Article 46 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
When I taught theology at one of our seminaries I especially enjoyed teaching a course called Pneumatology (a fancy way of referring to the study of the Holy Spirit). I began each class reminding the seminarians and lay students that the Holy Spirit always moves in one direction which is in the direction of life! We get a sense of this movement of the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture and in the prayers of the Church. Examples include when Our Lord speaks, especially in Saint John’s Gospel, of “sending the Holy Spirit” or when the priest at Mass calls upon God the Father to “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall …”
The Holy Spirit always moves in the direction of life, not only breathing life into the elements of bread and wine at Holy Mass, (transforming them into the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ), but breathing natural life into our souls (at the moment of conception); giving us new and independent life when we take our first breath at birth; breathing new, supernatural life, into our souls when we are born again through the waters of baptism; breathing life constantly and sustaining us throughout our natural lives. Later, when we take our last breath on earth, it is the Holy Spirit who breathes new life and raises us up unto eternal life.
We get an even better sense of who the Holy Spirit is when we consider the relationship between Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of Saint Luke, the Annunciation to Mary which inaugurates “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) is described. The Catechism tells us, “Mary was invited to conceive him in whom ‘the whole fullness of deity’ would dwell ‘bodily’” (ccc 484). The divine response to her question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34) was given by the power of the Spirit: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).
By now you have probably concluded correctly that, in addition to always moving in the direction of life, “the mission of the Holy Spirit is always conjoined and ordered to that of the Son” as well. The Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of Life,” was sent “to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary” causing her “to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own” (ccc 485). This fact, however, as we discern from the New Testament, is only gradually revealed “to the shepherds, to the magi, to John the Baptist, to the disciples,” etc. (ccc 486).
One of the many mysteries regarding the Incarnation (God becoming human) is the matter of acquiring a human body. To prepare a body for his Son, God wanted “the free co-operation of a creature.” The Catechism tells us: “from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, ‘a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph’” (ccc 488). The additional desire of God, however was that the predestined woman would say “yes” to the desire that she become the mother of Jesus. In this way, just as the first woman Eve “had a share in the coming of death” into the world so Mary, (the New Eve), would “contribute to the coming of life,” Jesus Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6 (ccc 488) into the world.
Throughout the Old Testament we see many holy women preparing the way for Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve. Then there was Sarah who conceived a son “in spite of her old age” (Genesis 21:2) and other women who were “considered powerless and weak” (ccc 498) like Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Judith, Esther, and many other women who kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation. The purest figure among them is Mary who was also counted among the “poor and humble of the Lord” (ccc 489). In order for her to give full ascent to her role as Mother of the Lord, it “was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace” (ccc 490). No wonder the angel Gabriel salutes her as “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) at the moment of the Annunciation.
Through the long centuries that followed the People of God continued to affirm Mary as “full of grace.” Finally, in 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as follows:
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved her from all stain of original sin.”
The exalted place of Mary is understood by the Church as a singular grace bestowed on her by God before the stain of original sin touched her soul. In Sacred Scripture Mary speaks: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47. Like us, Mary needed a Savior. The difference is that Christ saved her before original sin touched her soul while he saved us after. The Catechism explains: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person” (ccc 492). No doubt the Catechism is echoing the sentiments of “the Fathers of the Eastern tradition” (ccc 493) outlined in the Second Vatican Council which states: Mary was “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (Lumen Gentium 56).