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
The dulness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
With the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home;
Where thou art guide, no ill can come.
Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of both, to be but One;
That, through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song:
Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.