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An Explanation of the Veni Sancte Spiritus
CODE: Veni*
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Fr. Nicholas Gihr

It is a common and well grounded lament that in teaching the Word of God, the doctrine concerning the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is to a large extent sadly neglected. Other spiritual writers are of the same opinion. These considerations justify every effort to further the devotion to the Holy Spirit among the clergy and the laity by a thoroughgoing explanation of the exceedingly meritorious Pentecost Sequence.

Accordingly, a more than ordinary fervor and zeal in fostering a genuine devotion to the Holy Ghost is as necessary as it is excellent for the priest of God that he may become an ecclesiastic in the truest sense of the word, and carry on his august mission as a genuine priest, that is, so that he may excite in others a tendency toward a deeply spiritual life, and spare no pains to foster and perfect it.

A spiritual man, a religious in the true sense of the term (homo spiritualis), is the priest alone who takes a determined stand against the assaults of the fleshly, worldly, and materialistic spirit, that he may at all times and everywhere, live, act, and think in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Many saints were distinguished for their ardent devotion to the Holy Ghost. The seraphic virgin Teresa began nearly all her letters with the pious wish and blessing: “May the Holy Spirit (or the grace of the Holy Ghost) be with you at all times.”

Cover Photo Credit: The Pentecost (oil on canvas) by Louis Galloche (1670-1761) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France The Bridgeman Art Library

CONTENTS

I. Preface
II. Introduction
III. Latin and English Texts of the Sequence
IV. The Explanation
V. Epilogue

PREFACE

1. “It is a common and well grounded lament that in teaching the Word of God, the doctrine concerning the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is to a large extent sadly neglected. As a natural consequence, there is among the generality of Christians very little of either speculative knowledge or practical understanding of the essential significance and importance of the devotion to the Holy Ghost in the economy of Christian belief and practice. There is at best but a minimum appreciation of His fruitful mission in the Church, a relatively faint longing for His immeasurable gifts and graces, and still less realization of the absolute necessity for His light and strength in the soul’s interior life. This manifest neglect is closely related to the fact that the proper concept and the right understanding of the supernatural has been almost completely lost sight of in our day. For devout, religious living this situation has the direst consequences: In some it occasions overweening pride and Pelagian darkness and obscurity; in others, it leads to discouragement. On the contrary, rightly understood and deeply appreciated and pondered, the doctrine concerning the Holy Ghost and His efficacious activity in transforming the soul, is singularly effective in promoting the spirit of prayer and of zeal, as well as humility, conscientious fidelity to God and courageous perseverance.” (Jungmann, S. J., Theorie der geistlichen Beredsamkeit 400 402)
Other spiritual writers are of the same opinion. These considerations justify every effort to further the devotion to the Holy Spirit among the clergy and the laity by a thoroughgoing explanation of the exceedingly meritorious Pentecost Sequence.

More than anyone else should the priest be a zealous adorer of the Holy Ghost, since by virtue of his sacred calling he stands in a particularly intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is Creator or Preserver, and Perfecter of the supernatural life in redeemed mankind; through His mystical divine governance, He sanctifies and rules the entire mystical Body of Christ the Church. As the Source and Dispenser of all graces, the Holy Ghost establishes and perfects the higher life in the redeemed, whereby He affects souls not only in an invisible and immediate manner, but makes special use of visible means and instruments. Among these the priesthood and the liturgy have a superior place; through both, the Holy Ghost dispenses the graces of redemption in the greatest profusion.

2. In the discharge of his sacred ministry, the priest is, therefore, not only the servant of Christ and the Church, but also the organ of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies souls chiefly through the liturgical functions (Sacrifice, Sacraments, Sacramentals), the accomplishment of which is entrusted to the priesthood. The Holy Ghost dispenses the sacerdotal power. He creates the priests, and ordains them “as pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12). As if imparting charismatic gifts, He furnishes the ordained with the riches of sanctifying grace, and thereby makes them capable of “dispensing the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1) in a worthy, admirable and fruitful manner, as well as with fidelity and prudence. The Holy Ghost grants to the sacerdotal labors all blessings, all success and favorable results; for, to “give the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6) “surpasses not only the lowliness of man, but also the sublimity of the angels, and proceeds exclusively from the Holy Ghost, i.e., the Most Holy Trinity.” (St. Aug. In loan. Tract. 80. n. 2)

3. Since therefore the life and labors of the priest belong wholly to the sphere of Faith and to the kingdom of grace, he is entirely dependent upon the Holy Ghost, and step by step in need of His supernatural assistance. In order to fulfill his sublime calling worthily (Eph. 4:1), and to carry on his sacred ministry so as to merit the blessing of God, he must be replenished with the Holy Ghost (repletus Spiritu Sancto Acts 4:8) and be full of the Holy Ghost (plenus Spiritu Sancto Acts 11:24), and in all his actions be led and moved by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:18; Rom. 8:14), that is, by a prompt, resolute obedience to the light and the inspirations of the Holy Ghost he must lead a truly spiritual life. This supernatural living, working, suffering, and praying in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:2) presupposes humble submission to the authority of the Holy Ghost, as well as perfect union and constant intimacy with the Holy Spirit, that is, tendering profound homage to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, by adoring Him in the spirit of faith, invoking Him with unbounded trust, and offering Him heartfelt gratitude and love.

Accordingly, a more than ordinary fervor and zeal in fostering a genuine devotion to the Holy Ghost is as necessary as it is excellent for the priest of God that he may become an ecclesiastic in the truest sense of the word, and carry on his august mission as a genuine priest, that is, so that he may excite in others a tendency toward a deeply spiritual life, and spare no pains to foster and perfect it.

A spiritual man, a religious in the true sense of the term (homo spiritualis), is the priest alone who takes a determined stand against the assaults of the fleshly, worldly, and materialistic spirit, that he may at all times and everywhere, live, act, and think in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Like the Apostles, like all apostolic men, the priest received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, not the spirit of this world (spiritum huius mundi), but the spirit that is of God (Spiritum, qui ex Deo est), that he might know the gifts bestowed upon him by God, and show his gratitude by the use and realization of these gifts. For true priestly life and activity, constant furtherance of devotion to the Holy Ghost should be perseveringly practised every day. Filled with longing, the priestly heart and mouth should be opened to draw down the Holy Spirit and, as it were, to absorb him (Ps. 118:131), as one inhales the air; that is, in all the duties of his state (Holy Mass, recitation of the Breviary, dispensing the Sacraments, preaching, catechising, visiting the sick), as well as in his practices of private devotion (meditation, spiritual reading, examen of conscience, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, study), even if they be of only short duration, he should earnestly implore the light and strength of the Holy Spirit. “If he prays, he will be enlightened; if he calls upon God, the Spirit of Wisdom will come to him” (Wis. 7:7). Wherever the Holy Spirit is invoked and honored in the spirit of humility and devotion, wherever His powerful grace rules and governs, there heart and soul are newly created (Ps. 103:30); there the sweet, precious, and blessed fruits of the supernatural life flourish and yield bountiful returns: “Charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity” (Gal. 5:22-23).

4. Many saints were distinguished for their ardent devotion to the Holy Ghost. The seraphic virgin Teresa began nearly all her letters with the pious wish and blessing: “May the Holy Spirit (or the grace of the Holy Ghost) be with you at all times.” Thus she wrote from the fullness of her heart. As she relates in her autobiography (Chap. 38), she received a grace on Pentecost that she herself considered one of the greatest, because of the many and signal favors which it imparted to her soul. On the eve of this feast she had retired to a quiet place, and there read a treatise on Pentecost. But while she was meditating on what she had read, she was seized with a powerful ecstasy. Above her head she saw a large, bright dove, and heard the rustle of its wings. Heavenly peace filled her soul; during the greater part of the feast she was in rapture, and all her exterior senses seemed as if bound; she was almost prostrate under the weight of this extraordinary grace, and felt herself so deeply immersed in the superabundance of interior joy, that she saw and heard scarcely anything further. Since that day she felt greatly strengthened in virtue, and her heart was more than ordinarily inflamed with ardent love of God.

