The Holy Spirit in the Liturgy

The Holy Spirit in the Liturgy

This weekend the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost. I think I could safely say that the majority of hymns used at Mass will refer to the Holy Spirit. “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Come”, “O Breathe on Me, Breath of God” and “Veni Sancte Spiritus” will feature in very many churches today.

It would be interesting to ask if and when these hymns are used in the liturgy at other times of the year. My guess is that the answer would be very seldom, if ever.

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!

According to Eastern Orthodox belief, the Holy Spirit is the main agent of humanity’s restoration to its original natural state through Communion in Christ's body. This role of the Spirit is reflected in Orthodox liturgical celebrations. Every act of worship begins with a prayer addressed to the Spirit, and all major sacraments start with an invocation 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?

There were heated debates between Greek and Latin Christians in the Middle Ages because the Roman canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer) lacked any reference to the Spirit and was thus considered as deficient by the Orthodox Greeks.

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: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.”

The alternative opening prayer for Mass on Pentecost Sunday is a good example of lex orandi, lex credendi, our prayer expressing our belief:
Father of light, from whom every good gift comes,
send your Spirit into our lives
with the power of a mighty wind,
and by the flame of your wisdom
open the horizons of our minds.
Loosen our tongues to sing your praise
in words beyond the power of speech,
for without your Spirit
man could never raise his voice in words of peace
or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord.

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

Elizabeth Harrington