Fifty days after the sacrifice of the lamb marking the deliverance of the Hebrews from the Egyptians, the law was given on Mount Sinai; and fifty days from the raising up of Christ after his passion and immolation as the true lamb of God, the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and assembled believers. — Leo the Great (c. 400-461)
There is a liturgical “sequence,” a chant designated for a particular liturgical celebration, that has survived since the 13th century and continues to appear in the Roman Missal for the Day of Pentecost and the the Octave of Pentecost. It is called: “Veni Sancte Spiritus.” Its text goes like this:
1. Come, Holy Spirit,
send forth the heavenly
radiance of your light.
2. Come, father of the poor,
come, giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart.
3. Greatest comforter,
sweet guest of the soul,
4. In labor, rest,
in heat, temperance,
in tears, solace.
5. O most blessed light,
fill the inmost heart
of your faithful.
6. Without your grace,
there is nothing in us,
nothing that is not harmful.
7. Cleanse that which is unclean,
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.
8. Bend that which is inflexible,
fire that which is chilled,
correct what goes astray.
9. Give to your faithful,
those who trust in you,
the sevenfold gifts.
10. Grant the reward of virtue,
grant the deliverance of salvation,
grant eternal joy.
The Sequence has a “cousin” a 9th century Hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus.” The two are similar and both have had their language adopted in the writing of our Pentecost hymns.
What attracts me to Veni Sancte Spiritus is the humble spirit of the language it uses, especially the first line of the 2nd verse: “Come father of the poor,” and the entirety of verse 6. Somehow, the writer, Innocent III (could also have been the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Cardinal Langdon, or others for that matter), grasped something about the Holy Spirit that is seldom debated, mainly the Holy Spirit in its humble life in the average Christian believer.
It is much, much too easy to read the texts for Pentecost and come to troubling conclusions such as: “I have never had an experience like Mary (yes, she was present) and the apostles, maybe I am not in the Spirit,” or “I have never done
maybe I lack the Spirit.”
Pentecost was, and is, an act of God in Jerusalem and other places. It was not a matter of the apostles getting given a new neat trick to wow the crowds with. Had that been the point, it backfired. (Ac 2:13) Had a new power to be controlled and metered out to impress others been the point then the entire episode with Simon the Magician (Ac 8:9ff) would make no sense. In that episode Peter seems to have realized that the Spirit was not a possession to be passed on for either grace or profit but was free to bestow and manifest itself as only God above could and would will. To “have the Holy Spirit” really seems to be no more than an admission that one is under the Spirit’s tutelage. The Spirit will do as the Spirit will do even if that is talking to foreign strangers in understandable verse (2:11) and even if it is recalling the history of salvation while ones execution is looming. (Ac 7 and most martyrs ancient and modern)
The point in all the acts of the Holy Spirit seems to be that the work of Jesus’ Resurrection be brought to bear, first on the one who finds herself under the influence of the Spirit, and second on the ones who surround her, be she Mary or the church.
This is where John and Innocent as well as Leo the Great all meet. Jesus new commandment is that the church serve one another, that the church love one another. (Jn 13:14, 13:34) A new commandment has come and it is written 50 days, (3) new moons (Ex 19:1), this time not on stone but onto the hearts of the believers. (Jer 31:31-34) But by its very content this is a humble law. Love one another. Serve one another. The Spirit, the Advocate, will remind you of Jesus and his example in these matters to urge you into all truth and the Spirit received speaks the forgiveness of sin. ( Jn 20:23) Indeed without the Spirt there is nothing good (Jn 15:5-6 and Veni 6.) because that which is peace, love, and truth come from the vine: Jesus Christ and the Spirit will take what is Jesus’ and give to the church. (16:14-15)
What then is this Pentecost and this Holy Spirit? The festival that the people from many nations had gathered for was a first fruits of the year festival. (Dt 16:9ff) The church is the first fruit of the Resurrection and you, my friend, are fruit of a very productive vine that still produces.
Christ came not in majesty and awe, in wondrous decent on fire and incomparable might, but in much, much humbler form. We celebrated that half a lifetime ago at the Vesper of Christmas. Should the arrival of the Spirit with us be more spectacular? It really was not. Christmas Eve some shepherds came to believe. Pentecost morning 3,000 eventually came to understand. But the church, Acts records remained humble enterprise, not a puffed up one.
Can we overlook ourselves when dealing with others who are at enmity with us, enmity we seem only too happy to return to them? We were once enemies of God, says Paul, but it was God's genius to reconcile us while in that state by the humble ministry of the Good Shepherd, the Babe of Bethlehem. Yes, I am talking Christmas; born in a barn and all. Do we understand ourselves as the sons and daughters of that event? Sons and daughters of the Crucifixion? We begin to see the paths to that places when we embrace those events and make them our own and let God Holy Spirit add Resurrection to it at Heaven’s good will and leisure. High roads do not lead to humble places like the manger and the cross. But the Holy Spirit does.