The Holy Spirit in the Catechism

Francis Selman

Thinking ahead to Pentecost, this article links the sending of the Holy Spirit to the mission of the Church and our own inner renewal. Francis Selman belongs to the Diocese of East Anglia and is Dean of Philosophy at Allen Hall, London.

We have been recommended the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in this Year of Faith. The Catechism contains several especially beautiful sections, notably on the sacraments and the Paschal mystery and the whole of the last part on prayer. What the Catechism has to say about the Holy Spirit has not been so much commented upon. This is not altogether surprising because, as the Catechism itself notes, the Holy Spirit is the most hidden of the three persons of the Trinity

(CCC 687).1 Although the Holy Spirit speaks through the prophets, we never hear the Holy Spirit speak himself: he takes all his words from the Son: ?he will not speak on his own... but will take what is mine and declare it to you? (Jn 16.13-15). It is because the Holy Spirit is the most hidden of the divine persons that, as Jesus himself said, the world does not receive him, for it neither knows him nor sees him (Jn 14.17). The spirit of our age is much against the Spirit of God, as we see in the largely secular society of Western Europe today. The Holy Spirit, however, provides us with the key to entering into the Year of Faith because, as the Catechism says more than once, it is the Holy Spirit who awakens faith in us. Here I can do no more than draw attention to some of the things that the Catechism says about the Holy Spirit in seven points.

1. We cannot speak about the Holy Spirit without first speaking about the Trinity, for the Holy Spirit has his origin in the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is very much the Spirit of the Father and of the Son in the Catechism. The eternal origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, however, has only been revealed to us in time. There was a progression in the knowledge of God as the Father is manifest in the Old Testament, which promises the Son, and the Son is manifest in the New Testament and promises to send the Holy Spirit. St Gregory Nazianzen said that by this progress in the knowledge of God ?from glory to glory?, as he put it (cf 2 Cor 3.18), the light of the Trinity shines ever more brightly (CCC684). Thus the gradual unfolding of the Trinity is a mystery of light.

2. The revelation of the Trinity, however, is not just a mystery of light but also, and perhaps even more, one of love. By sending the Holy Spirit, who is the love of God poured out into our hearts, God especially revealed that he is love. ?God is love? (1 Jn 4.8). Love is a gift of one person to another, and so it is with the Trinity, who is the source of all love. As the Holy Spirit is the love of God he is the first Gift of God, who contains all God?s other gifts to us (733). The first effect of God?s love, the Catechism notes, is the forgiveness of sins because the resulting communion of the Holy Spirit restores to the baptised their likeness to God, which was lost by sin (734).

The revelation of the Trinity was completed by the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (244, 732). This too showed that the Trinity is a mystery of love, because the Holy Spirit came down in the form of tongues of fire, symbolising love. The sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost also completes the Paschal mystery of Christ?s death and resurrection, because Christ could not send the Holy Spirit until he had been glorified (729). As the Holy Spirit was sent down on Mary and the apostles, the first disciples of Jesus, at Pentecost, so the Church is now the place where we can know the Spirit. There are eight ways in which we especially find the Holy Spirit in the Church: in the Scriptures, in her tradition and teaching, in her liturgy, in prayer, in the charisms that build up the Church, in her mission of evangelising, and in the witness of holy lives, especially of the saints, for the Spirit is the source of all holiness in the Church (688).

3. The Catechism emphasizes that the mission of the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the mission of the Son: they have a joint mission. The editors chose to talk of the ?missions? rather than the ?processions? of the Son and Holy Spirit. This is understandable, as the Catechism makes clear (685) that it is going to speak mainly of the sending of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation in its main section on the Holy Spirit (683 ? 747). The divine missions of the Son and Holy Spirit into the world, however, flow from their processions from the Father within the Trinity. Whenever the Father sends the Son he also sends the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is God?s first Gift of love. The Catechism justly declares, ?Christ?s whole work is in fact a joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit? (727). As the Anointed One (the Messiah) Christ was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He cast out demons by the Holy Spirit (Mt 12.2-8). But their joint mission was hidden during the public ministry of Christ. Perhaps this is part of the point of Jesus? parables about the hidden growth of the kingdom (the leaven, the mustard seed etc.). The mission of the Holy Spirit was only made manifest at Pentecost (702). When Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the disciples to wait for ?power from on high? (Lk 24.49) before they went out all over the world to preach the Gospel.

