Seized by the Spirit - 8th June 2014

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. The feast of Pentecost commemorates two things: the gift of the Spirit that enables us to praise and proclaim, and the birth of the Church as an active community.

Undoubtedly the majority of hymns used at Mass this weekend will refer to the Holy Spirit. “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Come”, “O Breathe on Me, Breath of God” and “Veni Sancte Spiritus” will be sung in many parishes. It would be interesting to know how often these hymns are used at other times of the year.

The Eastern Orthodox Church sometimes accuses the Roman Catholic Church of neglecting the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has 31 pages on God the Father, 73 on Jesus Christ and only 18 on the Holy Spirit might lend some substance to that claim!

The central role of the Holy Spirit is reflected in Eastern Orthodox liturgical celebrations. Every act of worship begins with a prayer addressed to the Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church has always stressed the role of the descent of the Spirit upon the worshipping congregation and upon the eucharistic bread and wine in the part of the Eucharistic Prayer known as the epiclesis.

There is a Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi which is usually translated as “the law of prayer is the law of belief”. In other words, the way we worship reflects what we believe. What does Roman Catholic liturgy say about our belief in the Holy Spirit?

In the Middle Ages the Roman canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer) was considered to be deficient by the Orthodox Greeks because it lacked any reference to the Spirit.

This perceived deficiency was rectified in 1968 with the publication of three other Eucharistic Prayers (II, III and IV) for use in Mass. Eucharistic Prayer IV gives particular prominence to the Holy Spirit with two invocations – one asking the Father to sanctify the gifts by the power of the Spirit and another later on asking for the Holy Spirit’s unifying action in the Church.

At Sunday Mass, Catholics proclaim their belief in the third person of the Trinity in the words of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.”

The prayers for Mass on Pentecost Sunday express Roman Catholic belief about the Holy Spirit, the Preface for example:

“For, bringing your Paschal Mystery to completion,
you bestowed the Holy Spirit today
on those you made your adopted children
by uniting them to your Only Begotten Son.
This same Spirit, as the Church came to birth,
opened to all peoples the knowledge of God
and brought together the many languages of the earth
in profession of the one faith.”

But what about those Holy Spirit hymns and songs we only sing once a year?


Elizabeth Harrington