A very exceptional instance of devotion to the Holy Ghost is shown us in the life of Blessed Crescentia Kaufbeuren, who lived in the eighteenth century. This child of grace gave early evidence of the operations of the Holy Spirit in her soul; she felt herself drawn to adore Him in the spirit of living faith and intense love. She would be a pure temple of the Holy Ghost, and she was, therefore, resolved not only to free her heart of the slightest stains of imperfection, but also to adorn it with every virtue. In all difficulties, temptations, and sufferings she at once called upon the Holy Ghost. She prepared herself for the feast of Pentecost through a fervent novena, during which she devoted herself to severe penances, frequent meditations, ceaseless prayer and aspirations of love. She took delight in repeating often the Veni Creator Spiritus and other hymns of the Church. On the great feast itself and during the octave, she was consequently favored with a generous share of the gifts of the Holy Ghost and extraordinary proofs of grace. This heartfelt interior familiarity with the Holy Spirit was signalized by numerous visions. During one of these raptures she once heard the words: “Him who loves nothing but Me alone, I will fortify with My grace.” An extraordinary measure of divine grace was accorded her on this occasion, flooding her soul with a wholly new light. This light was a rare, exceedingly valuable benefit to her, for it disclosed the depths of her nothingness and all merely natural movements with the clearness of the midday sun, at the same time enabling her to observe and realize distinctly the promptings and workings of grace in her innermost soul. (P. Jeiler: Life of Blessed Crescentia of Kaufbeuren.)

5. The time from Christ’s Ascension to Trinity Sunday is particularly opportune for renewing our fervor and zeal in venerating and invoking the Holy Spirit, each year as the holy season rolls around. Pentecost constitutes the centerpiece as well as the climax of this season, which partly serves as a preparation (novena) for the coming of the Holy Ghost, and partly as a subsequent celebration of the mysteries of the feast.

Pentecost is one of the most prominent feasts, and its origin dates to apostolic time. St. Augustine numbers “the annual celebration of the passion, the resurrection and ascension of Our Lord, as well as the descent of the Holy Ghost” among the traditions that are observed throughout the world. (Letter 54, to Januarius, Chap. 1). “Pentecost is hallowed through the coming of the Holy Ghost, and is immediately connected with Easter; for it is always directed toward that day which is made glorious by the Resurrection of Christ.” (St. Leo, Letter to all the Bishops of Sicily, Chap. 3). As in point of time, so also in rank, Pentecost follows Easter; both feasts are celebrated liturgically in almost the same.

Pentecost is rightly considered the feast of the Holy Ghost. The circumstance of the celebration is first of all a fact of the past; the extraordinary manifestation and visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples assembled in the Upper Chamber, i.e., the newly founded Church of Christ. Conjointly with this fact, a mystery is commemorated that belongs to the present, since it is always repeated and ever continues: the abiding, invisible effusion of the Holy Ghost upon the Church and all the faithful. As was the case nineteen centuries ago, so even today the Holy Ghost is still sent to the faithful. This circumstance bestows upon the feast of Pentecost a peculiar character and endows it particularly with a lofty, practical significance. Just as the light and warmth of day comes to the earth and every creature upon it from the sun, so the light of truth and the warmth of the grace of Jesus Christ streams down upon the whole Church and all her members, emanating from the Holy Ghost as fountainhead and source.

It is the Holy Ghost who teaches Pope and Bishops all truth and reminds them of all the words of Christ. It is the Holy Ghost who awakens and sustains in the faithful the susceptibility and the understanding for the teaching of the Church. The Holy Ghost grants to the Catholic priesthood the divine power to fulfill the eternal Sacrifice of the New Law, and to dispense the Sacraments of salvation. The Holy Ghost grants to souls sanctifying grace and all actual graces, which yield a bountiful fruitage of Christian living and genuine virtue. It is the Holy Ghost who thunders and lightens in the word of God; who drops into the souls of the just the gentle rains and dews of heaven, for the conversion from sin, and for growth in holiness without end.

All who belong to the Church have received the Holy Ghost, and in manifold ways experience His merciful efficacy (Laurent). Thus the Holy Ghost completes and crowns the work of Redemption, renewing the face of the earth through the Church and in the Church (Ps. 103:30). Therefore, “let the entire earth rejoice with overflowing joy” at the coming of the Holy Ghost; therefore Pentecost is such a great and glorious feast of rejoicing, extolled by the Fathers with words of enthusiastic praise.

