This is an ancient prayer. It is so ancient that no one knows who wrote it. The last part of the prayer dates back at least as far as the ninth century since a version of it is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. 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 your consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is a wonderful prayer. It just needs some explanation.
The prayer falls into three distinct parts.
1. An Invitation to the Holy Spirit:
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
It is this phrase of the prayer, more than anything else, that gives it the common titles “The Prayer to the Holy Spirit” or “The Holy Spirit Prayer.” Usually, prayer is addressed to God the Father through (or in the name of) the Son, in (or inspired by) the Holy Spirit — and this prayer is too. But, it begins with an invitation for the the Spirit to inspire all of God’s faithful — and that would include the hearers of the talk. This phrase recognizes that it is the Holy Spirit that inspires Christians to pray. “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV). Most of all, it is the fire of love that the Holy Spirit inspires: “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NRSV).
2. A Bible Verse (Psalm 104:30):
“Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.”
Many people who recite this prayer do not realize that this is a Bible verse. Psalm 104 is a psalm of praise to God for God’s creation of all the earth and its creatures. “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalms 104:24 NRSV). God not only creates all living things, but he sustains them. “These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Psalms 104:27-29 NRSV). Then we read the phrase: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” God is active in creating and sustaining — and in re-creating!
The Spirit who inspires our prayers is also the Spirit of all life. So, the invitation for the Spirit’s inspiration is enhanced by a Biblical reminder of who the Spirit is — and what the Spirit does. By the Spirit, God creates — and re-creates.
3. A Prayer:
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.
This is the prayer itself. The first two parts can be seen as a preparation for this prayer. Notice (as I said above) that this is a prayer to God through Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit. As God instructed the hearts of the faithful in times past, so may God also instruct us today. The purpose of such inspiration is two-fold: that we might be “truly wise” — with the wisdom of God — and that we might “ever enjoy God’s consolations” — all the gifts of God’s grace.
It is this part of the prayer that goes back to at least the ninth century — and probably earlier. Thus, when we join in this prayer we are joining with the early church — and with the faithful of Israel as the sang their psalms — in praying for the continued inspiration and re-creation of the Holy Spirit.