Tuesday in Whitsun Week
By Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle within them the fire of thy love.
Yesterday, we were admiring the work of the Holy Ghost, whereby He drew mankind to the faith and name of Jesus, to Whom all power was given in heaven and in earth (St. Matt. xxviii. 18). The instruments used for this conquest were the Apostles and their immediate successors. The Tongue of Fire was victorious, and the Prince of this world was defeated. Let us continue our reflections, and see the further workings of the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Son of God, Who had sent him into the world.
Our Emmanuel came down from heaven, that He might effect the union He had desired from all eternity. He began it by uniting our human nature to His own divine Person; but this personal union did not satisfy His love. He mercifully deigned to invite the whole human race to a spiritual union with Himself, by giving her to become His Church, His own dearest One (Cant. vi. 8), as He calls her;–His glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish (Eph. v. 27). But how could mankind, deformed as it was by sin, be worthy of such an honor? His love would make it worthy. He tells us that this Church is His Spouse (St. Matth. ix. 15; xxv. 6; St. Mark, ii. 19.; St. Luke, v. 34.; St. John, iii. 29); and thus chosen, He beautified her in the laver of His own precious Blood, and gave her, in dowry, the infinite merits He had acquired.
Thus prepared, her union with Him was to be of the closest. Jesus and his Church are one body; He is the Head, she is the aggregate of the Members united together under this one Head. Such is the teaching of the Apostle: Christ is the Head of the Church: we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Eph. v. 23, 30). This Body is to be formed of all who shall, in each successive age, be faithful to the call of divine grace, and enrol themselves as children of the Church. The world we inhabit is to be preserved, till the last elect, required to complete the mystic body of Jesus, be added to the Church Triumphant: then, all will be consummated; the divine Mystery of the Incarnation will have achieved its whole work.
But, as in the Incarnate Word there was the invisible Soul and the visible Body, so also the Church was to have a Soul and a Body: a Soul, whose hidden beauty no eye but God’s can fully see, at least during her earthly sojourn; and a Body, which is to be visible to men, an ever-living proof of God’s power, and of His love for the human race. Up to the Day of Pentecost, the just, who had been united under Jesus, their Head, had belonged only to the soul of the Church, for the body was not then in existence. The heavenly Father had adopted them as His children; the Son of God had accepted them as His members; and the Holy Ghost (Who is now about to work exteriorly,) had interiorly wrought their election and sanctification.
The new order of things is to begin in Mary’s person. As we have already explained, the Church in its entirety, that is both soul and body, resided first in Her. It was but fitting that she who was as truly the Mother of the Son of God, according to His Human Nature, as the heavenly Father was His Father according to the Divine Nature, should be superior to all other members of the Church, and this not only in the high degree of grace, but also in the precedence of time.
When our Saviour gave his Church an existence outside the loved sanctuary of his Mother’s Heart, He, with His own hands, set the Foundation Stone, (Peter, the Rock); He raised up the Pillars, and we have seen how He spent the forty days before His Ascension, in organizing this Church, which was then so small, but which was afterwards to cover the whole earth. He told His Apostles, that He would be with them all days even to the consummation of the world (St. Matth. xxviii. 20); it was the same as telling them, that, even after His Ascension into heaven, His Church was to continue on earth, even to the end of time.
He left the plan, thus begun by Himself, to be perfected by the Holy Ghost. It was necessary that this Holy Spirit should come down from heaven, in order to strengthen those whom Jesus had chosen as His Apostles. He was to be their Paraclete; their Comforter, in the absence of their Master; He was to be the Power from on high, Who was to serve them as armour in their future combats; He was to remind them of all the words spoken to them by Christ; He was to give fruitfulness, by His own action, to the Sacraments, which Jesus had instituted, and over which the Apostles had power, because of the character impressed upon them by this Holy Spirit. It is on this account that Jesus said to His Apostles: It is expedient to you that I go; for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you (St. John, xvi. 7). We have seen this Divine Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost, producing His effects on the Apostles and Disciples; let us now see His action in the creation, maintenance, and perfecting of this Church, which Jesus has promised to assist, by His mysterious presence, even to the consummation of the world.
