Advice from a Master Catechist: The Prayer to the Holy Spirit Explained

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Question: Before Pentecost comes, I’d like my students to learn the Holy Spirit prayer (“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful …”). Can you shed some light on where the text comes from, and offer some reflection points on it? — Tina O., Bangor, Maine


Tina, this ancient prayer is an example of how a popular prayer to the Holy Spirit was composed by the faithful, using verses they heard and prayed, especially at Pentecost.

We hear, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love” with alleluia before the gospel on Pentecost. It is also the antiphon for the Magnificat during the church’s evening prayer.

The verse and response lines are taken from Psalm 104:30, describing God’s sending forth the Spirit as God creates. “Send forth your spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth.” This verse is the response to the responsorial psalm for Pentecost Sunday.

The rest of the prayer, asking for wisdom, has ancient liturgical roots. It can be found in the
Gregorian Sacramentary, a liturgical book dating back to the ninth century or earlier. Today,
it is also prayed as the opening prayer of the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit (sometimes used at the beginning of the school year).

As Catholics pray this prayer today, praying with the early church and our ancestors throughout the ages, as well as joining with the prayers of Israel (the psalms), we pray for the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Reflecting on the words of the prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.

The very last prayer in Scripture is “Come, Lord Jesus,” the words of John in the Book of Revelation. Here we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Short prayers, but powerful.

Sometimes when we pray, “Come,” we mean, “please come and fix this problem, this challenge.” We have in mind what we want the Holy Spirit to do for us; we know what we need. Our prayer is about us.

Perhaps this prayer is more about our realization that we know that the Holy Spirit is with
us. We are recognizing that we feel something missing without the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are praying that we will be open to the Spirit’s coming, the Spirit’s presence. We are acknowledging that God knows what we need better than we do. This is a bold petition … asking that we might be filled, completely, totally, entirely, with the strength, love, and vitality of the Spirit.

In fact, we not only ask for the Spirit’s love but for the fire of the Spirit’s love … a love that is powerful, that consumes, that changes and transforms. Tongues of fire (Acts 2:3) enlightened, strengthened, and empowered the disciples at Pentecost.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.

These lines — from Psalm 104 praising God for all creation — remind us that God’s Spirit is active in creating, in sustaining, and in recreating.

Remembering Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 — “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come” — we are asking the Spirit to make us a new creation. We are requesting more than a fresh start; we are praying for a deepened transformation.

When we are on fire through the Spirit, we can become one with the Spirit’s work of renewing the world … to bring healing, justice, and rebirth for all people, for all creation.

Let us pray.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

The first two parts of this prayer might be seen as preparation for this closing prayer, a prayer to God through Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit. Recalling God’s work in the people of the past, we pray that that same work continues today in us: that the Spirit guide us to be truly wise and to enjoy, that is, be consoled by, the gifts of the Spirit.

Excerpted from The Catechist’s Guide to Beloved Catholic Prayers, by Janet Schaeffler, OP. Copyright 2019. Published by Twenty-Third Publications ( Used with permission. All rights reserved.

[Editor’s note: This text has been modified to fit this format.]


Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP, is the author of many books and resources, including The Catechist’s Guide to Beloved Catholic Prayers from Twenty-Third Publications.

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April/May 2020.


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