The Holy Spirit flowed from the pierced side of Jesus on the Cross. Three days later, the risen Lord breathed the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, giving them authority to forgive or retain sins. Fifty days after that, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them in power, in tongues of fire, and with the sound of a rushing wind. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, their co-workers and their successors were enabled boldly to proclaim the saving Gospel throughout the world, to the end of time.
Why did Jesus come? Why was he was born? Why did he die, and rise again? It was in order to give us the Holy Spirit. Yes, of course we rightly say that Jesus came for the forgiveness of our sins; but that is a work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to give us a share in his own divine Sonship; but that too is a work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus came in order that divine love might be poured into our hearts, and that we might be drawn into perfect unity in everlasting life; but all that, too, is a work of the Holy Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is, for us, life, holiness, grace, freedom, wisdom, truth, peace, hope, strength, knowledge, joy, zeal, fervour, union, love. He is refreshment, and renewal, and rebirth. He is the pledge, or guarantee of our communion, or fellowship with God, and the foretaste also of our life with God in heaven. The Holy Spirit is the gentle breath of Jesus Christ, and also a powerful wind. He is healing oil, and also burning fire. He is the Creator Spirit who makes all things new, and in him Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Although we can’t see him, or imagine him, the Holy Spirit is no mere abstraction. He is a Divine Person, equal to the Father and to the Son. He is the bond of love and unity between them, and the Gift of each to the other.
Because of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church can never grow old or weary. Today’s Solemnity reminds us that the Holy Spirit is present, and available, and powerful, and at work also now, as at the beginning. He is the principle of new energy, new inspiration, new growth, new life. This applies, of course, not just to the Church as a whole, but to each of us as individuals, and even to communities within the Church, like monastic families, or parishes.
There is a convention in Gregorian Chant that pieces featuring the Holy Spirit always start at a low pitch. So for example today’s wonderful Introit “Spiritus Domini”, or the Sequence “Veni Sancte Spiritus”. And this surely is intended to remind us that the Holy Spirit not only descends from on high in fire and wind, but also he is deeply interior, dwelling in the silence of our hearts, and he has there the weight of divine glory. He not only astonishes and dazzles with charismatic phenomena, but also he draws us in a hidden way, often quietly, often gradually, leading us onwards towards ever deeper realisation of the truth, and coherence, and beauty of our holy faith. Sometimes, with the Chant, this realisation issues in an explosion of exuberant joy; sometimes it returns, without fuss or display, to the silence of humility, and interior recollection, and adoration.
But, we object, can the Holy Spirit really be big enough to take away all the sins of the world? Can he take away even my sins? St. Augustine somewhere says that we might think of all the sins that ever have been and ever will be as a tiny spark of fire: on top of which all the oceans of the world are simultaneously poured. But that spark will be extinguished less quickly, less completely than will my sins, and all sins, be blotted out by the mercy of God, poured forth in the blood of Christ, and working in power through the Holy Spirit.
Yet that is not the end. It’s only the beginning. After the forgiveness of sins; after cleansing, and rebirth, and adoption as sons; even after the mission of evangelisation and witness and miracles and patience in suffering: there remains the work for which we were made; the term of our predestination; that for which ultimately the Spirit is given to us: which is the everlasting praise of God. This is why the monastic vocation is such a good one, for it expresses what all of us must do now and in eternity. Glorify your Son, Jesus prayed on the eve of his Passion, in order that the Son may glorify you. And so the Holy Spirit glorifies all who are in Jesus, in order that by the same Spirit they might with Jesus give eternal glory to God the Father.
I should like to mention here three prayers by which we can begin even now to give great glory to God in the Holy Spirit.
The first is the Gloria Patri. Here in the monastery we sing or recite this in public more than 50 times every day. It’s a very simple prayer, and very brief: but truly in it we have a foretaste of heaven, as we give glory in turn to each of the Trinitarian Persons.
Then there is the Pater noster. That is the prayer of Jesus himself, and it’s limitlessly rich and fruitful. By it we address God our Father with all the confidence and love of the Son. In it Jesus teaches us how to pray, in accordance with the mind of the Holy Spirit; teaches us how to open our hearts completely to the Holy Spirit; teaches us how to let the Spirit breathe through and with and in us.
And finally there is the Ave Maria. When we recite the rosary, we say this ten times for every Pater and Gloria.
Hail, full of grace! said the Angel. Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; filled by the Holy Spirit; espoused to the Holy Spirit. Our Lady was chosen, predestined by the Holy Spirit to be his instrument and channel, so that the Incarnation took place through her. She is the image of the Church, the mediatrix of salvation, the one who always intercedes, the one who gives such glory to God as is perfectly in accordance with his holy will.
Ave Maria! we cry. Teach us, Mary, how to respond, with you, to the Holy Spirit. Teach us how to receive, with love and joy and thanksgiving, all the grace that Jesus came to give us. Teach us how to pray. And you, Holy Spirit, come to us now; fill us ever more with your divine fire. And teach us what it means for us to have Mary as our Mother; what it means to be consecrated to her; what it means to receive all your grace through her.