The Reign of the Holy Ghost

The Church’s calendar is soon to reach its dramatic terminus. We are yet in the lengthy last part of it, the Pentecost cycle, which, this year, began on Sunday, May 19. Since, liturgically, we are in the Reign of the Holy Ghost, I thought it good to focus our attention on that reign before beginning the new liturgical year.

The Church’s calendar is at once three things: (1) a mystical reenactment of the mysteries of Christ, (2) a summa of the Christian life, and (3) a recapitulation of universal history. It is my purpose here to summarize the mission of the Holy Ghost in terms of this trifold character of the liturgical year.

I. Pentecost is one of the Mysteries of Christ.

The Father, the “Origin without origin” in the Trinity, has no mission in time. He is not sent, but sends the other Persons on their temporal missions. Just as the Father’s not having a mission in time corresponds to His being eternally unoriginate in the Trinity, so, too, the Missions of the Son and the Holy Ghost in time reflect the eternal reality of the Trinitarian Processions, that is, the Generation of the Son from the Father and the Spiration of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. It is the Father who sends the Son. And it is the Father and the Son together who send the Holy Ghost.

In his masterful Christ in His Mysteries, Blessed Columba Marmion provides his readers with material for fruitful meditation on the various mysteries of Our Lord’s life as we encounter them in the liturgical year. Dom Marmion has a whole section in that book on Pentecost, not only because it is part of the annual cycle of the liturgical year, but also because he considers it one of “Christ’s Mysteries.” Why? The Bible refers to the Third Person as “the Spirit of the Son” (Gal 4:6), “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9), and “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). The Holy Ghost’s mission is to build on the work of Christ: “He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you” (John 16:14). And again: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John 14:26).

Pentecost (1308), by Duccio di Buoninsegna (details)

Pentecost (1308), by Duccio di Buoninsegna (details)

Just as Advent and the entire Old Testament history that it represents anticipate the Incarnation, so does Pentecost build upon this central Event of history.

The Holy Ghost’s mission commenced when He was sent by Christ after the Ascension. Our Lord explained to the Apostles before his Passion that the mystery of Pentecost depends on the mystery of the Ascension: “But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Elsewhere, Jesus breathes the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles: “When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). The act of breathing on the Apostles was not arbitrary; the Greek and Latin words for spirit, spiritus and πνεῦμα (pneuma) both mean “breath” and “wind” as well as “spirit.” Jesus sent the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles to give them this power, just as He breathes forth the Spirit with His Father in eternity, and just as He, again with the Father, sent the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.

II. The Holy Ghost is “the Sanctifier” of the Saints.

We call the Three Persons “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Now in strict truth, each and every One must be allowed all three of those names, since the acts of the Trinity in creation are acts of all three Persons. However, we “appropriate” to each Person particular works that reflect the eternal realities in the Trinity. Being the Uncreated Love of the Father and the Son for each other, the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Charity, the Spirit of Sanctification. To Him is appropriated the work of sanctifying souls, a work of charity par excellence.

The Holy Ghost sanctifies the entire Church and unites it, for he is the “Soul of the Church.” The human race being cut off from God and each other is represented in the confusion of tongues at Babel, which the Holy Ghost undoes with the gift of tongues at Pentecost.

The Incarnation of Christ in the womb of Mary is the Masterpiece of the Holy Ghost. His mission in time from Pentecost onward is a continuation of this great work. Rather than repeating this unrepeatably unique event in Salvation History, the Holy Ghost mystically renews it by “incarnating” Christ in each soul He sanctifies. This has been termed, the “Mystical Incarnation.”

The Holy Ghost “seals” or “finishes” us: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). The sacrament that “seals” us or confirms us (makes us strong) is the Sacrament of the Holy Ghost, Confirmation.

Given what has been said, it makes sense that, according to the eminent theologians of Mystical Theology, the perfection of advanced souls in the spiritual life is marked by an increased operation of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. These gifts perfect the theological and moral virtues, and lead us to perform those acts which represent the summit of the Christian life: the Fruits of the Holy Ghost and the Beatitudes.

We see this perfection in the Apostles after Pentecost.

The Acts of the Apostles, sometimes called, “the Gospel of the Holy Ghost,” reveals to us the transformation of twelve timorous, ambitious, and often slow men into icons of zeal and holy fortitude. Many of deeds of the Apostles and their fellow laborers are explicitly attributed by Saint Luke, the inspired author, to the Third Person. Saint Peter was “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 4:8) when he courageously preached to the Sanhedrin. Saint Stephen, “being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (7:55) when he was martyred. Barnabas was described as “a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith” (11:24).

III. The Age of the Holy Ghost is the Present Age.

From the First Sunday of Advent till the Twenty-Forth and Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Church year summarizes the entirety of history. Advent’s four weeks reprise the four thousand years from Adam to Christ (according to the Vulgate reckoning). The last Sunday of the year is dedicated to the consummation of the world.

In 1256, Pope Alexander IV condemned as heretical the error of Joachim da Fiore concerning his Trinitarian view of history. Joachim himself was considered a very holy man by Dante and others, and died before the condemnation of his error. Here is how the Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes his errors:

There are three states of the world, corresponding to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. In the first age the Father ruled, representing power and inspiring fear, to which the Old Testament dispensation corresponds; then the wisdom hidden through the ages was revealed in the Son, and we have the Catholic Church of the New Testament; a third period will come, the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a new dispensation of universal love, which will proceed from the Gospel of Christ, but transcend the letter of it, and in which there will be no need for disciplinary institutions. Joachim held that the second period was drawing to a close, and that the third epoch (already in part anticipated by Saint Benedict) would actually begin after some great cataclysm which he tentatively calculated would befall in 1260. After this Latins and Greeks would be united in the new spiritual kingdom, freed alike from the fetters of the letter; the Jews would be converted, and the “Eternal Gospel” abide until the end of the world.

Saint Thomas, responding to Joachim’s error in the Summa, said that the Old Testament corresponded to the Father, but also to Christ, inasmuch as the Son was foreshadowed in the Old Law. Further, the present dispensation corresponds to the Son, but also to the Holy Ghost, since the Holy Ghost was given shortly after Christ’s glorification, and the New Law is “The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2). Saint Thomas concludes: “Hence we are not to look forward to another law corresponding to the Holy Ghost.” The only state of mankind that will be more perfect than the Christian dispensation (the New Testament era) will be the state of beatitude in Heaven.

Notice how St Thomas is very careful to center history on the Incarnation, and not to engage in an exaggerated spiritualization of the Religion. Orthodoxy sees the Holy Ghost’s mission as part of the Incarnational economy of salvation. After all, Jesus said of Himself that, “Out of his belly [“heart” in some translations] shall flow rivers of living water.” Saint John explains what those rivers were: “Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him” (John 7:38-39).

We receive the Spirit from the Heart of Christ, and that same Spirit unites us in the Body of Christ, who is the only way to the Father. The Reign of the Holy Ghost is coterminous with the Reign of Christ the King.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!