LSB 768: To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray – Spiritual renewal Legacy Hymn

Our Lutheran fathers recognized that solid Christian hymnody teaches important Truths of The Faith.1 Thus, as an evangelical Lutheran congregation, we naturally selected hymns for the two parts of our Building a legacy in Christ Crucified campaign. Titled Legacy Hymns, these hymns, joined with the readings and prayers, are chosen to help guide your devotions during this time of intensified reflection on what God is doing in the life of our congregation, and how we, as His people, respond.

The Legacy Hymn chosen for the first phase of the campaign, the period of spiritual renewal, is To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray (LSB 768).2 The hymn is an example of a Leise, a German language spiritual song from the late Middle Ages, usually a single stanza, ending with the word Kyrieleis, short for Kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy”).

The text dates back at least to the 13th century and the melody is thought to be just as old. German congregations sang the one-stanza hymn at Pentecost after the choir had sung the sequence Veni sancte spiritus (“Come Holy Spirit”).3 Dr. Luther (1483-1546) retained the hymn, believing it to be exemplary for use in the service and a model for new hymn writers.

In 1524, he expanded the hymn to 4 stanzas, following which it was published both in Straßburg and in Wittenberg. Dr. Luther positioned it in his 1526 Deutsche Messe (“German Mass,” from which the CLC Festival Service is adapted) as a Gradual Hymn between the readings of the Epistle and the Gospel, invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit that those present might believe and receive the forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel.4 The melody is written in a pentatonic scale, namely, it uses just a five-note set of pitches, a common folk-music tradition at the time. Johann Walter (1496-1570) wrote a five-voice chorale arrangement of the melody for his 1524 Wittenberg hymnal. In the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, this hymn is now used as Hymn of the Day for Trinity 1.

The purpose of spiritual renewal is to learn better how God desires to strengthen us in The Faith in and through our use of His gifts. As we enter into the spiritual renewal phase of the campaign, we are reminded that we are not able to accomplish this by our own reason or strength, and need the help of the Holy Spirit (SC, Creed, Third Article). Each of the stanzas of our spiritual renewal Legacy Hymn contain elements of a Collect, in which we address the Holy Spirit by name, make a petition for spiritual renewal, and follow with a reason for the petition.

The first stanza, the original which Dr. Luther retained, sets the overall theme with an address to the Holy Spirit, followed by a spiritual renewal petition for True Faith, and concluding with a reason for the petition, that in the end He defend us and grant us a death in that same True Faith to await the resurrection to eternal life in Christ. The second through fourth stanzas each begin with an address to the Holy Spirit by a name that reflects one of His properties (sweetest Love, transcendent Comfort, precious Light).

Then follows a spiritual renewal petition suitable to the specific property named (His grace setting our hearts aglow with sacred fire, help to not heed scorn or death, teach us to rightly know Jesus). Finally, each concludes with a reason for the petition, noting accomplished renewal (Christian unity and love, strength during times of trial, perseverance until death). At the end of each of the stanzas is the Kyrie eleison, the “Lord have mercy,” confessing the Lordship of the Holy Spirit and His merciful nature.  

We cannot build a legacy in Christ-crucified without being strong in The Faith that He was crucified for us. Just as Dr. Luther used the words of our Legacy Hymn for the faithful of his time to invoke the Holy Spirit that they believe and receive the forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel, so it is meet and right that we begin our campaign by using the same hymn to pray to God the Holy Spirit for that same True Faith needed on our way.

God’s richest blessings on your journey to spiritual renewal as you behold anew what God is doing for you and for us at Catalina Lutheran Church, and discern the particular role to which He is calling you in the building of His salvific legacy in our congregation. 

End notes:

1.     See for example FC Ep I 8 and FC SD I 23.

2.     Information on the hymn is taken from the notes in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2019), pp. 1128-1131

3.     AE 53:263. 

4. AE 53:74. Also Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music, Principles and Implications (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), p. 179.  Later, as hymns were written specific to the Sundays and feast days of the Church Year, these were used as Gradual hymns in the Deutsche Messe and became our Chief Hymns, or Hymns of the Day, see Leaver, Luther, p. 302. Note that there was no Old Testament reading in the Deutsche Messe.

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