Ecclesia semper reformanda est (The Church is always to be reformed). This phrase originated in the Nadere Reformatiae of the Dutch Reform during the 1600s, and first appeared in the 1674 work, Beschouwinge van Zion (Contemplation of Zion), by Jodocus van Lodenstein, published in Amsterdam. In this phrase, the Reformed Protestant movement offers a sort of examination of conscience for the Church itself, in which it evaluates its effectiveness and ability to lead people to holiness of life. During the 19th century, the Wesley brothers, inadvertent founders of the Methodist Church, founded the Holiness movement as a reform of Anglicanism. The focus of this reform was the activity of the Holy Spirit as anima Ecclesiae (soul of the Church), which is the People of God, and which leads us to perfect holiness, as evident from our witness to the Holy Spirit in our life.
The Catholic Church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit has become of particular interest since the time of Bl. Elena Guerra (1835-1914), who petitioned Pope Leo XIII to provide a clearer and more systematic presentation of the Church’s Magisterium regarding the Holy Spirit. In 1897, he responded with his encyclical letter, Divinum Illud Munus. This encyclical was quite apropos, as it came four years before the birth of Pentecostalism in 1901, when Charles Fox Parham was the first to formulate a comprehensive idea of praying for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through the reception of charismatic gifts, such as tongues. He hoped, in this way, to recreate in his own day, the apostolic experience as spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles. In 1906, after William Seymour’s experience on Bonnie Brae St. and Azusa St. in Los Angeles, California, Pentecostalism took off with great fervor.
The Catholic Charismatic movement was ignited by the Duquesne University Revival, where, at a birthday party, the Catholic student association prayed for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and members began to speak in tongues. Even before this, the Catholic Church’s Cursillo movement was recognized by both Popes Pius XI and XII as a Spirit-inspired movement of the laity to consecrate the world. The expression of this role of the laity was later concretized at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). In 1986, Pope St. John Paul II wrote the encyclical, Dominum et Vivificantem, which further defined the role of the Holy Spirit as Lord and vivifier of the life of the Church. Previously, the Holy Spirit was, by and large, addressed in theological works of the Papal Magisterium focused on Divine Revelation, such as Spiritus Paraclitus, by Pope Benedict XV, and Divino Afflante Spiritu, by Ven. Pope Pius XII. For this reason, Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical is so very important, as it is the first since Divinum Illud Munus to explore the subject of the identity and mission of the Holy Spirit.
In 2006, the document, On Becoming a Christian: Insights from Scripture and the Patristic Writings: With Some Contemporary Reflections, was published, the result of an international dialogue between classical Pentecostal churches and the Catholic Church. This document specifically discusses the Holy Spirit in his role regarding his bringing people into the Church, (which Catholics view from a specifically sacramental perspective, for example, concerning baptism and confirmation), as well as that of guiding and sanctifying members to sustain the life of the Church.
Since the beginning of his pontificate, it has been very clear that Pope Francis is most interested in addressing the need (as in every age) for Church reform today. A look at the role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church is a great starting point. Let us to examine what the Church believes regarding: 1) The role of the Holy Spirit to bring people into the Church; and 2) How the Holy Spirit sustains the life of the Church. This will allow us to see how the Holy Spirit engages all the People of God, both clergy and laity, in order to bring about holiness of life for the whole Church. Starting with these two points, we can explore the role of the Holy Spirit in reforming the Catholic Church today.
When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth (cf. Jn 17:4) was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church, and that, consequently, those who believe might have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. (cf. Eph 2:18)1
The Holy Spirit is the guardian and custodian of the Church, who, through the servants he has called to serve the Church as shepherds, and endowed with charismatic gifts, brings the Church into the fullness of truth.
Our Savior never ceases to invite, with infinite affection, all men, of every race and tongue, into the bosom of his Church: “Come ye all to Me,” “I am the Life,” “I am the Good Shepherd.” Nevertheless, according to his inscrutable counsels, he did not will to entirely complete and finish this office himself on earth, but as he had received it from the Father, so he transmitted it for its completion to the Holy Spirit. It is consoling to recall those assurances which Christ gave to the body of his disciples a little before he left the earth: “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” (1 Jn 16:7). In these words, he gave as the chief reason of his departure and his return to the Father, the advantage which would most certainly accrue to his followers from the coming of the Holy Spirit, and, at the same time, he made it clear that the Holy Spirit is equally sent by—and therefore, proceeds from—himself and the Father; that he would complete, in his office of Intercessor, Consoler, and Teacher, the work which Christ himself had begun in his mortal life. For, in the redemption of the world, the completion of the work was, by Divine Providence, reserved to the manifold power of that Spirit, who, in the creation, “adorned the heavens” (Jb 26:13), and “filled the whole world” (Wis 1:7).2
The Holy Spirit leads the Church, the Bride of Christ, and, with the Church, “the Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord: “Come!” (cf. Rv 22:17).”3 The Holy Spirit, in his role of guiding, nourishing, and instructing the Church, the People of God, inspires the Church to join with him in preparing to welcome Christ back at his Second Coming. The Holy Spirit, who is not bound by the visible confines of the Catholic Church,4 draws all humanity, through heightening humanity’s understanding of the Logos spermatikos scattered throughout all of creation and in all cultures and religions, into unity with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, so that, through his Paschal Mystery, they may be one with the Father.5
There is no salvation outside of a participation in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, but the Holy Spirit, while not offering a separate or unique mediation of salvation from Christ, can unite all humanity to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, through the explicit act of faith in the existence of God and trust in God’s divine providence for their salvation.6 “In the hearts of those men of good will where grace is active invisibly, we can say that a non-Christian is mysteriously related to Christ, even if he is unconscious of the role of Christ in his life.”7 Through this mysterious participation, wrought by the Holy Spirit, in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, one participates in the fruits of the sacraments of baptism and of the Eucharist, and are, therefore, part of the People of God, as they are ordinantur Ecclesiae, related to the Church, which is necessary for salvation.8
We see here how the Holy Spirit unites people, even if they are unconscious of this reality, to Jesus Christ, from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. This was a central point for the Holiness movement of the Wesley brothers and of Pentecostalism; that the Holy Spirit brings us to our salvation in Jesus, and that those who have received this gift manifest the presence of the salvation of Christ in their lives through charismatic gifts of the Spirit. While, as Catholics, we do not believe that one must manifest any form of extraordinary gift of tongues or healing to manifest his or her acceptance of the free gift of salvation, we do believe that the extraordinary gifts of faith, hope, and love must be alive in our hearts and souls. Our emphasis on the gift of the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) given us by the Holy Spirit at baptism, the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit received at confirmation/chrismation, and our conforming to Christ as priest, shared in common by all the baptized, and, in a special way, by those ordained and consecrated priests, ought to inspire our sacred gift of imagination as to how we can inflame the Holy Spirit, soul of the Church, in the Church today, and inspire authentic reforms, so as to better our realization of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.
The Imminent Trinity (ad intra)
In order to better understand the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church to its consummation with Christ Jesus in the New Jerusalem, we must first understand the Holy Spirit and his relationship with the Father and the Son, and then look at the Mission of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity, in itself (imminent), can only be known by how the Trinity has revealed itself. There is one God, one divine nature, one true almighty, unchangeable, and eternal God. This God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three divine persons, but one God.9
But (the faithful) worship the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One Godhead; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, One Nature in Three Personalities, intellectual, perfect, self-existent, numerically separate, but not separate in Godhead.10
The unity of the one God in three persons is expressed by the word “consubstantial.” The Trinity is a consubstantial unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The word “substance” means more than “being,” it denotes nature and ontology. Hence, when we say that the Three Persons are with the same substance, consubstantial, we express the fact that they are of the same one divine nature, being, and essence, and this substance of God is love. It is from the love of the Father that he generates, not creates, the Son. And, the Son returns that love, generated from the Father, through a procession back to the Father. The nexus of this love is the Holy Spirit, and so we relate to the Holy Spirit, not as Father or Son, but as the gift of love proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Divine Love first takes its origin from the Holy Spirit, Who is the Love in Person of the Father and the Son in the bosom of the most Holy Trinity. Most aptly, then, does the Apostle of the Gentiles echo, as it were, the words of Jesus Christ, when he ascribes the pouring forth of love in the hearts of believers to this Spirit of Love: “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us.”11
While the unity of the Trinity must be emphasized, there are distinctions, such as: the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit; the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son.12 These distinctions are derived from the processions within the Trinity. If both the Son and the Holy Spirit were generated from the Father, than both would be the Son. If both the Son and the Holy Spirit were proceeding from the Father, than both would be the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Son is the Son because he is generated from the Father. And, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, because he proceeds from the Father and the Son. Lastly, the Father is neither generated, nor proceeding from anyone, but is without origin. The Father is the principle: “All that the Father is, or has, he has, not from another, but from himself.”13
The Father is the source and origin of the Godhead. The Father begets the Son from his own ineffable substance, love, but not different from himself. God begot God. The Father never is without the Son and the Holy Spirit, as each is coeternal. One cannot relate as the Father without the Son, and the Holy Spirit proceeds, as the gift of love, from the relationship between the Father and the Son. Yet, the Father and the Son are not two origins of the Holy Spirit, but one origin, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three origins of creation, but one origin.
The Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit. The Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son. All that the Son is, or has, he has from the Father; he is origin from origin. All that the Holy Spirit is, or has, he has at once (simul) from the Father and the Son.14
The aforementioned understanding of the Trinity is necessary to our understanding so as to see how the Holy Spirit, anima Ecclesiae, inspires reform in the Church. We see from above that the Holy Spirit is the nexus of the love of God, the gift of love, and that the Holy Spirit is both one with the Father and Son, as well as distinct from the Father and Son, because of the mission of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Thus, without understanding the Trinity ad intra, we cannot fully understand the Trinity, and, specifically, the Holy Spirit, in the life of the Church, and how the Holy Spirit, as the gift of love, reforms the Church in every age.
The Mission: Sent for Salvation
After discussing the imminent Trinity, we must express the economic Trinity, the Trinity ad extra, revealed. This comes to us through the revelation of the Son, the Eternal Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are the two “hands” of the Father, who make the Father known and lead humanity back to unity with the Father. “And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” (Jn 17:11).
The Father sends the Son, not because the Son is not equal with the Father, but because the Son makes the Father known to humanity by becoming incarnate, taking a human nature from the Immaculate Virgin Mary. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:11a). Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14: 9c). Jesus, who is true God, became true man to reveal the Father and reconcile humanity to God.15 Yet, Jesus ascends back to the Father, so that the Holy Spirit may be sent from the Father and the Son to remain with the Church, so that we will not be orphans, but sons and daughter of so noble a Father.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (Jn 14:16-18)
The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son, so that he can lead all humanity to truth by bringing mankind into relationship with the Father and the Son (See Jn 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-14).
The sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit is for the purpose of salvation. The Son is the sole mediator of salvation to humanity. Jesus “snatches men from the power of darkness and of Satan (cf. Col 1:23; Acts 10:38) and in him, reconciles the world to himself.”16 While the Holy Spirit works to bring all humanity into a participation in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is not the mediator of salvation, but the bringer of humanity to salvation wrought by Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the lone mediator between God and man.17 As Jesus is the middle, joining two extremes: divinity and humanity, he is the perfect mediator by virtue of the hypostatic union of his two natures in his one person. As a man, Jesus exercises the perfect priesthood offering the perfect sacrifice, himself, to reconcile humanity with divinity; and as God, he, by virtue of the reconciliation of the sacrifice of Calvary, showers the grace of God upon humanity. Thus, the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ is our salvation.18
The activity of the Holy Spirit is to bring people to salvation, to bring them to Jesus. The Holy Spirit offers all men of good will a participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ in an extraordinary way.19 By the teaching and preaching of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, people will come to know the Father and the Son.20 The Apostles and all Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, are called to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. Thus, the mission of the Holy Spirit, the gift of love, is to bring every person to unity with love, which is communion with the Father and the Son.
The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Sacramental Economy
The Holy Spirit exercises an integral role in the sacraments. The sacrament of baptism, later strengthened by confirmation, imparts the Holy Spirit upon catechumens, so that they may be conformed to Jesus Chrisrt, crucified and risen, in order to share in the Paschal Mystery. Stamped with the permanent Imago Dei and a sacramental character which grants them a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, they are deputed toward right worship. The sacrament of holy orders, imparts a sacramental character conforming the deacon to Christ the Servant, as a minister of the Word and charity. Likewise, it imparts a sacramental character to priests, that they minister in persona Christi capitis, and to bishops, in eius persona, the fullness of orders and sacred powers of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies the Church, through the giving of charismatic gifts and sacred powers, for the building up of the Church, to all people, depending upon their own needs for personal growth in holiness, and their capacity to use those gifts to their fullest potential. Consequently, the gifts given to one person may vary from another, and the gifts and sacred powers given by ordination to a bishop or priest are specific to the ministry of a priest.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are freely given us all. We do not possess them. The gifts are not given to us as personal “powers.” There is no such thing as a person who has “healing powers” or who possesses any particular gift. The gifts are given for the sake of that person’s personal growth in holiness and the building up of the Church, as is needed, at that moment, and in that context. He gives us whatever new gift we need to continue our pilgrimage of grace, faith, hope, and love. But, the gift he freely gives, he freely takes back when it is no longer needed.
In confirmation, we receive, in a special way, the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are meant to aid us in our own spiritual growth, as well as to be used for the benefit of others by building up the kingdom of God on earth through the promotion of the Catholic faith. Confirmation is the capstone of the Easter sacraments, just as Pentecost is the capstone of the New Law in Jesus Christ begun on Easter. The sevenfold gifts given by the Holy Spirit at confirmation perfect the baptized by transforming them into warriors of Christ, knights of the Church, evangelists. Made firm in the faith through their instruction, and nourished by the sacramental life of the Church, the confirmed are meant to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to promote and defend the teachings of the Church. “By virtue of baptism and confirmation, lay members of the Christian faithful are witnesses of the Gospel message by word and example of a Christian life; they can also be called upon to cooperate with the bishop and presbyters (priests) in the exercise of the ministry of the word.”21
The gifts of the Holy Spirit amplify our prayer life, enliven our ministry, inflame our preaching and evangelizing, and are nourished in the sacraments. Through the Holy Spirit, we receive the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of penance, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we come to the crucified and risen Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.
It must never be forgotten that our reception of baptism and confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist … The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ’s Body (1 Cor 12) and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the center and goal of all sacramental life.22
Confirmation is not necessary for the reception of the Eucharist, as current practice in the United States allows children to receive First Holy Communion before confirmation. However, upon receiving the sacrament of confirmation, our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice at Mass should be all the more profound, since we offer ourselves more completely with the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross in order to increase our share in the fruits of the Resurrection and Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit, Pope Francis, and the Church—Always to Be Reformed
Above, we see clearly that the Holy Spirit is central to our salvation and holiness of life, especially through our participation in, and reception of, the sacraments, which the Holy Spirit leads us to, in order to understand more perfectly the mystery of the life of Christ Jesus. Although this should not be ignored, at the same time, we should not define the activity of the Holy Spirit as limited to the sacraments and liturgical, official acts of the Church. The Holy Spirit works in the heart, mind, and soul of every human being, of all religions and no religion, drawing them to Christ. And how this happens throughout the many cultures of the world should not be underestimated. But how the Holy Spirit inspires people of faith inside the Church must also be discerned, and, if truly authentic, embraced by her in order to reform, grow, and continue to enliven Christians of today.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of love/caritas, the nexus of the love shared between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, it is no coincidence that we see the message of charity and care for the poor that has been so clearly expressed by Pope Francis, as one wholeheartedly embraced by people of all faiths, or even no faith, throughout the world. This united response to care for the poor will bring peace and heal divisions that afflict the entire human family. It, alone, will succeed where mankind has otherwise failed, and, in doing so, will introduce the Holy Spirit to those who have not yet come to recognize that it is his presence which unites us.
While the ordinary means of the Holy Spirit to communicate the love of God is through the Church, we must not fail to recognize that extraordinary mystical gifts and experiences have been given to many of our brothers and sisters in the human family who are not yet baptized, and therefore, not fully incorporated into the life of the Church. These gifts and experiences can communicate great truths to the human family and inspire faith in people seeking fulfillment and meaning in life. The role of missionaries and evangelists is to help people see how such gifts can point to Jesus.
Because of our common baptismal priesthood, given to us so that we may gain the perfection of holiness in Christ, we can recognize the capacity for all of us for holiness and the ability to manifest extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit for building up the Church. Today’s reform of the Church focuses on the Church as the People of God. The holiness that we, the People of God, can manifest when we are truly conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the greatest reform of the Church possible, because our witness to the real presence of God in this world, revealed through our holiness, will inflame the hearts and minds of unbelievers!
Lastly, the Holy Spirit is a dynamo of love, love powerfully expressed. It is not some amorphous, enigmatic contradiction of revelation and truth. Rather, it calls us to reevaluate how well the Church generates love through its ministries. Perception is reality. Thus, if our pastoral ministries and perceived self-expression fail to witness to the gift of love that is the Holy Spirit, a reimaging may be necessary, or, at least, a questioning of why that image is what is being perceived. The dynamism of the love that is the Holy Spirit can be manifested in many ways, including disciplinary reforms that express more clearly the reality of the God that is love.
The self-examination of the Church, which Pope Francis is leading, must ask the question: How well is the activity of the Holy Spirit, anima Ecclesiae, being revealed today? This is an objective standard which is based on the love and truth taught by the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
AAS Acta Apostolicae Sedis
AG Ad Gentes, Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Activity of the Church
ASS Acta Sanctae Sedis
CIC Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonicis)
CDF Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
GS Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
ITC International Theological Commission
LG Lumen Gentium, Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
SC Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy
S.Th. Summa Theologiae
Dupuis, Jacques, ed. The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church. New York: Alba House, 2001.
Flannery, Austin, ed. Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (new rev. ed.). Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996.
International Theological Commission. Texts and Documents: 1986-2007. Edited by Michael Sharkey and Thomas Weinandy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009.
Tangorra, Philip-Michael F. Whether There Is the Necessity for All Humanity to Have the Implicit Desire (Votum) for the Eucharist for Salvation: According to the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Sacred Liturgy. Licentiate tesina, Pontificia Universitas Studiorum a Sancto Toma Aquinatis in Urbe, 2011.
St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. Torino: Edizioni San Paolo s.r.l., 1988.
Willis, John R., ed. The Teachings of the Church Fathers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002.
- LG, 4. ↩
- Pope Leo XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, 1: ASS 29 (1896-97), 644. ↩
- LG, 4. ↩
- See LG, 8. ↩
- See GS, 22. ↩
- See Hebrews 11: 6. ↩
- Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, Whether There Is the Necessity for All Humanity to Have the Implicit Desire (Votum) for the Eucharist for Salvation: According to the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Sacred Liturgy, (Licentiate tesina, Pontificia Universitas Studiorum a Sancto Toma Aquinatis in Urbe, 2011), 43-44. ↩
- See LG, 14-16; ITC, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, 99. ↩
- See Council of Florence, “Decree for the Copts”, in The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, ed. by Jacques Dupuis, (New York: Alba House, 2001), 325-326. ↩
- St. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, No. 33. ↩
- Ven. Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, 5: AAS 48 (1956), 310. ↩
- See St. Thomas, S. Th. I, q. 40 a.2. ↩
- St. Thomas, S. Th. I, q. 33 a. 1. ↩
- See St. Athanasius, Quicumque Velt, in The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, ed. by Jacques Dupuis, (New York: Alba House, 2001), 16-17. ↩
- See St. Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of Noetus, ch. 17. ↩
- AG, 3. ↩
- See LG, 8; SC, 5; AG, 3; CDF, Dominus Iesus, 11-12: AAS 92 (2000), 751-754; St. Thomas, S. Th. III, q. 22 aa. 1, 2, and 5; q. 26 aa. 1-2). ↩
- See SC, 5-6; GS, 22. ↩
- See GS, 22. ↩
- See AG, 3. ↩
- CIC, 759. ↩
- Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 17: AAS 99 (3) (2007), 118-119. ↩