“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” are words of evangelization

by Patrick McGuire

The Shanley High School choir sings at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis on March 17. They were the guest choir at the 7:30 a.m. Mass. (submitted photo)

Do you read your Bible? By its nature, Scripture speaks to us and asks us this question: “Will you spread the good news?” Scripture is ever spiraling around our lives, waiting to catch us at the right moment to inspire us and send us onward to proclaim the good news. It requires a response from us, an active participation in the evangelization and life of the Church.

Music is often a helpful lens through which we can view scripture. While researching music for the upcoming Chrism Mass on April 16, I came upon Edward Elgar’s Oratorio, “The Apostles.” The first movement of this oratorio is titled, “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me.” It reads:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. To give unto them that mourn a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations, as the earth bringeth forth her bud.”

I started drawing connections between this text and the Chrism Mass liturgy. Jesus begins his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth by reading this passage from Isaiah 61, the origin of the text. He reveals himself to those gathered, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).

The priest shares in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy of the Chrism Mass, the priests renew their vows and are sent forth again to minister to their congregations. This text is quite fitting for the occasion. In fact, the first reading for the Chrism Mass is from Isaiah 61, the gospel acclamation verse is, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He hath sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,” and the Gospel is that passage from Luke 4. This Mass reminds us of the origin of the priesthood, with Christ and his apostles.

From Isaiah’s prophecy to it’s fulfillment in Christ, there is a “spiral” nature to these passages. It would be of little benefit to read through the Bible once as if it were a textbook for a class. These connections are all over the place, the discovery of which takes time, meditation, and study. We “spiral” along moving closer towards God, while still circling around and revisiting the Word to be enriched with the Word again and again; leading us to spread the “good news.”

Pope Paul VI saw this message quite clearly. He references Isaiah 61 in his Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi.’ He exhorts the faithful to become bold evangelizers in the world. He saw the importance of Christ beginning his ministry with the words of Isaiah, for within his statement begins the fulfillment of his mission coming to earth. Paul VI tells us we must share in Christ’s mission in our world today. We are not simply called to be inspired; we are all called to transform.

To do this, we ought to look in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. He tells us the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the ministries to which all are called (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). Preaching the good news does not mean we need to shout the gospel on street corners. Let the Word inform and instruct your life, so that you will live it. As you live the Word, your gifts from the Holy Spirit will bless you and those around you.

As I teach the Elgar piece to our students at Shanley High School, I pray they will learn not only the notes and rhythms of the piece but will connect to the words, experience the message, and offer it to our priests when we gather on April 16. If we can connect and give life to this piece, the spiral of renewal and fulfillment, present in scripture, will reach and inspire us and send us on.

Patrick McGuire is the Director of Choral Activities at Shanley High School and Sullivan Middle School in Fargo.