If you’re following this Customary’s plan for Daily Hymnody from The Book of Common Praise 2017, then you’ll find that the hymn appointed for this Ember Day is “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.” In the 2017 hymnal this is set to the Sarum Plainsong tune VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS, which is a bummer for me because I’m used to it being sung to COME HOLY GHOST. And the way the lyrics are matched to the notes in the 2017 hymnal is different from how it’s done in the 1940 hymnal, so that’s just confusing to me as a musician who has paid attention to that in the past.
Tune-related issues, aside, the text of this hymn is very significant. It is appointed in the Ordinal to be sung or said at the ordination of a priest and bishop! This is true for the 1662 as well as the 2019 book, so it’s pretty standard Anglican fare. And it’s a 9th century text, so it’s a piece of our Western/Latin heritage as well! Let’s take a look at these words.
COME, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed unction from above,
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Prayers addressed to the Holy Spirit are rare in the liturgical tradition. Confirmations and Ordinations are among the few times we actually do this. The seven-fold gift of the Spirit is a long-standing image in Church literature, stemming from the New Testament itself, and includes an Old Testament precedent that is not often in favor with Protestant interpretation. You can read more about that here if this is unfamiliar to you.
Enable with perpetual light
The dulness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
With the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home;
Where thou art guide, no ill can come.
These are the primary specific petitions of this hymn. Open our eyes, cheer us, grant us peace… if you think back to one of the titles our Lord gave for the Holy Spirit – The Comforter – these all make perfect sense. Christ has won the victory, Christ has redeemed us; it falls to the Holy Spirit to apply these truths to our hearts and minds, to point us back to Jesus. Such sight, cheering, and peace are all thereby ministries of comfort and help.
Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of both, to be but One;
That, through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song:
Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Finally our plea is that we would know God the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that in this knowledge we would be able to worship and praise him forever. Knowledge and worship, doctrine and doxology, teaching and liturgy, these are pairs that should never be separated.
Interesting that this hymn doesn’t actually mention anyone getting ordained, huh? Yes, its function in the ordination liturgy makes it into a prayer especially for the candidate for ordination, but but textually it need not be so limited. By all means, sing this and pray for your clergy. But you can pray this for yourself, for all the Church, just as easily and honestly. In the context of ordination, it makes sense that we should pray for clarity, for sight, for knowledge – not just for the candidate but for the whole congregation. Calling a new minister of the Gospel, in any Order, is a “big deal” – one that will impact many lives for many years to come. The Church needs to be in her right mind when placing the collar of recognizable authority upon another servant.
So on these Ember Days, be sure to pray for your Bishop and his clergymen, as well as for those individuals considering or seeking Holy Orders and the congregations in discernment with them. The process is useless if the aspirant is surrounded by “Yes Men” whose eagerness to support blinds them from asking any hard questions about his true calling. So pray this hymn with them and for them.