Article 71 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 797-801 Church as Temple of Holy Spirit
Years ago before the home computer became popular, the best way to delete or cover up a typing error was to use Liquid Paper, also known as ‘white-out.’ I had tons of it. It came in a little bottle with a tiny brush attached to the cover. The user would simply remove the cover, paint over the typing error and wait for it to dry before proceeding. “If only I could buy stock in this company,” I thought to myself, “I would be a millionaire in no time.”
Curiously, it was the mother of Michael Nesmith (a member of the American rock band, “The Monkees”), who invented Liquid Paper. She got the idea when she was a secretary, making small bottles of water- based paint that she called “Mistake Out” and gave to other typists. She sold her company to Gillette in 1979 for $47 million.
Unlike the option to white-out a mistake or nowadays push the delete button to correct an error, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and especially in the souls of initiated Christians (baptized and confirmed), can never be deleted. Recall that when you received the sacrament of confirmation you were asked the question from the passage in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” ( 1 Cor 6:19).
This section of the Catechism goes even further by stating that the Church is likewise the temple of the Holy Spirit. Quoting St. Augustine, the Catechism puts it this way: “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church” (ccc 797). From his place in heaven, the scholarly saint must be surprised that these words attributed to him some 1,600 years ago are now present in the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church!
Our bodies and the Mystical Body of Christ on earth (the Church) are temples of the third person of the Most Holy Trinity. As Pope Pius XII put it in his 1943 encyclical, Mystici Corporis, which is now quoted in the Catechism: “To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members” (ccc 797).
The Catechism further expounds upon the theme of the Holy Spirit and the Church when it states that it is to the Church that the Holy Spirit or the “Gift of God” has been entrusted (ccc 797). As St. Irenaeus, a second century Church Father, stated: “For where the Church is, there also is God’s Spirit; where God’s Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace” (ccc 797).
The Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body” (ccc 798). He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity by God’s Word, by Baptism, by the sacraments, by the grace of the apostles, by the virtues and by many special graces called charisms (see ccc 798).
The word “charism” comes from the Greek charis, meaning grace or free gift. The Second Vatican Council summarized “charisms” by explaining that they included the graces that come through the sacraments, the Church’s hierarchical gifts, which are given to priests for the exercise of their ministry, and charismatic gifts, given to the faithful for the common good. All these charisms are meant for the building up of the Church. They are freely offered by the Giver of all gifts and received according to the disposition of the recipient. As such, the “discernment of charisms” (ccc 801) must also be considered.
No wonder the Catechism states: “Whether extraordinary or simple and humble,
charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church” (ccc 799). “They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit” (ccc 800). They are directed to “the common good” (1 Cor 12:7) of the community, as St. Paul tells us. “It is in this sense that discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church’s shepherds” (ccc 801).
The “common good” theme is most important. Charisms are always given for the common good. Therefore, they are meant to be lived out in a spirit of service (1 Peter 4:10-11). Received by a person according to his or her qualities, limits, tendencies, or faults, charisms can be poorly used or used quite well. As such, they can be expressions of charity or can potentially impede acts of charity. Therefore, the Spirit may be blocked or stifled but he cannot cease to act because he is the master craftsman of God’s plan for the world, from beginning to end (cf. Genesis 1:1; Acts 22:17).
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen