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The Holy Spirit and the Church

by Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:2–4).

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. This is the point of the New Testament revelation of God. The Holy Spirit is a person, with whom we are invited to cultivate a relationship. When we do, our lives are animated: we are transformed and God does things with us that boggle the mind.

Sometimes I hear people referring to the Holy Spirit as a thing or a possession, or something some people have and others do not. This is far from the truth. The Holy Spirit was given to us at Baptism. We were baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we were initiated into the Trinity. This invites us into a special relationship with each person in the Godhead. I wish to explore the special relationship we were offered when we were baptised.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is referenced three times: (Ps 51:11, Is 63:10–11, Wis 1:5). There are countless other references to the Spirit, including, “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of the Lord”.

The Old Testament leads us to see the role of the Holy Spirit in at least three ways. First, the Spirit (breath or wind, in Hebrew, ruakh) is an agent in Creation (Gen 1). Second, the Spirit anoints a person and gives them a specific charism or gift for the community (1 Sam 16:13). Third, the Spirit is God’s presence animating the Covenant community for the sake of what God wants to accomplish in and through the People of God (Joel 2:28).

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the Spirit is the breath of creation and is given for mission and for the life of the whole community. But, there is so much more.

In the Pentecost text (Acts 2:2–4), the Spirit is given to the whole Church. The Apostles represent the 12 tribes of the New Israel, on whom the Spirit is poured out. They represent the whole of the new community that God has chosen for himself.

We enter that community through Baptism. Thus the Holy Spirit and the Church are inseparable. In the Book of Revelation this is depicted very clearly: “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’” (22:17). The Bride is the Church. We cannot put a wedge between the way the Holy Spirit acts in the Church as a whole and the action in its members, or between the hierarchy and its charisms or gifts.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is inseparable from Mission, which is tied to four elements: the proclamation of the Gospel, baptism, the laying on of hands, and the reception of the Holy Spirit (4:28–31; 8:15–17; 10:44; 19:6).

In John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit is connected to Jesus and his teaching: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (Jn 14:28). Here the Spirit is advocate or counsellor who acts on our behalf, teaches us how to be adopted children and reminds us of everything Jesus taught. For St John, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth who leads us to the full truth (Jn 16:13).

St Luke opens the public ministry of Jesus with a quote from Isaiah 61, which is deliberately selected by Jesus (Lk 4:18). The Spirit anoints him to “preach Good News to the poor”. The term Messiah, means, ‘Anointed One’. We who follow Him, anointed by the Holy Spirit, also need to proclaim Good News to the poor, bind up hearts that are broken and proclaim the Lord’s favour. At His baptism, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Jesus, as the Spirit overshadowed all of us when we were baptised. We are beloved children of God! We come to our truest identity through the Holy Spirit.

For St Paul, the Holy Spirit brings gifts for Mission (1 Cor 12:3 ff): tongues, interpretation of tongues, word of knowledge and word of wisdom, miracles, faith, prophecy and discernment of spirits and healing. But all the gifts were given for the common good (Cor 12:7). The Spirit is in the service of the Church. Its first service is unity: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit(1Cor 12:13).

The Holy Spirit is the animating principle of Jesus and the Church. Animated by the Spirit, the disciple works tirelessly for unity. The Spirit brings gifts, and fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. The Spirit is also the spirit of sanctification, transforming us into the image of Jesus—saints. Anyone filled with the Spirit will both contribute to the Mission and the sanctification of the Church. Growth in both areas will be apparent if the person is truly moved by the Spirit.

This is why Jesus, after the resurrection, breathed on the Apostles and gave them the Holy Spirit: And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyones sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven(Jn 20:22-23).

The Holy Spirit gives the gift of hierarchy. The Twelve become rulers with power to bind and loose; the power to forgive and not forgive. This power is given to the Apostles, with Peter as the first of the Apostles. This gift is given to form a holy people. This, too, is God’s intention.


Key message: The Holy Spirit is a Person, with whom we need to have a special relationship.

Action Step: Let us pray every day the prayer of Pope John XXIII:

Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.

Scripture: Rev 22:17, Acts 2, John 16:5–16