4. Thus the joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit has passed into the mission of the Church (730). This was already shown on the day Christ rose from the dead and breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, saying: ?As the Father sent me, so I send you? (Jn 20.22). The Church does not add to the mission of the Son and Holy Spirit: rather she is the ?sacrament?, that is, visible sign of their mission into the hearts of believers (738). The Church prolongs the mission of the Son and Holy Spirit as they continue to work jointly in the sacraments, by which the Spirit makes present for us now the saving mysteries of Christ?s life (257). As the Catechism explains, the Spirit and the Church co-operate to manifest Christ and his saving work in the liturgy, which is the ?memorial? of the mystery of salvation, principally in the Eucharist but also in the other sacraments. Thus the Holy Spirit is called ?the living memory of the Church? (1099) because when we listen to the Scriptures that tell us of the saving events commemorated in the sacraments, the Spirit awakens in the Church the memory of the events of our salvation and reminds us of all that Christ did and said (1103; cf. Jn 14.26). The divine economy of salvation that continues to be made present in the sacraments reached its fulfilment in the Paschal mystery, which was itself completed by the sending of the Holy Spirit.

5. The liturgy is the common work of the Spirit and the Church, for there is a co-operation between them when we respond to the gift of faith that the Spirit awakens in us (1091). Indeed the Holy Spirit is ?at the heart of the liturgy?, as every sacrament contains an epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit (1106). In its catalogue of the symbols of the Holy Spirit (696), the Catechism remarks that the Spirit transforms whatever he touches like fire. He transforms us into the image of Christ, in which the human race was initially made (1109; cf. 2 Cor 3.17). Thus the Holy Spirit, who was already at work at the beginning of creation (703), now brings about the new creation. We are now restored to that image in which the first human being was fashioned by the hands of the Son and Holy Spirit (704) but was disfigured by sin, through the life-giving Spirit (705). Thus the Holy Spirit both gives understanding to the hearers of the word of God, in which the saving events of Christ, prefigured in the Old Testament, are proclaimed (1100), and gives them the right disposition of heart for receiving the sacraments (1103).2

6. The Holy Spirit not only awakens faith in us but also teaches us how to pray (2650). The Holy Spirit is called ?the Master of prayer? (741, 2672). He draws us to prayer in the first place by his grace, and may prompt us to pray at any time of the day (2670). The Spirit enables us to pray with all three of the supernatural virtues, which are the foundation of prayer. We enter prayer ?by the narrow gate of faith? (2656). The Holy Spirit teaches us to pray in hope, for all prayer exercises the virtue of hope that looks to God for our help (2657). Prayer is related to charity because the Father gives us the Holy Spirit in prayer (2615). Jesus taught us that what we are to ask for in prayer is the Holy Spirit: ?how much more will the Father give you the Holy Spirit? (2670: cf. Lk 11.13). The Spirit is himself the source of the prayer which asks for the gift of him, because the Spirit is the Gift of love and love is the source of prayer (2658). In the well known definition, prayer is a rising of the mind and heart to God, but it springs from love kindled in us by the Holy Spirit.

7. Finally, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity. Love itself unites persons, human and divine. The Trinity is a unity because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. As a result, each divine person is in the other two: ?The Father is in me, and I am in the Father? (255: cf. Jn 14.11). This is also true of the Spirit who is their Love. The Holy Spirit also unites the Church, because he is the principle of the activities of her various members: ?There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit? (798: cf. 1 Cor 12.4). The Spirit is to the Church, which is the Body of Christ, as the soul is to the body: the Church is one by the soul animating it (813). The end of the mission of the Holy Spirit is to unite us to Christ and makes us live in him by the anointing that has been given us (690).

1. All numerals in brackets refer to paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, except for references to Scripture.

2. For more about the role of the Holy Spirit in each of the sacraments, see CCC 1266, 1289, 1392, 1433, 1520, 1585 and 1624.