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7. The Holy Spirit and the Era of the Church


25. "Having accomplished the work that the Father had entrusted to the Son on earth (cf. Jn 17:4), on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent to sanctify the Church forever, so that believers might have access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit (cf. Eph 2:18). He is the Spirit of life, the fountain of water springing up to eternal life (cf. Jn 4:14; 7:38ff.), the One through whom the Father restores life to those who are dead through sin, until one day he will raise in Christ their mortal bodies" (cf. Rom 8:10f.).92

In this way the Second Vatican Council speaks of the Church's birth on the day of Pentecost. This event constitutes the definitive manifestation of what had already been accomplished in the same Upper Room on Easter Sunday. The Risen Christ came and "brought" to the Apostles the Holy Spirit. He gave him to them, saying "Receive the Holy Spirit." What had then taken place inside the Upper Room, "the doors being shut," later, on the day of Pentecost is manifested also outside, in public. The doors of the Upper Room are opened and the Apostles go to the inhabitants and the pilgrims who had gathered in Jerusalem on the occasion of the feast, in order to bear witness to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way the prediction is fulfilled: "He will bear witness to me: and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning."93

We read in another document of the Second Vatican Council: "Doubtless, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified. Yet on the day of Pentecost, he came down upon the disciples to remain with them for ever. On that day the Church was publicly revealed to the multitude, and the Gospel began to spread among the nations by means of preaching."94

The era of the Church began with the "coming," that is to say with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, together with Mary, the Lord's Mother.95 The time of the Church began at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the Apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles speak of this at length and in many passages, which state that in the mind of the first community, whose convictions Luke expresses, the Holy Spirit assumed the invisible - but in a certain way "perceptible" - guidance of those who after the departure of the Lord Jesus felt profoundly that they had been left orphans. With the coming of the Spirit they felt capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to them. They felt full of strength. It is precisely this that the Holy Spirit worked in them and this is continually at work in the Church, through their successors. For the grace of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles gave to their collaborators through the imposition of hands continues to be transmitted in Episcopal Ordination. The bishops in turn by the Sacrament of Orders render the sacred ministers sharers in this spiritual gift and, through the Sacrament of Confirmation, ensure that all who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit are strengthened by this gift. And thus, in a certain way, the grace of Pentecost is perpetuated in the Church.

As the Council writes, "the Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them he prays and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16:26). The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service. He furnishes and directs her with various gifts, both hierarchical and charismatic, and adorns her with the fruits of his grace (cf Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the Gospel he makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse."96


26. These passages quoted from the Conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium tell us that the era of the Church began with the coming of the Holy Spirit. They also tell us that this era, the era of the Church, continues. It continues down the centuries and generations. In our own century, when humanity is already close to the end of the second Millennium after Christ, this era of the Church expressed itself in a special way through the Second Vatican Council, as the Council of our century. For we know that it was in a special way an "ecclesiological" Council: a Council on the theme of the Church. At the same time, the teaching of this Council is essentially "pneumatological": it is permeated by the truth about the Holy Spirit, as the soul of the Church. We can say that in its rich variety of teaching the Second Vatican Council contains precisely all that "the Spirit says to the Churches"97 with regard to the present phase of the history of salvation.

Following the guidance of the Spirit of truth and bearing witness together with him, the Council has given a special confirmation of the presence of the Holy Spirit - the Counselor. In a certain sense, the Council has made the Spirit newly "present" in our difficult age. In the light of this conviction one grasps more clearly the great importance of all the initiatives aimed at implementing the Second Vatican Council, its teaching and its pastoral and ecumenical thrust. In this sense also the subsequent Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops are to be carefully studied and evaluated, aiming as they do to ensure that the fruits of truth and love - the authentic fruits of the Holy Spirit - become a lasting treasure for the People of God in its earthly pilgrimage down the centuries. This work being done by the Church for the testing and bringing together of the salvific fruits of the Spirit bestowed in the Council is something indispensable. For this purpose one must learn how to "discern" them carefully from everything that may instead come originally from the "prince of this world."98 This discernment in implementing the Council's work is especially necessary in view of the fact that the Council opened itself widely to the contemporary world, as is clearly seen from the important Conciliar Constitutions Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium.

We read in the Pastoral Constitution: "For theirs (i.e., of the disciples of Christ) is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history."99 "The Church truly knows that only God, whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what the world has to offer."100 "God 's Spirit. . . with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth."101


92. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 4.

93. Jn 15:26f.

94. n. 4.

95. Cf. Acts 1:14.

96. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 4. There is a whole Patristic and theological tradition concerning the intimate union between the Holy Spirit and the Church, a union presented sometimes as analogous to the relation between the soul and the body in man: cf. St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 24, 1: SC 211, pp. 470-474; St. Augustine, Sermo 267, 4, 4: PL 38, 1231; Sermo 268, 2: PL 38, 1232; In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, XXV, 13; XXVII, 6: CCL 36, 266, 272f.; St. Gregory the Great, In Septem Psalmos Poenitentiales Expositio, Psal. V, 1: PL 79, 602; Didymus the Blind, De Trinitate, II, 1: PG 39, 449f.; St. Athanasius, Oratio 111 Contra Arianos, 22, 23, 24: PG 26, 368f., 372f.; St. John Chrysostom, In Epistolam ad Ephesios, Homily IX, 3: PG 62, 72f. St. Thomas Aquinas has synthesized the preceding Patristic and theological tradition, presenting the Holy Spirit as the "heart" and the "soul" of the Church; cf. Summa Theo., III, q. 8, a. 1, ad 3; In Symbolum Apostolorum Expositio, a. IX; In Tertiurn Librum Sententiarum, Dist. XIII, q. 2, a. 2, Quaestiuncula 3. Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes,

97. Cf. Rev 2:29; 3:6, 13, 22.

98. Cf. Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.

99. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 1.

100. Ibid., n. 41.

101. Ibid., n. 26.

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