Pray through Us with Deep and Wordless Sighs: The Holy Spirit in Our Sung Prayer

Article excerpt

When pastoral musicians think about music to celebrate the Holy Spirit, we typically and inevitably think about Pentecost, celebrations of confirmation, or Masses of the Holy Spirit in the fall, at the beginning of the academic year. But we are challenged by our Trinitarian faith to remember that our worship and our sung prayer are an invitation into the action of the Trinity, and this Trinitarian path is a guide for all liturgical celebration regardless of the season or the sacramental celebration. It permeates all our forms and celebrations of worship.

Our Lectionary for Mass celebrates the role of the Spirit in a galaxy of settings. Some texts speak of the Spirit as a force descending from heaven; others describe the Spirit as the source of inspiration, indwelling the life of those who believe. Some texts speak of the Spirit as the source of God's presence in creation, and still other biblical sources address the Spirit who sends the Church on mission to act in intentional and passionate discipleship. This is just a sampling of the many images and themes that surface in our liturgical life in regard to the Spirit.

Despite this variety of images and occasions, choosing "Holy Spirit" hymns and songs often becomes reduced to the usual and predictable times, and the predictable choices (good choices, mind you) usually fill the bill. They include "Come, Holy Ghost," "Come Down, O Love Divine," "Veni Sancte Spiritus," "Send Us Your Spirit," and others, but even this rich set of familiar choices limits the breadth of how we revere the Spirit not only in our worship but also in our personal and communal spirituality.

I believe that the key to expanding our horizons about music and texts that celebrate the Holy Spirit comes in digging deeper and perhaps exploring some contemporary hymn and song texts written in recent years. A close reading of some of these texts or a "breaking open" of the hymn text may help us see more clearly multifaceted ways to view the Holy Spirit and the Spirit's role in our worship and spiritual life. While there are literally dozens and dozens of possibilities that one could use as a source for such an examination, I have chosen five texts by five different writers that present various avenues into the life of the Spirit in our personal, communal, liturgical, and ministerial lives. In the midst of such reflection, I hope that we can come to see that invoking and celebrating the Holy Spirit should be a normative part of our liturgical sensibilities and an integral part of our musical repertoire for communal prayer.

Spirit within Me

Let us begin with a beautiful text by the British hymn text writer Timothy Dudley-Smith, which calls out to the Spirit already at work "within me" to respond to the ache for conversion.

Spirit of God within me, possess my human frame;

fan the dull embers of my heart, stir up the living


strive till that image Adam lost, new minted and


in shining splendor brightly bears the likeness of the


Spirit of truth within me, possess my thought and


lighten anew the inward eye by Satan rendered blind:

shine on the words that wisdom speaks and grant me

pow'r to see

the truth made known to all in Christ, and in that truth

be free.

Spirit of love within me, possess my hands and heart;

break through the bonds of self-concern that seeks to

stand apart:

Grant me the love that suffers long, that hopes, believes

and bears;

The love fulfilled in sacrifice, that cares as Jesus cares.

Spirit of life within me, possess this life of mine;

come as the wind of heaven's breath, come as the fire


Spirit of Christ, the living Lord, reign in this house of


till from its dust with Christ I rise to everlasting day.1

This is a hymn intentionally addressed to the Spirit, set to music by many composers, and it can be found in a variety of hymnals and anthologies. …