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Come, thou Holy Spirit, come. . .

11 March 2016

Jo Spreadbury explores the Holy Spirit in prayer and liturgy


Bright wings: Holy Spirit mosaic, Vienna, Austria

Bright wings: Holy Spirit mosaic, Vienna, Austria

“THE Lord, the giver of life,” we affirm in the Nicene Creed. An Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit (used in Common Worship “Prayer during the Day”: Ascension to Pentecost) expands on this: “O King enthroned on high, Comforter and Spirit of truth, you that are in all places and fill all things, the treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and dwell with us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious one.”

The sevenfold gifts of the Spirit (Isaiah 11.2-3) are recalled every time the Veni Creator is sung at ordinations and licensings:


Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
And lighten with celestial fire;
Thou the anointing Spirit art
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.


There is a remarkable setting of these words as a choir anthem written by Jonathan Harvey in 1984, where the plainsong tune is developed to achieve something close to the phenomenon of “singing in the Spirit”, before order is restored out of the breathtaking chaos, with a glorious doxology in unison.

Quoting directly from Isaiah, the seven gifts of the Spirit are named in the prayer of confirmation immediately before the bishop lays hands on and anoints the candidates: “Let your Holy Spirit rest upon them: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; the Spirit of counsel and inward strength; the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and let their delight be in the fear of the Lord.”

St Paul in Galatians 5.22-23 refers to the nine fruits of the Spirit, and all nine are beautifully framed in a hymn by Paul Wigmore, which begins:


May we, O Holy Spirit, bear your fruit —

your joy and peace pervade each word we say;

may love become of life the very root,

and grow more deep and strong with every day.


The Holy Spirit as comforter is invited to meet our need in the Golden Sequence by Stephen Langton (1150-1228):


Comforter beyond all comforting,

Sweet unexpected guest,

Sweetly refresh.


And the female gender of the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, is retained in John Bell and Graham Maule’s hymn “Enemy of Apathy”, which takes us back to the beginning of Genesis:


She sits like a bird,

brooding on the waters,

hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;

she sighs and she sings

mothering creation,

waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.


Keith Getty and Stuart Townend also recall the creative power of the Spirit in “Holy Spirit, living breath of God”:


Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,

Giving life to all that God has made,

Show your power once again on earth,

Cause your Church to hunger for your ways.


According to the Revised Catechism of the Church of England, the Church teaches that God the Holy Spirit came in all fullness at Pentecost “to be the giver of life in the Church”, enabling us to grow in likeness to Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the Spirit and the doctrine of the Church are inseparable.


The Revd Dr Jo Spreadbury is the Precentor of Portsmouth Cathedral; she also chairs Praxis.

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