Today is the Feast of Pentecost. The title above comes from the well-known hymn by the sixteenth-century church composer Thomas Tallis. The hymn recognizes the mission of the Divine Spirit, one of the two “hands” of God as he reaches into our history. The other “hand” is the Incarnation of the Divine Word as Jesus Christ. These two “hands” worked in perfect concert to bring about mankind’s salvation at the will of the Divine Father, one inwardly and one in the external concrete history of the life of Jesus Christ. The interior Spirit enables us to see the exterior mission of the Son for what it is, the presence of the Word of God.
Tallis has us invoke the Holy Spirit to “come, take possession of our souls and make them all thy own.” This interior spiritual movement driven by God works in harmony with the movement of the Divine Son in history in the Catholic Church which as we know from Saint Paul is the Body of Christ. This Body only comes about through the work of the Holy Spirit. It brings us together so that interiorly our minds are in conformity with the Word of God glorified and present in the Eucharist, the Scriptures, and the Tradition of the Church.
So Pentecost is not a strange exotic event that just came and went. It is the final moment in God’s founding of the Church. So the event never ceases. Today we are celebrating the Church by pointing to the very heart of the Church, which is the presence of the Spirit of God himself right here, in our history.
The Second Vatican Council developed the idea that the Spirit is the core of the Church and the reason why the Church is always holy. The council said:
He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal. To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through Him, until, in Christ, He brings to life their mortal bodies. The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits.
Pentecost by Jan Joest, c. 1510
Further, the Church is showered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit but it is important to appreciate that the mission of the Spirit and the mission of the Word do not contradict each other. The whole “dissent movement” that has polluted the Church since the sixties is based on an untheological premise. It expects that the private voice of the “Spirit” can supersede and contradict the public teaching of the Church. It’s this misunderstanding that still divides dioceses and religious orders. The elderly proponents of dissent are like the old communists crying in their beer about the good times during the revolution and forgetting all the chaos they caused.
One of the effects of the Holy Spirit is that it “opened to all peoples the knowledge of God and brought together the many languages of the earth in profession of the one faith.” (Preface for Pentecost) This effect and the missionary thrust that accompanies it are much less evident today than they were in the great missionary eras of the Church. This is largely the result of false teaching about the equivalence of beliefs that arose out of a misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not working in some kind of random way so that people come to some random god as if there are many to choose from – or that they’re all really just the same thing despite obvious differences. The Holy Spirit brings people to knowledge of the God of Judeo-Christian history. The Holy Spirit “reveal[s] to us more abundantly the hidden mystery of this sacrifice” of Jesus Christ. (Prayer over the Offerings) In fact the vision on this day of Pentecost is “that the truth of your saving mystery may shine forth for the whole world.”(Vigil Mass)
The text quoted above from the Council has something else that is often missed. Even something apparently as simple as praying involves the Holy Spirit. The Council said: “In them [believers] He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons.” This stems from Saint Paul: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
God’s Spirit is renewing the face of the earth!