Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 16, 2001
The Holy Spirit comes to Mary . . . again
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Based on the account in the Acts of the Apostles, the Church celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, 50 days after Christ's resurrection. John's Gospel, however, presents the story differently. He places the outpouring of the Spirit on Easter.
In this story, Jesus comes through the locked doors of the house in which the disciples were staying, breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
Because of this account, the early Church developed two traditions - one was that of Pentecost as the 50th day after Easter; the other was that of Pentecost as "the 50 days" between Easter and Pentecost. These 50 days were a special time to celebrate the coming of the Spirit and to dwell in the Spirit.
But for John, there was something further. For him, Good Friday and Easter were one event - the glorification of the Lord. Jesus' death on the cross represented his glorification, not even an apparent defeat.
And so some commentators see John 19:30 - "then (Jesus) bowed his head and gave up his spirit" - as having a double meaning. It means that Jesus died. But it also means that Jesus gave up his Holy Spirit to his followers who were present - Mary, the beloved disciple and the other women.
This giving of the Spirit by Jesus is linked with an event that followed immediately - the pouring of blood and water from the side of his dead body that was lanced by a soldier. Early Christian writers were clear in seeing this as the birth of the Church. The sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist were given from the side of Christ hanging dead on the cross. Our redemption was complete and the sacramental life of the Church could begin.
In last week's article, I wrote of Mary becoming the mother of the Church at the foot of the cross. This week, we see something else - Mary again receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Now, Mary was what we would call perfect from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. Why would she need the Holy Spirit to come upon her yet again? It's true that Mary was without sin and that she was "full of grace." But "full" here is a relative term - relative to the all-abundant, infinite grace of God himself.
She could never love to the extent that God loves. She is human, not divine. And so Mary continues to grow in the Holy Spirit throughout her life.
Mainly this occurs through successive outpourings of the Spirit upon her at her conception, the conception of Jesus, the foot of the cross and Pentecost. But it is also through her habit of pondering in her heart the events of life.
The Second Vatican Council said Mary was "fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature." In this, we can see why the early Church fathers called her the New Eve. By her total solidarity with her Son's act of sacrifice and her deep ongoing and growing intimacy with the Holy Spirit, Mary participated in Jesus'
redemption of humanity.
Here we have the new creation that was heralded in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 37 tells the story of the dry bones of Israel that were brought to life by the breath of the Spirit. God describes this new creation this way: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Today, we venerate Mary's Immaculate Heart because it was in her that this prophecy was most fully realized. We might also pay homage to her Immaculate Spirit, which is the Holy Spirit himself.
Mary is the New Eve. She is first in the new creation. But that does not mean that she is alone. All of those who are given the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love, are with her.
And although we have been baptized and confirmed, we too need to pray for new outpourings of the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, we need to receive the Spirit several times during our lives. And also like Mary, we can never get enough of the Holy Spirit. He can always open us to a greater fullness of life.
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