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The Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture and in the Life of the Church

Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz

Presented to: Call to Holiness Conference
November 21, 1998
Detroit, Michigan

In his recent apostolic letter, the Day of the Lord (Dies Domini) our Holy Father mentions that each Sunday is "a day of fire" referring to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. "Each Sunday," the Pope says, "is not just a weekly Easter, but also a weekly Pentecost in which we Christians are to relive the apostlesí joyful encounter with the risen Lord, and also receive anew the life-giving breath of His Spirit." It was, after all, on a Sunday, the first day of the week, that Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon the Catholic Church which He founded when He entered the closed room with the locked doors, and visited His apostles. Fifty days later, it was again on a Sunday when the Holy Spirit descended in supernatural wind and divine fire and great power upon the nascent Church gathered around Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Our Holy Father tells us that the Holy Spirit remains constantly with the Church as the "memory" of the Body and Bride of Christ, citing Pope Leo XIII, who said that as it is sufficient to say that the Church is the Body of Christ, so it is proper to say that the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church, that is to say, of this Mystical Body.

Pentecost was not only the founding event of the Church, but it is in a certain sense, as Pope John Paul II tells us, an ongoing mystery, which forever continues to give life to the Church. Because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is closely linked to the Pascal Mystery of Jesus, and derivative from this mystery, it is appropriate that it is linked in the Liturgical season with the celebration 50 days after Easter which is called the "Great Sunday," and it is appropriate as well that each Sunday that the Holy Spirit be remembered in a most particular way.

Sunday is preeminently the day of the week in which the Church is, in a certain sense, actualized. The convoked and congregated people of God are gathered in a hierarchicly ordered structure around Christ Himself, Who is encountered in word and in sacrament. Both word and sacrament are naturally linked closely with the work of the Holy Spirit.

Sacred Scripture, the Holy Bible, is the inspired word of God. It is along with Sacred Tradition, one of the fonts of divine revelation. Sacred Scripture is the collection of books, all of which were written under the inspiration of God, and in the Trinitarian Life, its inspiration is attributed to the Holy Spirit, the Executor of the will of Jesus. Each and every part of Sacred Scripture is inspired and, therefore, simultaneously the work of a human author and of the Divine Author. However, when Sacred Scripture is read in the liturgical assembly at Mass, and especially at Sunday Mass, this reading takes on an almost quasi-sacramental aspect because the reading in this context makes Christ present in a way which is inferior to the substantial Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, but, nonetheless, in a real presence. While Sacred Scripture and most particularly the Gospel is read, we greet Christ, truly present in the word. "Glory to You, O Lord." "Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ." We stand and the very book of the Gospels is respectfully kissed, and, at a solemn Mass, is surrounded by lights and incense. In the gathering of God's people at Mass, the proclamation of God's word means that God Himself, the Holy Spirit, speaks to us, and this speaking is done externally, but also for those who are in the state of grace, properly disposed, and appropriately recollected, it is done also internally, so that God's speaks to us through the medium of the spoken word, coming into our ears, as well as the unspoken word murmuring to us in our heart and our mind.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit speaking to us internally and externally, is not restricted simply to the proclamation of Sacred Scripture at Mass, but also the preaching of the Church, though of a different type of proclamation, still exists in the penumbra, the shadow of the proclamation of the inspired word of God and insofar as the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, and that particular infallible and indefectable guide for the hierarchy of the Church, the Holy Spirit speaks to us also in the extension of Sacred Scripture which is ecclesiastical preaching. Presumably the priest and/or the deacon who preaches at Mass, invokes personally, privately, and devoutly the Holy Spirit before he undertakes the preparation of the homily and invokes the Holy Spirit's assistance also in the delivery of the homily. It is extremely useful for the faithful themselves as they prepare for Mass to invoke God, the Holy Spirit, that He may assist the one who is to preach as well as to make fertile the mind and heart of listeners, so that within those minds and hearts, might be planted God's word to bear fruit multifold.

God the Holy Spirit takes on an even more significant role in the liturgy of the Mass in the Eucharistic prayer, in the course of which the celebrant's hands are extended over the oblata--the bread and wine offered by the people--invoking in the epiclesis, the action of God Himself, the Holy Spirit upon these elements, which after the pronunciation of the words of institution by the celebrant, are transformed from being our humble gifts symbolizing ourselves, our labors and efforts, into being Christ's gift of Himself to His heavenly Father.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists eight places in which Catholics experience the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. We experience the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church in Sacred Scripture, as well as in the words and symbols of the holy sacraments. The Holy Spirit is also present in the official prayers of the Church as well as in the private prayers of Catholics. The Holy Spirit is present in Sacred Tradition to which the Fathers of the Church bear witness. The Holy Spirit is present is a special way in the Magisterium or the teaching authority of the Church, and, of course, the Holy Spirit is present in the signs of apostolic and missionary life in the Church as well as in the witness of the Saints, in which, as the Catechism notes, God, the Holy Spirit reveals His holiness and applies to souls the salvation won by Jesus in His death and resurrection.

