Q: Archbishop J, explain the work of the Holy Spirit in the prayer of the Church?
When we think about the Holy Spirit we think of the seven gifts—Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.
We also think of the fruits—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Some in the Charismatic Renewal also think about the spiritual gifts—wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:8–10).
In Romans 15:16, we see St Paul speaking about the Holy Spirit as sanctifying those who are baptised into Christ. We cannot become holy without the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the image of Christ. All of these are very important ways that the Holy Spirit works in the life of the people of God.
The Holy Spirit in the Liturgy
Recently, I came across this teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Church. It has fascinated me because it speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in the prayer of the disciple. It gives some tangible ways that the Holy Spirit work together in prayer with us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says: “The mission of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Church is to prepare the assembly to encounter Christ; to recall and manifest Christ to the faith of the assembly; to make the saving work of Christ present and active by his transforming power; and to make the gift of communion bear fruit in the Church” (1112).
These four works of the Holy Spirit described as mission, are vital for the life and worship of the disciple.
To Prepare the Assembly
The Catechism says: “God’s Spirit prepares for the time of the Messiah” (702). From the beginning, the Holy Spirit was preparing a people to be united with the Messiah.
This work in the depth of people, nations and civilisations is a vital part of our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. CCC 1101 amplifies this point:
The Holy Spirit gives a spiritual understanding of the Word of God to those who read or hear it, according to the dispositions of their hearts. By means of the words, actions, and symbols that form the structure of a celebration, the Spirit puts both the faithful and the ministers into a living relationship with Christ, the Word, and Image of the Father, so that they can live out the meaning of what they hear, contemplate, and do in the celebration.
The Holy Spirit prepared us for the coming of Christ. This is true in salvation history as it is true each time we encounter Christ. This means when we are preparing to pray, we should ask the Holy Spirit to prepare us to encounter Christ.
Before going to Mass, we should ask the Holy Spirit to prepare us to encounter Christ through the Word and the Liturgy. If this is His work then we should ask the Holy Spirit to prepare us, every day, for the multiple ways God wants us to encounter Him.
To recall and manifest Christ
The Church uses a technical term anamnesis which means recollection. This is not simply calling to mind; it is reliving as if you were present during that sacred act.
One text of the Jewish paschal meal says it “as if you yourself were in Egypt and God with his outstretched arm rescued you”. At the Last Supper Jesus says: “Do this in memory of me.”
The sense of anamnesis (memoria) is part of what we miss today—the invitation to be present. The role of the Holy Spirit is to assist us in actively being present to the saving mystery; not just calling to mind but living in the grace of the Word and the Liturgy as if we were present.
The Catechism says: “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” (1104).
We very often attend Mass. Have you ever actively participated in the Mass through memoria—through actively entering the Word, the Last Supper, and Good Friday? For this we need the Holy Spirit.
As we live the mystery, the Mass moves from two-dimensional to three-dimensional—not observation but participation. This is not just about the Mass, but the way we pray with Scripture and enter into all prayer.
To make the saving work of Christ present and active
Here the Catechism gives us another technical term—epiclesis, which means invocation. At the epiclesis, the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. He also asks that we be transformed into a living sacrifice to the Father.
The actual words are “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer II).
It is here the bread, and the wine are transformed; it is here that we are transformed. This transformational action of the Holy Spirit is vital for the Mass and for our lives.
The Holy Spirit, actualises, makes Christ present on the altar. If we are open to the Holy Spirit, Christ is actualised in us also.
To make the gift of communion bear fruit in the Church
The Spirit comes to unite us who are present into one Body in Christ.
In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy (CCC 1108).
To harbour resentment or unforgiveness is to resist the grace of the Holy Spirit who draws all into Christ, the source of the Church’s charity. As we are drawn into one, we are called to be brothers and sisters caring for one another. We are already the Body of Christ; the Spirit actualises who we already are.
The Holy Spirit has four works that it does in the liturgy and in us. It prepares us for encounter, recollects and initiates us into the mystery, actualises and makes Christ present, and draws us into unity.
Become conscious of the four works of the Holy Spirit and prepare for prayer and Mass by asking the Holy Spirit to accomplish these within you and the assembly.