Article 65 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 731-741 Spirit in the Church on the Last Days
We American Catholics are quite familiar with the Nicene Creed because we recite it at every Sunday Mass and at Masses on Holy Days of Obligation. In other countries, including Canada, Catholics are not so familiar with the Nicene Creed because their national conference of bishops chose instead to use the Apostles Creed at Sunday Mass with the Nicene Creed reserved for holy days.
Those familiar with the Apostles Creed through such devotions as the recitation of the rosary will note that there are two references to the Holy Spirit in that creed. The first affirms belief in Jesus Christ “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” The second affirms: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
The teaching on the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed is more detailed. It affirms: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” The Holy Spirit is one of three persons of the Blessed Trinity, true God with the Father and the Son. The works of love and especially our sanctification is attributed to him. He was sent to the Church on Pentecost to teach it always and to sanctify it. On Pentecost, therefore, “the Holy Trinity is fully revealed.” (ccc 732) The Catechism tells us: On that day, “the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the ‘last days,’ the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated” (ccc 732).
We have all heard the words of St. Paul, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” ( Rom 5:5). As such, us humans who are “dead or at least wounded through sin,” are given “the first effect of the gift of love [which] is the forgiveness of our sins” (ccc 734). How? Through the action of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because “the communion of the Holy Spirit in the Church restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost through sin” (ccc 734). The Holy Spirit also gives us “the pledge” or “first fruits” of our inheritance which is to love as “God has loved us” (ccc 735). As such, through the power of the Holy Spirit we are given the capability of bearing much fruit including “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” ( Gal 5:22-23). To say it another way, we might consider the teaching of fourth century bishop and theologian St. Basil on the Holy Spirit, which states: “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 ‘Father’ and to share in Christ’s grace” (ccc 736).
This section of the Catechism continues with its teaching that “the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit” (ccc 737). How is this possible? “It is Christ,”the Catechism tells us, “who, as the head of the
Body, pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world” (ccc 739). A few sentences before, we are reminded that “the Church’s mission is not an addition to that of Christ and the Holy Spirit, but is its sacrament” (ccc 738). This does not mean that “the Church’s mission” is added to the seven sacraments and somehow becomes an eighth sacrament of the Church. Rather it is described as a kind of “sacrament” insofar the Church’s mission flows from the divine Persons of Christ and the Holy Spirit in a similar way as the “Holy and sanctifying Spirit” flows to us, “the members of his Body,” through “the Church’s sacraments” (ccc 739).
With so much dependent on the Holy Spirit, it is no wonder that this section of the Catechism finishes with the curious statement: “the Holy Spirit [is] the artisan of God’s works” (ccc 741). What does this mean? It means, in short, that the Holy Spirit (the third Person of the Holy Trinity) is the highly skilled conveyor of the best blessings and gifts offered by God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
St. Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century Church Father and Doctor of the Church, summarizes his teaching on the Holy Spirit as follows: “All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God. For if Christ, together with the Father’s and his own Spirit, comes to dwell in each of us, though we are many, still the Spirit is one and undivided. He binds together the spirits of each and every one of us … and makes all appear as one in him. For just as the power of Christ’s sacred flesh unites those in whom it dwells into one body, I think that in the same way the one and undivided Spirit of God, who dwells in all, leads all into spiritual unity.”
Finally, the Church offers this beautiful image in its liturgical prayers on the Solemn Feast of Pentecost: 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. (Byzantine Liturgy, Pentecost Vespers).
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen
We have all heard the words of St. Paul,“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). As such, us humans who are“dead or at least wounded through sin,”are given“the first effect of the gift of love [which] is the forgiveness of our sins”(ccc 734).