As you know, at the present time, the year 1998 is drawing to a close, and this year, in preparation for the Great Jubilee year of 2000 has been dedicated by our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, to God, the Holy Spirit. His Holiness said, "In our own day, too, the Spirit is the principal agent of the new evangelization. Hence, it will be important to gain a renewed appreciation of the Spirit, as the One Who builds the kingdom of God within the course of history, and prepares its full manifestation in Jesus Christ, stirring people's hearts and quickening in our world the seeds of the full salvation which will come at the end of time." St.Basil the Great said, "Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to Paradise, led back to the kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God the Father, and to share in Christ's grace called children of light, and given a share in eternal glory."

It is God, the Holy Spirit, of course, Who lavished constantly upon the Church and upon the individual members of the Church, most particularly in the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit par excellence, the gifts of God. The primary gift is always love, since God Himself is Love, and therefore, the Holy Spirit give us the gift of God Himself. The Holy Spirit, like Jesus and the Father Who sends Him, is the self-giving of God to the Church. It is this gift of love which contains the famous list of gifts enumerated in the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah, which we had to memorize from the days of the Baltimore Catechism--wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, lists what are called the fruits of the Holy Spirit. These wonderful dispositions which derive from the gifts. In the 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, he calls these fruits, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "The Holy Spirit is the One in Whom the inscrutable Triune God communicates Himself to human beings, constituting in them the source of eternal life."

Each Sunday at Mass, we proclaim our belief in God the Holy Spirit, Who we say is the Lord and Giver of life, and Who speaks through the prophets. The words of the Creed come from the ecumenical Council of Nicea which was held in the year 325, and the ecumenical Council of Constantinople which was held in the year 381.

A special presence of the Holy Spirit in ecclesial work must certainly be noted in the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. It was, the evangelist St. John informs us, that on Easter Sunday night Jesus bestowed on His Church the pardon and forgiveness which He won on the cross, and by His resurrection, and gave the Church this power to forgive or retain sins. However, before He actually bestowed this forgiveness on His Church to dispense, He first breathed on His apostles, and in that breath said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." It is quite clear from the formula of absolution in Confession, as well as from the long tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the words of our Lord in Sacred Scripture itself, that the Holy Spirit is the way by which our sins are touched by the forgiving love of Jesus, and are washed away in the bath of His precious Blood.

It was the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary at the time of the Annunciation, and anointed humanity with divinity to effect the Incarnation of the Son of God. This Incarnation is the anniversary we are celebrating in the Great Jubilee year of 2000. We know also that the Holy Spirit overshadowed our divine Lord at the time of His Baptism in the River Jordan. Jesus Himself spoke of the Holy Spirit to Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman. He spoke of the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as the only totally unforgivable sin which would not be forgiven in this world or in the world to come. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the various symbols of the Holy Spirit which are indicated in Sacred Scripture as well as in Sacred Tradition. The Catechism speaks of the Holy Spirit as water, as anointing, as fire, as cloud and light, as a seal, as a hand, as a finger, and as a dove.

The invocation in the Apostles' Creed--I believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy Catholic Church--has been pointed out by many contemporary theologians as well as by the Fathers of the Church, to be in effect, one article of belief. In other words, the primary belief is believing in the Holy Spirit Who abides and is in the Catholic Church. Our understanding and belief in the Church herself is contingent on our previous belief in the Holy Spirit as her unifying soul. Thus, the Church herself, is also referred to as "a Temple of the Holy Spirit", just as each individual member of the Church who is in the state of sanctifying grace, possesses God the Holy Spirit in a particular, special kind of presence as the "Uncreated Grace" which in turn, makes each individual member of the Church in that condition, a temple of God. This is why St. Paul admonished, for example, the Corinthians not to forget that they are God's temples and desecration of such a temple will mean destruction by a vengeful God.

Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit in the course of His life on earth, but He spoke of Him most thoroughly at the time of the Last Supper. It was at the Last Supper, that our Lord spoke of Him as "another Paraclete" Who would be with us always. He also called Him "the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot accept since it neither sees Him nor recognizes Him." He assured the apostles, and through them each of us, that the Holy Spirit would be our Paraclete or Advocate "Whom the Father will send," and Who will instruct us in everything and remind us of everything that Jesus taught. He assured us further that "when He comes, being the Spirit of Truth," He will guide us to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but will speak only what He hears, and will announce to us the things to come, telling us what Jesus Himself said the apostles at the time of the Last Supper were not yet ready to "bear."

In words that are particularly solemn, Jesus told us that the coming of the Holy Spirit would enable Him to prove the world wrong about "sin, about justice, and about condemnation." As has been noted by a scholar, "These verses illustrate the forensic character of the Paraclete's role. In the forum of the disciple's conscience, He prosecutes the world. He leads believers to see that 1) the basic sin of man was and is their refusal to believe in Jesus; 2) that although Jesus was found guilty and apparently died in disgrace on the cross, in reality justice has triumphed for Jesus has returned to His Father, and has made satisfaction for sin this satisfaction enabling Him by grace to impart His justice to our souls; and 3) that finally it is the Prince of this world, Satan, who has been condemned through Jesus' death, and consequently is doomed to return to the depths of hell never to trouble God's universe once the ultimate triumph of Jesus' return to glory at the end of time is undertaken."

In his great encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vivificante, Pope John Paul II wrote in 1986, "What is hard, the Holy Spirit softens; what is frozen, He warms; what is wayward, He sets anew on the paths of salvation." In this encyclical and passage, the Pope, of course, paraphrases the sequence for Pentecost of the Veni Sancte Spiritus. He is the almighty God, like the Father and the Son, uncreated, without limit, eternal omnipotence. He is Lord and God of all, abiding love between the Father and the Son, in the eternal and unlimited life of the Holy Trinity, and the ineffable self-giving of God to us, bestowing the salvation won by the divine Son in His dying and rising.

It is the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, Who enables this Church in her solemn Magisterium, to preserve unmutilated, undiluted, and unpolluted the message of Christ, that doctrine and Gospel, which St. Jude in the Bible says, "has been delivered once and for all to the Saints." Without diminishment, without change, Christ's good news comes down through the centuries, since Jesus is Himself the final and definitive Word spoken by God, the Word of God in Its entirety made Flesh.

At the same time, it is the Holy Spirit Who enables doctrine to develop, to develop first in an objective way, to speak in some theological, technical jargon. Objectively doctrine develops when that which God reveals is encapsulated in a doctrinal statement or even a phrase or a word. Words such as Trinity, for instance, or purgatory are really encapsulations and syntheses of a doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition. The Holy Spirit also enables doctrine to develop subjectively. This is when our understanding of doctrine grows and increases as our knowledge of various secular and profane matters such as history and archeology, biology and the like, enable us to draw out and make explicit what is implicitly contained in the fonts of revelation. The Holy Spirit also enables us to see doctrine develop in a hermeneutical way, which is to say that our understanding of philosophy and various categories of thought and culture persuade us to a more adequate knowledge of what God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterial teaching of the Church. For instance, when one pours water into a container, the water assumes to some extent the very shape of the container itself. Likewise, as our own mental processes, individually and collectively grow, the kind of knowledge that God gives us and imparts to us in divine revelation, takes on a broader and more complete shape as it enters into our individual and collective consciousness. Finally, there is a reflexive way in which the Holy Spirit enables the Church to develop in doctrine. Once we do change from being little children to being adults, we can, if we are an introspective type of person, look back on the growth and development that we have undergone, and to a large extent, discern how we have passed from one stage of knowledge at the age of seven to a further and more complete stage of knowledge at theage of sixty. This kind of reflection on our own growth and development of understanding helps us to see how through the Holy Spirit, the Church herself, as she progresses through the centuries, now at the end of the second millennium, can reflect back on her own growth and development, and to some extent, once again under the guidance of God's grace and the Holy Spirit Himself, actually be a determining agent in some of that growth and development.

Needless to say, my dear friends, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the life of the Church is more important than ever. To bring that presence of the Holy Spirit into dynamic and effective action is an obligation that falls upon all of us. It is an obligation that comes from our very Baptism and Confirmation, our emergence from the plunge into Christ's redeeming death that these sacraments bring about. We know that there is decadence and despair in western culture. Our Holy Father's recent encyclical on Faith and Reason talks about the nihilism and vacuity of modern philosophic thought. We know also, and need not go far to see, dissent and decay in the Church itself, although she ever is alive and vibrant because of the presence of the Holy Spirit as her Soul, nonetheless, there are, as she walks down the centuries, an accumulation of dust and mud on her shoes and garments. We must certainly be channels of the Holy Spirit's grace so that what is so defective in doctrinal teaching and moral instruction can be remedied, corrected and brought into line with God's will. It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, Who alone will be able to convince those who travel toward eternity with us on this planet called earth, of the absolute need of being chained by truth in order to be liberated from the slavery of error and countless and tragic addictions. It is only when we are ravished by God's love, as John Donne observes, that we can live a life of purity, and holiness.



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved