Article 62 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 691- 701
Lord and Giver of Life
The first reference to the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life,” in the Bible is found in the first few sentences. As the Book of Genesis opens we read: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth — and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gn 1:1-2).
The reference to a “mighty wind,” from the Hebrew word “ruah,” means breath, air or wind. Biblical scholars ordinarily point to this passage as referring to the “holy breath” or “spirit” of God (in Latin “Spiritus,” in Greek “Pneuma”). In chapter 3 of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus “uses the sensory image of the wind to suggest to Nicodemus the transcendent newness of him who is personally God’s breath, the divine Spirit” (ccc 691).
Other titles attributed to the Holy Spirit include “Paraclete” (ccc 692), which literally means Advocate or one who pleads our cause. “Paraclete” is also translated as “consoler” (ccc 692) and Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (Jn 16:13).
Throughout his letters, St. Paul uses various titles when referring to the Holy Spirit including:
Spirit of the promise (Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13)
Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6)
Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9)
Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17)
Spirit of God (Romans 8:9,14; 15:19, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 7:40).
St. Peter refers to the Holy Spirit with the additional title: “the Spirit of glory” (1 Pt 4:14).
Finally, this section of the Catechism highlights several symbols of the Holy Spirit, including water (ccc 694), anointing (ccc 695), fire (ccc 696), cloud and light (ccc 697), seal (ccc 698), hand (ccc 699), finger (ccc 700), and dove (ccc 701).
Regarding water as symbolizing the Holy Spirit, the Catechism explains: “Just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit” (ccc 694).
According to St. John and St. Paul, “anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit” (1 Jn 2:20 and 2 Cor 1:21). The Catechism tells us: “In Christian initiation, anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation, called ‘chrismation’ in the Churches of the East. Its full force can be grasped only in relation to the primary anointing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that of Jesus. Christ (in Hebrew “messiah”) means the one “anointed” by God’s Spirit” (ccc 695).
“Fire,” the Catechism tells us, “symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions” (ccc 696). Recall in St. Luke’s Gospel that John the Baptist proclaimed Christ as the one who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 1:17, 3:16). The Acts of the Apostles reports Pentecost as the occasion when the Holy Spirit rested on those present in the “form of tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3-4).
The symbols of “cloud and light” are “two images [that] occur together in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit” according to the Catechism (ccc 697). Both images are present throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, this image is present with Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 24:15-18), at the tent of meeting (see Exodus 33:9-10), during the wandering in the desert (see Exodus 40:36-38), and with Solomon at the dedication of the Temple (see 1 Kings 8:10-12). In the New Testament, the Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and “overshadows” her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus (see Luke 1:35).
At the Transfiguration, the Spirit in the “cloud came and overshadowed” Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. Then “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’” (Lk 9:34-35). Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of sight on the day of his Ascension and will reveal him as Son of man in glory on the day of his final coming (see Acts 1:9; cf. Luke 21:27).
“The seal is a symbol often related to that of anointing” (ccc 698). “The Father has set his seal” on Christ and also seals us in him (Jn 6:27). This seal indicates the indelible effect of the anointing with the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders. The image of the seal (in Greek, sphragis) has been used in theology to express the indelible “character” imprinted by these three unrepeatable sacraments (ccc 698).
The hand is likewise mentioned as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism highlights several Scriptural passages that tell us that “it is by the Apostles’ imposition of hands that the Holy Spirit is given” (ccc 699). Jesus himself “heals the sick and blesses little children by laying hands on them” (ccc 699). The Letter to the Hebrews lists the imposition of hands which the Church continues to use in its sacramental life (see Hebrews 6:2).
The finger is also a legitimate symbol of the Holy Spirit. The hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus,” for example, invokes the Holy Spirit as the “finger of the Father’s right hand” (ccc 700). St. Luke states emphatically, “it is by the finger of God that [Jesus] cast out demons” (Lk 11:20).
The dove is an ancient symbol of the Holy Spirit, probably because it was the form that the Holy Spirit took when “Christ comes up from the water of his baptism” (Mt 3:16). The Catechism also notes that in the Genesis story of Noah, “at the end of the flood, whose symbolism refers to Baptism, a dove released by Noah returns with a fresh olive-tree branch in its beak as a sign that the earth was again habitable” (ccc 701). Again, this symbol, like all the others, point to the One who is “the Lord and Giver of life.”
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen