I’m going to indulge my inner Church nerd this week and write about a part of the liturgy today. That part is, of course, the sequence that preceded the singing of the Alleluia. I’ve written about sequences before, both in this column and in my weekly email, but the sequence for Pentecost – the Veni, Sancte Spiritus – is too good not to write about. In fact, in medieval times, this sequence was known as the “Golden Sequence” because of it’s beauty.
The authorship of the hymn is disputed. Many ascribe it to Pope Innocent III (d. 1216), but other scholars say it was composed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Stephen Langton (d. 1228). Perhaps most likely is that it was ghostwritten for one of these two. Whomever wrote it was quite skilled in the Latin language. In each of the six-line stanzas, lines 1 and2, 3 and 6, and 4 and 5 rhyme. Every third line ends in -ium. The repeated use of the word veni (come) in the opening stanza aptly expresses the deep desire of the soul for the coming of the Consoler. Similarly, the repeated use of the verb da (to give or to grant) in the final stanza expresses the deep confidence the author has in the Holy Spirit. Arguably, the most noticeable thing about this hymn is its brevity – that the author can do so much in 30 short lines.
With enough practice (and a little talent), anyone can write beautiful Latin poetry. What sets the Veni, Sancte Spiritus apart and gives it such longevity is the sanctity standing behind the work. In his 1902 work, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained, Fr. Nicholas Gihr writes, “The sequence for [Pentecost] can have come but from a heart wholly inflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost. It is an incomparable hymn, breathing the sweetness of Paradise, and regaling us with heaven’s sweetest fragrance.”
Think what we could accomplish if our hearts were inflamed with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Think of the art we could create that would give glory to God. Think of the things we could write that would edify others. Think of the things we could say that would boldly proclaim the Gospel. Think of the things we could do to build up the Kingdom of God. Spend time this Pentecost asking the Holy Spirit to set you on fire and drive out your fear, as He did for the Apostles on the first Pentecost.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love!