O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
-Collect for Pentecost
Whitsun Week is the Sunday of Pentecost through Trinity Sunday, being an 8 day Octave. It marks the Descent of The Holy Ghost, which is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, whereby he pours out his Spirit upon us for the coming Harvest. It thus has apocalyptic undertones. After Trinity Sunday starts Trinitytide (Ordinary Time elsewhere).
Whitsunday was known as Pentecost. However, the Norman Conquest of England (1066) brought many linguistic and liturgical changes. The vestment color for Pentecost and its octave were white, thus "White" + "Sunday" became "Whitsunday." Eventually it returned to red to signify the "flaming tongues" that descended upon The Apostles.
Old Testament Celebration
Pentecost is a feast going back to The Old Testament.
the feast of booths/tabernacles to the Lord. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. Seven days you shall present offerings by fire to the Lord; on the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work.
Solemn Mass & No Work on Whitsun!? Says who!? Oh, God did. Right.
From this you can see a "solemn convocation" meaning Solemn Mass. This is where that calendar tradition developed from. Turns out Catholicism is Biblical. Who knew!? Furthermore, Whitsun Week is supposed to be 8 days without work. During the Medieval era serfs had three weeks off a year. This was one of those weeks, and this tradition tracing its roots to The Scriptural witness was why.
8th Day Theology
This 8 day rest ended with another Solemn "assembly." This is why we start Whitsun Week with Mass at Pentecost, and end with Mass at Trinity Sunday. Whereas the original Sabbath was on Day 7, the 8th Day signifies to us that (1) creatures were made to worship (2) Creation as a whole tends to The Eternal Sabbath known as "The 8th Day" (Genesis 2:2-3 cm. Psalm 95:11, Hebrews 4:9). In other words, The Universe has a purpose, a telos. We can pick all this out of Leviticus 23 because as St. Augustine says, "The Old [Testament] is the New [Testament] hidden."
So I guess tell you friends and family you can't work this week, or at least rest after you get home from work. Go to Mass, say The Prayers, have some fun, or kick back, relax, and watch the Spring rains.
New Testament Celebration
The New Feast of Tabernacles is Pentecost, which we see was already called "Pentecost" (Greek for "50th day") by the time Jesus & The Apostles were around. This is because the common language, even of Hebrews, by their time was Greek:
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 were 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 and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
There is a custom of resuming more rigorous fasting after Trinity Sunday, especially during Wednesdays and Fridays during Trinitytide as we see St. Irenaeus suggesting. This follows the long period of Eastertide feasting.
Early Church Celebration
We also have evidence of The Early Church celebrating Whitsun Week:
he makes mention of Pentecost also; upon which [feast] we do not bend the knee
-Fragments from the Lost Writings of St. Irenaeus (130-202 AD)
After that, Pentecost is a most joyous space for conferring baptisms;
-Tertullian (155-240 AD); On Baptism
after you have kept the festival of Pentecost, keep one week more festival, and after that fast; for it is reasonable to rejoice for the gift of God, and to fast after that relaxation
-Apostolic Constitutions, Book V (375-380 AD)
Fun Secular Customs
Whitsun Week was one of the three weeks Serfs had off work in the Medieval Feudal system. Whitsun Walks were popular, giant parades that developed into 25,000 person processionals even into the 20th c. Whitsun Week became a secular holiday due to its popularity. Secular fun activities like foot races, bike races, wrestling matches, dog shows, boat races, and beach trips became popular.
During parades the Morris dance was a popular choreographed dance by the 1400's. At parades and social gathering young single ladies wore white to show they were still available. One can still see white denoting singleness by the white veil at mass (black signifies marriage). Whitsun Ales were a popular brew; the Arcadia Brewing Company still makes one.
A certain St. Aelred Catholic Community thought the essence of all feasts consisted in creating living puns for liturgical living. I hear tell the set up a tent outside and order to imitate the "flaming tongues" of The Holy Ghost they ate hot wings, spicy pimento cheese, and had Pimm's cups with plenty of fruit in honour of those who thought the Apostle's drunk because it was only the 9 AM (Acts 2:15).
Fun Liturgical Customs
St. Aelred polished off their festivities with Evensong including Plainsong chant of the ancient Whitsun hymn: Veni Creator Spiritus (Come Creator Spirit - #217 in the 1940 TEC Hymnal). Its Latin lyrics date back to the 9th c. and were translated into English in the 17th c. by Anglo-Catholic John Cosin.
Duffy recounts in Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 how one cathedral had a metal dove censer that was loaded full of incense and swung about during Whitsunday such that sparks and smoke flew out during The Mass. Awesome.
At St. Mary & All the Martyrs at the old Pantheon in Rome - rose petals are dropped to imitate flaming tongues while a traditional hymn for Pentecost is chanted Veni Sancte Spiritus (O Come, Holy Ghost).
Poetry & Literature
Why is Whitsun Week Particularly Significant to The Ordinariate?
Confirmation is how we, as former Protestants, ritually and formally entered The Catholic Church. Because the first Confirmation was Whitsunday (Acts 2), it marks a day of Christian Unity by the outpouring of The Holy Ghost. But what's more Mother Church was kind enough to give us a great gift, our Anglican Patrimony, which our founding document states was given to us:
to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.
-Anglicanorum Coetibus; Pope Benedict XVI
In regards to The Prayers, The Daily Office, notice the Venite is replaced this week. There are also Antiphons for Matins and Vespers as well as a Collect for each day. But on the level of Personal Prayer I recommend these two prayers for Whitsun Week followed by an intimate, personal one on the level of an informal conversation between you and God. We call this "Colloquy."
What to Pray for during this Season?
For the Anglican Patrimony in the Catholic Church
O HOLY Ghost the Lord, who on Pentecost gavest the Church the gift of tongues that Christ might be known, loved, and served by peoples of divers nations and customs: Watch over the English heritage within thy Church, we pray thee, that, led by thy guidance and strengthened by thy grace, this worthy patrimony may find such favour in thy sight that the people formed therein may increase both in holiness and number, and so show forth thy glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Son, one God world without end. Amen.
For Christian Unity
O GOD, who dost bring into the way of truth them that are gone astray, dost gather together them that are scattered abroad, and preserve them that thou hast gathered: We beseech thee, of thy mercy to pour out upon all Christian people thy grace of communion; that, all divisions being done away, they may be one flock, in one fold, under one Shepherd, and do thee worthy service; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.
Then, bring forth an image of your most loved ones whom you desire to join the fullness of The Faith. Offer their names up to The Lord. Pray The Holy Ghost soften their hearts, move them to repentance, and encourage their consciences to always follow Truth - wherever it may lead them. Speak to Him. If an unjust judge will listen to a nagging widow (Luke 18), how much more will your loving Father hear your prayer? As we pray in The Daily Office:
V: O Lord hear our prayer
R: And let our cry come unto thee.
When you are done, "wait in quiet, knowing that the Spirit's voice is heard in silence" (St. Augustine's Prayerbook). After a period of silence, give thanks to Him for His mercy, for it endureth forever.
Happy Whitsun Week!