The Veni Sancte Spiritus, the sequence for Pentecost (or Whit Sunday) is regarded as one of the greatest and most beautiful sacred Latin poetic texts. It is a pleading invocation to the Holy Spirit to ‘come and shine on our souls with beams divine.’
Veni Sancte Spiritus, Et emitte caélitus Lucis rádium.
If you are English you will most probably consider it to be written by a fellow Englishman, Stephen Langton who was Archbishop of Canterbury 1207-1228. If you are not English, then you will believe it to be written by Pope Innocent III. I like the idea of having an English sequence.
This magnificent piece is divided into six stanzas with each 3rd and 6th line ending with ‘ium’ , an important rhyming device in the metrical structure of the piece. Like the other sequences that remain in our liturgy, the range is big. If you start the piece on ‘C’ the top note will be a Top D. Some organ accompaniments tend to start on D which mean you are soaring up to top Es – not great for Basses. Unusually for a sequence, each stanza has a different melody. Watch out for those fantastic flattened Bflats (or Ti’s) in the final verse on ‘te’ (thee) and the ‘sa’ of ‘salutis’ (safety)
I was lucky enough to study this wonderful sequence with Sister Bernadette, the choir mistress of St.Cecilia’s Ryde last weekend. She described the piece as ‘rhythmical prose’ and talked about the importance of letting the rhythm of the words dictate the speed at which you sing the syllables. She mentioned the importance of dividing each sentence into two parts rather than three parts as it is written with the half bar lines. The breath should come at the natural break in the sentence eg. ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ breath ‘Et emitte….. lumen cordium” breath. In the second stanza, the breath comes after ‘animae’ after the first two sections. She also said it is important not to sit on the bottom notes eg. on “Spiritus’, make the piece very legato and if it sung between two choirs alternating between verses, make sure to be prompt starting the following verses.
Important words to focus on are:
Verse 1 Pater pauperum, i.e., the poor in spirit (Matt. 5, 3)
Verse 2 ‘Consolator’ from the Greek ‘Paraclitus’, consoler or comforter
Verse 4 ‘Lava‘ wash from Baptism and Penance
‘Sana‘ Heal what is wounded by sin.
‘Flecte‘ ‘Bend’ what is fixed.
Verse 5 ‘ Sacrum Septenarium.’ The Sacred sevenfold gifts viz., wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the feat of the Lord (cf. Is. 11, 2-3). More on seven gifts of the Holy Spirit found at Wikipedia
Notice how ‘Veni’ is repeated four times in the first verse, in the same way that the verb ‘Da’ ‘to give’ is repeated four times in the final verse.
Bibliography – The hymns of the Breviary and Missal – Rev.Matthew Britt, OSB
I know I spend too much time knocking modern liturgical music but I have always thought Christopher Walker wrote a rather lovely version of the Veni Sancte Spiritus for the visit of Pope John Paul II to England in 1981 for the Mass at Coventry Airport.
The music is here: http://web.ocp.org/pdfOctavos/webReadyPreviews/22552z1.pdf