6. Every Catholic knows full well that Pentecost must be solemnized as one of the most sublime, of all feasts, and there can be no shadow of doubt about the veneration that is due to this feast, which has been sanctified by the Holy Ghost in so wonderful a manner by the fullness of His gifts. Let us all be zealous in the devout commemoration of the feast of Pentecost, worshipping the Holy Spirit with heartfelt jubilation this Spirit who sanctifies the entire Catholic Church and fills every soul, who infuses Faith (inspirator fidei) and teaches knowledge (doctor scientiae), who is the source of love (fons dilectionis), the seal of chastity (signaculum castitatis), and the fount of every virtue (totius causa virtutis).

The hearts of the faithful should rejoice that throughout the world the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is extolled and acknowledged by all tongues, and that in efficacy and gifts of grace, that mystery continues which was symbolized by the appearance of tongues of fire. For the Spirit of Truth Himself causes the dwelling of His glory to be irradiated by the diffusion of His light, and tolerates neither darkness nor tepidity in His temple (in templo suo nec tenebrosum aliquid vult esse nec tepidum).

Pentecost is held in highest esteem and veneration the world over, since it was hallowed fifty days after the Resurrection of the Lord by the promised and expected descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles and a multitude of the faithful. The Holy Ghost came, not to take up His dwelling for the first time in the hearts of the faithful (non, ut une primum ease sanctorum habitator inciperet), but to inflame the souls consecrated to Him with more ardent love, and inundate them with a greater fullness of grace (sed ut sacrata sibi pectora et ferventius accenderet et copiosius inundaret); therefore He did not then begin to distribute His gifts, but only dispensed them in more generous measure; He did not then begin His efficacious activity, because He distributed His riches more abundantly (nec ideo novus opere, quia ditior largitate). St. Leo the Great.

Chrysostom perceives in the coming of the Holy Ghost and His gifts a clear “proof” as well as a “pledge of our reconciliation with God,” and in his second homily on Pentecost he gives enthusiastic expression to the exalted sentiments that filled his heart. “God has dispensed to us today great and glorious gifts that surpass all human eloquence. Let us, therefore, rejoice together; let us exult and magnify the Lord; for this day is a feast day on which we assemble with heartfelt joy in the house of God. Not long ago we celebrated the feast of the Cross and the Passion, the feast of the Resurrection, and then the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ; today we have arrived at the crown of all Goodness, and at the “metropolis of feasts,” and have received the fruits of the promises of the Lord . . . Today He favors us with the coming of the Holy Ghost, and through Him dispenses countless blessings from heaven. For tell me, has not everything that is conducive to the salvation of our souls been imparted to us by the Holy Ghost? . . . Everything with which the Church of God is adorned flows to us from this, Fountain.”

So lofty, so sublime, and so rich in grace is this feast of Pentecost for all who open their hearts and, as it were, inhale the Holy Spirit with breathings of desire, that it beggars description. A novena should prepare our hearts and make them susceptible of ever greater intimacy with the Holy Ghost and participation in His gifts; then the feast with its octave will truly be a time of salvation, more particularly since we so often address to heaven the humble, trustful, and sincere petitions of the sequence.

Brevity and compactness joined with inexhaustible content, pleasing simplicity and transparency with depth of thought, and vivacity of sentiment, appropriate figures of speech with surprising analogies and antitheses these are the excellences our Pentecostal Hymn portrays, ranking it among the most fragrant blossoms in the garden of holy poesy. There is perfect harmony between its attractive content and the melodious sweetness of language in which it is expressed. The activity of the Holy Ghost in the souls of the faithful is here pre-eminently envisioned in His capacity as our “Helper” and “Comforter” in sorrow and strife, in danger and death. But this strain always seizes mightily upon the inner strings of the restless, tormented human heart, and therefore finds here its truest and most natural expression, In calling from the “abyss” of its poverty and misery unto the abyss of divine compassion. (Abyssus abyssum invocat Ps. 41:8). This explains the peculiar character of the Pentecost sequence, which contains neither a delineation of supernatural facts, nor formal praises, but only humble invocations to the Holy Ghost.

From beginning to end, it is a prayer of supplication, the petitions of which are so heartfelt and interior, that one easily perceives in them the heavenly breathings of the Holy Ghost, who Himself pleads for us with unspeakable groanings (Rom. 8:26). At the same time, these petitions are so comprehensive that they may be suggested to all the faithful; for they express with a natural, lively feeling, the needs of the soul in the various stages and changing moods of the spiritual life. Thus the sequence lays a distinguished claim to popularity, in the noblest sense of the term.
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