MAY 24, 2004





“Come, Holy Spirit”: An old prayer for a new generation of Catholics

By Julie McCarty

When I taught in a Catholic grade school, our principal often began faculty meetings with the prayerful refrain, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.” The teachers responded, “And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth” (see below).

A nice way to start a planning session, I thought. Now, some 20 years later, I perceive an even more urgent need to pray to the Holy Spirit.

Who wrote this prayer to the Holy Spirit?
The origins of this prayer are a little difficult to trace. “The Catholic Sourcebook” (Third edition, Brown-ROA, 2000) simply notes that it “evolved in the antiphons and hymns of every liturgical tradition, especially the Pentecost sequence.”

On the Feast of Pentecost, Catholics hear “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love” in the Gospel acclamation at Sunday Mass.
The next portion of the prayer is found in Psalm 104, verse 30: “When you send forth your breath [spirit], they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”

Father Dominic Serra, professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America, notes that the final portion of the prayer, asking for wisdom, has ancient liturgical roots. Father Serra indicates that the phrase, “O God, who didst instruct the hearts of Thy faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that by the same Spirit we may always be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation” is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary, a liturgical book with prayers dating back to the ninth century or even earlier.

Why pray to the Holy Spirit today?
There is an urgent need to pray to the Holy Spirit today, for our growth in holiness, for our troubled world, and for our Church.

When we ask the Spirit to kindle in our hearts the fire of God’s love, we are asking God to be with us in a profound way. In the Scripture, the presence of God is often visualized as fire.
Moses encounters God in the burning bush. The disciples who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus remark, “Were not our hearts burning as he spoke to us?” Tongues of fire appear over the heads of the disciples when the Spirit pours out upon them at Pentecost. We, too, need God’s love to “kindle within us” with the energy necessary to truly reach out to others with compassion.

The Holy Spirit is often imaged as the “breath” of God, the breath that gives all of creation life. According to the Gospel of John, the Resurrected Jesus breathed on the disciples, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” When we pray “Send forth your Spirit,” we are asking Christ to “breathe” on us as well.

It is through this “breath of the Spirit” that the face of the earth may be renewed, re-created, and restored to God.

One only need watch the evening news to witness the need for God’s life-giving Spirit in the world today. The Spirit teaches creative, selfless, and effective ways to overcome the “culture of death.” If we want to put an end to abortion, the death penalty, hunger, homelessness, violence, and war, we must turn to the Spirit for guidance.

It is not just “the world” that needs re-creation. We must pray for the renewal of the face of our church communities as well. Only with the Spirit’s help can we fully address the problems of recent sexual scandals and leadership failures in ways that bring about genuine healing and holiness. It is the Spirit who can help us genuinely love other Catholics despite our various spiritualities, favorite causes, and theological approaches. The Spirit also holds the key for harmonious living among family members, religious communities, and priestly fraternities.

The days between the Feast of the Ascension (May 20 this year) and Pentecost (May 30) have often been used for a novena to the Holy Spirit. Let us pray every day for the love, renewal, and wisdom of the Spirit. Only then, as the prayer mentions, we will be able to rejoice in the Spirit’s consolations.

Come, Holy Spirit!

(Julie McCarty, M.A.T., is a freelance writer from Eagan, Minnesota, whose syndicated column on prayer, “The Prayerful Heart,” appears in diocesan newspapers around the country. Contact her at



Come, Holy Spirit!

Verse: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.

Response: And kindle in them the fire of your love.

Verse: Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

Response: And you will renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.
Lord, by the light of the Holy Spirit you have taught the hearts of your faithful.
In the same Spirit help us to relish what is right and always rejoice in your consolation.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.
(Used with permission. From “A Book of Prayers”©1982, ICEL.
All rights reserved.)




Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.