‘I Believe in the Holy Spirit’

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4/29/2009

At the end of May, we will celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who were watching and waiting in prayer 50 days after the Resurrection. Let’s review the Church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit as advance preparation for this very important day.

We affirm that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. This does not mean that the Spirit is third in rank or importance, or that he came to exist at a later time. Rather, he is “third” because he eternally “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” We profess that he is “worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son,” with whom he is co-equal and co-eternal (see Compendium, 136-137). The Preface for Trinity Sunday praises God as “three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in everlasting glory.”

Unfortunately, life-long Catholics may think of the doctrine of the Trinity as needless mental gymnastics. Sometimes, even theologians neglect it. Yet, the fact is that the Holy Trinity and the work of the Holy Spirit are at the very heart of every aspect of our life of faith. While the Trinity remains a mystery of faith, it is a splendid, life-giving mystery — the secret of God’s inward communion of life and love.

Pope Paul VI memorably summarized this teaching in his Credo of the People of God: “We believe then in God who eternally begets the Son; in the Son, the Word of God who is eternally begotten; in the Holy Spirit, the uncreated Person who proceeds from the Father and the Son as their eternal Love” (10). We are destined to share fully in this communion, which we already begin to possess through participation in the Church’s life.

'LORD AND GIVER OF LIFE' Back to Top

Unlike the eternal Word who became flesh, the Holy Spirit remains invisible. Yet, we know the presence and power of the Spirit by his manifold works. It is the Spirit who allows us to be adopted sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, who opens our hearts in faith, and who sanctifies and guides us in the daily following of Christ. Likewise, it is the Holy Spirit who guides and acts in the Church’s teaching office and sacramental life (see Compendium, 137).

Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus promised the Apostles “another Paraclete,” or Advocate, to guide them (see Jn 14:16). While the Third Person of the Trinity is most often referred to as the Holy Spirit in the teaching, worship and devotional life of the Church, he has other titles as well. Throughout the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul, we read about “the Spirit of Christ” (see, for example, Rom 8:9). He is also referred to as “the Spirit of glory” (1 Pet 4:14) and “the Spirit of the promise” (see Gal 3:14). In the Nicene Creed we profess he is “the Lord and Giver of life” (see Rom 8:10). These titles indicate the close interrelationship of the Holy Spirit with every aspect of Christ’s incarnation, life, teaching, miracles and, most especially, his death and resurrection (see Compendium, 138).

The Holy Spirit is also symbolized in many ways. In the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, for example, he is referred to as that “living water which springs from the wounded heart of Christ and which quenches the thirst of the baptized” (see Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:8). In the sacrament of Confirmation, the coming of the Spirit upon those to be confirmed is symbolized and accomplished by the laying on of hands and the anointing with holy oil or chrism (see 1 Jn 2:20; 2 Cor 1:21). St. Luke’s account of Pentecost describes the Holy Spirit as “tongues of fire” (see Acts 2:3). And in the accounts of Christ’s baptism, the Spirit descends as a dove (see Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Compendium, 139).

Although the truth of God’s Triune life came to light only through Christ, the Old Testament prophets spoke under the Holy Spirit’s influence (see Compendium, 140). The last of the prophets, John the Baptist, stands at the frontier between the Old and New testaments, as the forerunner of Christ (see Luke 1:17). He saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus in the waters of the Jordan and also prophesied that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (see Matt 3:16; Jn 1:33; Compendium, 141).

Even more marvelous was the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary. It was the Spirit of holiness who kept her free from sin in view of the saving work Jesus would accomplish. It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that she conceived and gave birth to the incarnate Son of God. And it was through the Spirit that she became the mother of the whole Church.

THE OUTPOURING OF THE SPIRIT Back to Top

The Holy Spirit was poured out abundantly upon the Apostles and the Virgin Mary as they prayed. The Church came to life as the living extension of the mission of Christ and the Spirit — namely, to lead all people to holiness and thus to communion with the Trinity. The Byzantine Liturgy sums up this mystery admirably: “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith: we adore the indivisible Trinity who has saved us” (Compendium, 144).

The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit is the “soul” of the Body of Christ, the Church. In that light we can understand what it means to say that the Spirit “animates and sanctifies the Church” (145; see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 797). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the “driving force” of the Church’s life. He enables us to pray and to proclaim the saving Gospel of truth and love. The Spirit of love restores divine likeness in those who are baptized, confirms his gifts in those who become full members of the Church in Confirmation, empowers priests to bring forth the true and living presence of Christ in the Eucharist, imparts forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance, and grants complementary vocations and gifts to the People of God. We bring forth a rich harvest of new life and love known as the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit when we open our hearts to his gifts. (Gal 5:22; see Compendium, 145 and 146).

As we approach Pentecost, ask for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, upon your families and in your own life. United may we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful!”

DISCUSSION/REFLECTION QUESTIONS Back to Top

1. What does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit is the “Third Person” of the Holy Trinity?

2. Why is the Church’s teaching about the Holy Trinity, and the Holy Spirit in particular, so central to the Christian faith?

3. What are some of the various names and symbols of the Holy Spirit given in Scripture, and what are their significance?

4. How is the action of the Holy Spirit manifested in the Old and New testaments, as well as in our own lives?

5. In what way is the Holy Spirit the “soul” of the Body of Christ, the Church?

For additional questions, refer to the Compendium, 136-146.