Article 91 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1091-1109 Holy Spirit in Liturgy
Have you ever considered the function of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of the Church? This section of the Catechism explains that “the mission of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Church is to prepare the assembly to encounter Christ” (ccc 1112).
We know from our study of Sacred Scripture that the Holy Spirit always moves in one direction, the direction of life. The opening verses of the Bible capture the description of the gift of the Holy Spirit as “a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” ( Gn 1:2). That mighty wind, in Hebrew “rúa,” is “spiritus” (in Latin) and “pneuma” (in Greek). The English equivalent of the word connotes wind, breath, etc. Therefore, when we talk about the mighty Wind or Breath of God in Sacred Scripture, we are really referring to God’s Holy Spirit.
Whether we consider the beginning of the world, as documented in the Book of Genesis, or of anything that lives, the Holy Spirit or Breath of God is at work. According to some English translations, God’s Holy Spirit “breathed on the waters,” while other translations state that in the beginning “a mighty wind swept over the waters” ( cf. Gn 1:2). It is the same Holy Spirit (or wind or breath of God) that breathes life into our souls at the first moment of conception. Later, when we are “born again” through the waters of baptism, it is through the action of the Holy Spirit that we receive new, supernatural life, from God.
The same Breath of God or Holy Spirit is at work in the liturgical life of the Church. Consider, for example, the ‘epiclesis’ (the part of the Eucharistic prayer when the Holy Spirit is invoked to descend upon the elements of bread and wine). It can be said that “the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, so that the offerings may become the body and blood of Christ and that the faithful by receiving them, may themselves become a living offering to God”
(ccc 1105). The words from Eucharistic Prayer III serve as an example: “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Just as the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ (at the consecration) through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church also asks God our Father “to send the Holy Spirit to make the lives of the faithful a living sacrifice to God by their spiritual transformation into the image of Christ…through the witness and service of charity” (ccc 1109).
The image or “mystery of Christ” is discerned throughout the Bible (ccc 1094). In the Old Testament, the term used is “typology” because it reveals the newness of Christ on the basis of the “figures” (types) that announce him in the deeds, words, and symbols of the first covenant (ccc 1094). Examples include the flood/Noah’s ark, as well as the crossing of the Red Sea, which prefigure “salvation by Baptism” and “manna in the desert” which prefigure “the Eucharist” (ccc 1094).
“Sacred Scripture is extremely important” (ccc 1100) for “both Jews and Christians” (ccc 1096). The same Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of Sacred Scripture in the Old Covenant inspired the writers of the New. Thus, “the Holy Spirit fulfills what was prefigured in the Old Covenant” (ccc 1093).
We also come to understand the importance of Sacred Scripture in the Liturgy when we consider that the Church uses all 73 books of the Bible throughout the three-year Sunday liturgical cycle and the two-year weekday cycle. Additionally, the opening words of the Mass, quoted in the Catechism (ccc 1109), come directly from Saint Paul: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” ( 2 Cor 13:13). In fact, “it is from the Scriptures that [the Mass] prayers, collects, and hymns draw their inspiration and their force, and that actions and signs derive their meaning” (ccc 1100). Each year at the Easter
Vigil, this focus on Sacred Scripture is most apparent when the Church “re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history” (ccc 1095). This includes as many as seven readings from the Old Testament, chosen from the law and the prophets, and two readings from the New Testament, namely from the apostles, and from the gospel.
The Holy Spirit who inspired the Scripture writers is the same Holy Spirit who speaks to our hearts when we read the Scriptures or hear the Scriptures proclaimed. As the Catechism puts it: “The Holy Spirit gives a spiritual understanding of the Word of God to those who read or hear it, according to the dispositions of their hearts” (ccc 1101) or, as this section of the Catechism later observes: “The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches” (ccc 1108).
In summary, the function of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of the Church is to do what the Holy Spirit always does, which is to breathe life into the elements of bread and wine so that they become the Sacrament of Christ present in the Eucharist. More than that, those present in the assembly are given complete access to Christ so that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit might remain with those present in the assembly “always and bear fruit beyond the Eucharistic celebration” (ccc 1109) when the assembly is sent forth in the peace of Christ to love and serve the Lord.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Diocesan Office of the Pontifical Missions, the Office for Persons with Dis- abilities, and Censor Librorum