Article 64 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 717–730 Spirit-In the Fullness of Time
This section of the Catechism opens with several Gospel personalities being considered, including John the Baptist, his mother Elizabeth, as well as, Jesus and his mother Mary. Elizabeth and Mary were cousins which means that Jesus and John were second cousins.
To summarize, when both women were pregnant, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The unborn Christ gave his unborn precursor, John, the great gift of sanctifying grace. Our Catholic faith tells us that grace increased daily in John’s soul. His later life of penance and heroic virtue allowed this sanctifying grace to increase in strength. It vivified John’s strong character and illumined his brilliant personality. His fiery eloquence helped draw crowds into the desert to see him, hear him and heed his call to repentance. It inspired the virtue of fortitude that helped John rebuke Herod for his adultery, and endure the hardship of prison and finally martyrdom.
Thus we understand how the Evangelists Saint John and Saint Luke can say: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” ( Jn 1:6) and John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” ( Lk 1:15, 41 ). In fact, John was “filled with the Holy Spirit” by Christ himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. “Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to his people,” even though both the Son of God and his cousin John remained unborn (ccc 717). “John the Baptist is more than a prophet,” the Catechism tells. “In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of [making] ready a people prepared for the Lord” (ccc 718). In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. “John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah” (ccc 719). The fire of the
Spirit dwells in John the Baptist and makes him the forerunner of the coming Lord. In the mother of Jesus, we likewise see God’s hand at work. “Mary, the all-holy ever-virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of time. For the first time in the plan of salvation and because his Spirit had prepared her, the Father found the dwelling place where his Son and his Spirit could dwell among us” (ccc 721). In Mary, who “by sheer grace, conceived without sin … the most humble of creatures,” (ccc 722), the Holy Spirit: “… fulfills the plan of the Father’s loving goodness. Through the Holy Spirit, the Virgin conceives and gives birth to the Son of God. By the Holy Spirit’s power and her faith, her virginity became uniquely fruitful” (ccc 723). “… manifests the Son of the Father, now become the Son of the Virgin. She is the burning bush of the definitive theophany. Filled with the Holy Spirit she makes the Word visible in the humility of his flesh. It is to the poor and the first representatives of the gentiles that she makes him known” (ccc 724). “… begins to bring humanity, the objects of God’s merciful love, into communion with Christ. And the humble are always the first to accept him: shepherds, magi, Simeon and Anna, the bride and groom at Cana, and the first disciples” (ccc 725). At the conclusion of the Holy Spirit’s mission, “Mary became the Woman, the new Eve [‘mother of the living’], the mother of the ‘whole Christ.’ As such, she was present with the Twelve, who ‘with one accord devoted themselves to prayer,’ at the dawn of the ‘end time’ which the Spirit was to inaugurate on the morning of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Church” (ccc 726).
Finally, we learn in this section of the Catechism that “Christ’s whole work is in fact a joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit” (ccc 727), even though “Jesus does not reveal the Holy Spirit fully, until he himself has been glorified through his Death and Resurrection” (ccc 728). Nevertheless, he makes reference to the Holy Spirit often throughout his earthly ministry. For example,
he made reference to the Holy Spirit in his conversation with Nicodemus (see John 3:5-8). He also made reference to the Holy Spirit in his conversation with the Samaritan woman (see John 4:10,14, 23-24), at the feast of Tabernacles (see John 7:37-39), to his disciples in connection to prayer (see Luke 11:13), and with the witness his disciples will have to bear (see Matthew 10:19-20). Most especially, Jesus makes reference to the Holy Spirit in his teaching of the multitudes, when he revealed that his own flesh will be food for the life of the world (see John 6:27,51,62-63).
Thus, the mission of Christ and the Spirit becomes the mission of the Church and therefore our mission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 22:21). To say it another way, “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).
This portion of the Catechism concludes with the words: “In her whole being and in all her members, the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity” (ccc 738). In short, “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).
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen