When they write the history of the Christian Church in the 20th century, a lot of ink will be used to tell about the Second Vatican Council. But likely as much, maybe more, will go to another story -- the rise of the Pentecostal movement.
A hundred years ago, Pentecostalism did not exist. From an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a house in Los Angeles in 1906, the Pentecostal movement has spread around the world to involve hundreds of millions of people in new or independent churches as well as in mainline Christian churches, including the Catholic Church. At the end of the century, the movement continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
The Catholic Church as a whole has been caught up in this. In the past, we tended to have a rather narrow view of the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit is the one who guarantees the truth of our teachings and helps us plot out intelligent courses of action.
But the Catechism of the Catholic Church displays a much broader understanding of the action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is important in all four sections of the Catechism -- doctrine, sacraments, morality and prayer. The church sees the Spirit as more than just a concept. The Spirit is a person with whom the church and its people are in a living relationship.
Essential to the fullness of life in Christ is the liturgy. In an earlier article, I noted that one of the key statements of Vatican II was its declaration that "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 10).
This statement can only be true if Christ is present in the liturgy in a more real way than he is present anywhere else. If Christ is present in a prayer meeting or works of mercy, for example, to the same extent he is present in the liturgy then there is no reason for us to extol the liturgy so highly.
In last week's article, we reflected on the fact that each celebration of the Eucharist participates in the one sacrifice Christ made for all humanity on Calvary. That sacrifice is made really present for us today by the action of the Holy Spirit.
Many Christians are skeptical of this and disparage the Mass as a "ceremony." Too often, our own view of liturgy is that it is a lifeless ritual which needs to be dressed up with various human contrivances to make it a fuller experience. By doing so, we may be inadvertently playing into the hands of the skeptics.
To overcome skepticism, we need to recall Christ's enigmatic promise at the Last Supper: "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me" (John 14:18-19). Later in the same address, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit "will take what is mine and declare it to you" (16:14). He even says that "it is to your advantage that I go away" (16:7). And, in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' last words to the apostles were, "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (28:20).
Jesus' promise to send the Holy Spirit emphasizes the continuity of his presence in the church. Pope John Paul tells us that "This new coming of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and his constant presence and action in the spiritual life are accomplished in the sacramental reality" (The Lord, the Giver of Life, 61). The sacraments are signs of Christ's presence. But they are signs precisely because Christ is really and totally present in and through the sacraments. Christ's promise to be "with you always" is fulfilled by these sacraments.
We don't know how the Holy Spirit makes Christ present in the sacraments. Nor do we know how the Holy Spirit, spouse of the Virgin Mary, made the Son of God present in her womb. But it is essential to our faith that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And it is equally believable and equally central to our faith that the Spirit make the paschal mystery present in the celebration of the sacraments. Without Christ's real presence in the sacraments, he has broken his promise and we are left with only shadows and vague hints of the living God. Humanity must continue to wait for the time of its ongoing redemption.
But, in fact, our redemption has occurred and continues to occur. "Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present. The paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present" (Catechism, 1104).
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