Pentecost Novena Prayers to the Holy Spirit

Not only our prayer books and Catholic magazines but cyberspace too is full of options these days for praying a Pentecost novena to the Holy Spirit (including, for example, daily reminders sent to your Inbox).  I myself just bookmarked, for daily use, an iTunes coverage of the Taizé version of the chant Veni Sancte Spiritus, which still moves me, more than thirty years after I first visited Taizé.  I have also decided to add to my own Pentecost novena the so-called “Collect for Purity” from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which I learned by heart many years ago during my studies at an Anglican College in Great Britain:

Almighty God,

to whom all hearts are open

all desires known

and from whom no secrets are hid:

cleanse the thoughts of our hearts

by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit

that we may perfectly love you

and worthily magnify your holy name,

through Christ our Lord.

 

Many people know this prayer as a jewel of the Anglican liturgical tradition.  Few seem to know that it is actually a Catholic, early medieval prayer text that Thomas Cranmer found in the Sarum use and translated, with slight changes, for his Book of Common Prayer.  The earliest, medieval text appears in a set of Votive Masses to the Holy Spirit, two of which are ascribed to Alcuin (+ 804), possibly the author of the Veni Creator Spiritus (text in Patrologia Latina 101:446: “Missa de gratia Sancti Spiritus postulanda”).  – As I have argued elsewhere, the Western liturgical tradition, rather than being Spirit-impoverished, actually has a rich tradition of devotion and prayers to the Holy Spirit.  One only needs to know where to look.  I invite you to join me in entering and living, in prayer, this rich tradition in these days before Pentecost.

 

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13 comments

  1. It is also the prayer that opens the 14th century work, CLOUD OF UNKNOWING. Here’s the William Johnston translation (Image Books):
    “O God unto whom all hearts lie open,
    unto whom desire is eloquent,
    and from whom no secret thing is hidden:
    purify the thoughts of my heart
    by the outpouring of your Spirit
    that I may love you with a perfect love
    and praise you as you deserve. Amen”

  2. As rendered above it is not really bad; still something is lost in the current (mis-)certitude that all our treasury of texts must be ‘updated’ and purged of ‘archaic’ language. Something of substance, rhythm, and poetic depth has been lost between the prayer, as given here in its original form, and its revised form shewn above.

    O Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, and from whom no secrets are hid,:cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost….

    What actually prompts my comment though, is not the above prayer, but the matter of novena between Ascension and Pentecost (Whitsun), to wit: now that, except in the Anglican Ordinariate, Ascension has been transferred in this country to what is actually the Sunday after Ascension, there has been an ancillary loss of symbolism attendent on the nine day period between the real Ascension and Pentecost. These were the original nine days (the first novena) of prayer by the apostles and the BVM in preparation for the promised Holy Spirit, the Comforter. One does not at all have opposition to change, but some changes (such as this one!) have a higher price in historical lessons and messages than the Church and the faithful should be asked to surrender. When they bring a deficit of spiritual heritage, they are woefully ill-considered. Going to mass as an Anglican on Ascension Thursday was one of the great feasts to which I looked forward. It has become a victim of liturgical laziness and a lethargic population.

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #4:
      Ahem, excuse me, Ascension is celebrated on Thursday in the Archdiocese of New York, Philadelphia, and other places, not ONLY in the Anglican Ordinariate! 😉

  3. Good point there — about the loss of the 9 days of prayer when Ascension is moved to the Sunday before Pentecost. I agree with you here.
    On the rendering of the collect for purity: I love the original Cranmerian language too, as one possibility of praying tis collect. you text, however, seems to lack a crucial phrase, namely “all desires known”.

  4. Teresa, thank you for pointing out the Latin text that Cranmer used. Here it is, from Migne:

    Deus, cui omne cor patet, et omnis voluntas loquitur, et quem nullum latet secretum, purifica per infusionem sancti Spiritus cogitationes cordis nostri, ut perfecte te diligere, te digne laudare mereamur.

    The style of the Latin here seems unusual. Notice: no omnipotens (“almighty”); no concede (“grant that”), no Domine (“Lord”). It is extremely terse. Purifica (“purify”) is given in a simple imperative, not a more elaborate subjunctive.

    Other prayers in the same votive Mass have a more typical Latin style.

    Hence the Johnston translation cited above is close to a literal rendering, which might be:

    O God, to whom every heart is open and to whom every will speaks, and from whom nothing is hidden, purify the thoughts of our hearts by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love you and worthily attain to your praise.

    While we are on “original forms” of things, here is the text of the 1662 prayer book:

    Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen

    And here is the 1549 – the spelling changed a lot in a century!

    ALMIGHTIE God, unto whom all hartes bee open, and all desyres knowen, and from whom no secretes are hid: clense the thoughtes of our hartes, by the inspiracion of thy holy spirite: that we may perfectly love thee, and worthely magnifie thy holy name: through Christ our Lorde. Amen.

    Cranmer may have been using “Almighty” to signal a vocative, rather as a typist could use the TAB key to signal a new paragraph. Apart from that, his translation mirrors the rather direct and spare style of the Latin.

    I have found no version that begins “O Almighty God” or ends with “to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost…”.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #6:

      The style of the Latin here seems unusual. Notice: no omnipotens (“almighty”); no concede (“grant that”), no Domine (“Lord”). It is extremely terse. Purifica (“purify”) is given in a simple imperative, not a more elaborate subjunctive.

      The Sarum Latin prototype for the Collect for Purity is not a “collect” in the sense of an opening prayer. A Sarum priest would say this collect within the preparatory prayers for Mass before approaching the altar (the Tridentine revisions are rather sparse in this regard). This transcription of the Sarum ordinary [(Maskell 1846), (Proctor & Frere 1902), (Goldsmith Medd 1910)] includes a Collect for Purity with the per Dominum, not unlike an opening prayer/collect.

      Interestingly the Tridentine vesting prayers [English-Latin] also share some of the syntactical and semantic properties you’ve noticed in the Sarum collect. The second part of the Sarum prayer resembles formulas for EF vesting prayers in certain respects. The second part of the Sarum collect reads:

      […] purifica per infusionem sancti Spiritus cogitationes cordis nostri, ut perfecte te diligere, te digne laudare mereamur (my ellipsis)

      The EF stole prayer:

      Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis: et, quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum.

      Similarities and differences are readily apparent. Both the second part of Sarum prayer and the Roman vesting prayer begin with a singular imperative. Neither prayers contain concede, quaesumus, or another hinge intercessory verb common to collects proper. The main difference resides in subjunctive clause construction. In the Sarum, no indicative verb precedes the ut clause with the subjunctive mereamur. In the Roman case the indicative accedo precedes the subjunctive merear as a direct contrast (“as I approach” … “may I merit”). The use of an imperative to start a sentence, though not common with opening prayer collects, does not necessarily result in one verb construction or another.

  5. Thanks, Rita –
    I had thought that this was ‘universal’ in the US, and am glad to have been mistaken. Is this, then, a diocesan decision rather than one by the US conference?

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #8:
      The decision is determined usually by province, Lincoln diocese excepted.

      I also miss Ascension Thursday. But modern society doesn’t really provide for many festivals outside of weekends and the occasional Monday. Parishes, of course, rarely made it a festive priority for dinners, parties, and the like, as they did in previous ages in Europe. If you can’t throw a party, there should be no obligation to attend.

  6. I think it’s nice that we can trace the root of the novena to the period of prayer involving the apostles, disciples, and mother of the Lord between Ascension and Pentecost. To suggest, however, that there is some extra or special power to be found in the nine day period rather than any other number of days is a bit superstitious, is it not? So the poor folks who don’t get to start their prayer vigil until the afternoon of Ascension Sunday should expect some less of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? I think this is a good example of the difference between Tradition and traditionalism. There is a Tradition for prayer as a means of disposing ourselves to experience the blessings of the Lord, regardless of the number of days.

  7. MJO

    had thought that this was ‘universal’ in the US, and am glad to have been mistaken. Is this, then, a diocesan decision rather than one by the US conference

    For the history and some speculation

    He Has Ascended… Or Not Yet

    http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2013/05/he-has-ascended-or-not-yet.html

    So, folks, welcome to the most confusing day of the ecclesial calendar on these shores

    To be sure, the split exists elsewhere. In the Vatican, this is a holy day and the Curia is closed. Cross the city-state’s border into Rome, meanwhile… and bupkus – like most of the Catholic world, Italy likewise moved for the Sunday transfer, the option initially offered to the episcopal conferences in the 1970s (for Epiphany and Corpus Christi) in those places where it was determined that the work-week observances were on the wane.

    Sometimes I like to celebrate Ascension at the local Orthodox church even if it is a week different from the Roman Ascension because Pascha is a week different. However since Pascha this year was May 5th, Ascension does not come until June!

    If I am not mistaken Pope Francis observed the Vatican not the Diocese of Rome calendar. Probably because the canonizations were already scheduled for the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost. His heavy schedule had already been set by B16. Perhaps that is why Benedict decided to get out of there early.

  8. I’m a little late to this, and simply thanking you for this prayer. I always make special prayers for these 9 days.

    I live and work in (for) the Albany diocese. I believe that here in NY state, all dioceses follow the Archdiocese, and observe on Thursday. As the one who answers the phone at this parish, (no recorded greeting here unless we are closed!) I can promise you, there are many, many callers wanting to know mass times. I’m glad that we still have the Thursday celebration.

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