The first operation of the Holy Ghost in the Church is the election of its members. This right of election is so especially His prerogative, that, as we learn from the Scriptures, it was by the Holy Ghost (Acts, i. 2) that Jesus chose the Apostles, who were to be the pillars of His Church. We have seen how this Holy Spirit began His Mission on the Day of Pentecost, by the election of three thousand Jews. A few days after, five thousand were added to the number, being converted by the preaching of Peter and John (Ibid. iii. and iv. 4). The Gentiles, also, were called to the Church; and the Holy Ghost, having led Peter to Cornelius the Centurion, descends upon this Roman and his household, thus declaring them to be elected as candidates for holy Baptism. The Liturgy put this history before us, in the Mass of yesterday.
We seem able to keep pace with these first workings of the Holy Spirit; but the sequel is all impetuosity, divine rapidity of action, irresistible conquest. He sends forth His Messengers; their sound goeth forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world (Ps. xviii. 5). He goes before them; He goes with them; He works the victory, whilst they speak. We come to the commencement of the 3rd Century, and we find a Christian writer addressing the Magistrates of the Roman Empire in these words: “We are but of yesterday, and we abound everywhere, in your cities, in your towns, in your camps; in the palace, the senate, the forum (Tertullilan, Apologet. xxxvii).” Nothing can withstand the Spirit of God: and in less than three hundred years from the Day of His first manifestation, He calls the very Emperors of Rome to be members of the Church.
Thus does the Spouse of Jesus advance in her beauty and strength; He looks upon her from His throne in heaven, and tenderly loves her. In the early part of the 4th Century, the Church, the work of the Holy Ghost, exceeds the limits of the Roman Empire. Here and there, within this vast Empire, there are places where paganism is still rife; but they all know what the Church is, and the very hatred they bear her is a proof that they are aware of her progress.
But let us not suppose, that the Mission of the Holy Ghost is limited to the founding the Church on the ruins of the great Pagan Empire. No: the Spouse of Jesus is to be immortal; she is to exist in every place and age; she is to be superior, both by the extent of her dominions and the number of her subjects, to every other human power.
The Divine Spirit could not, therefore, suspend his Mission. The Roman Empire has merited, by her crimes, to be swept away by the inundation of barbarous nations: it is the preparation of a new triumph for the Spirit. He comes and works, invisibly and silently, amidst this huge mass: He has his elect there, and by millions. He has renewed the face of the pagan world; He renews the face of the world, now that the Barbarians rule it. He chooses His co-operators, and right faithful are they. He creates new Apostles, and He selects them from all classes, for He is Master to do as He wills. Queens such as Clotilda, Bertha, Theodelind, or Hedwiges, are ready to do His biddings; they deck the Spouse of Jesus with their royal hands, and she comes forth to the world once more, younger and lovelier than ever.
There are, indeed, immense tracts of country in Europe not yet in the Church; it was necessary first to give stability to the work in those that had previously been Christian, and had been well-nigh submerged beneath the deluge of the invasion. But, at the close of the 6th Century, the Holy Spirit visits Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and Sclavonia; He sends them Apostles, such as Augustine, Boniface, Anscharius, Adalbert, Cyril, Methodius, Otho. By the labours of Missioners like these, the Spouse is compensated for the losses she has sustained in the East, where schism and heresy have encroached upon her primitive inheritance. That Holy Spirit, Who is God together with the Father and the Son, and has been sent by Them to defend the honour of the Spouse, is ever faithful to His trust.
Thus, when the so-called Reformation was preparing, for Europe, the great apostacy of the 16th Century, the Paraclete was extending the glories of the Church in other Continents. The East Indies became the conquest of the most faithful nation; and, in the West, a New World was discovered by and made subject to the Catholic Kingdom. The Divine Spirit, Who is ever jealous to maintain the honour and entirety of the deposit intrusted to Him by the Incarnate Word, then raised up new Apostles to go and carry the Name of Jesus to these immense tracts of country, which were to be added to the kingdom of His Spouse. St. Francis Xavier was sent to the East Indies; His brethren, together with the Sons of St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi, laboured most perseveringly in preaching the Gospel to the people of the West Indies.
If, later on again, our Europe be misled by false theories and break with the Church; if this beloved Spouse of Jesus be betrayed and pillaged, calumniated and deprived of her rights, by those very nations which she had protected for so many ages, as the most loving of Mothers; fear not; the Holy Ghost will add to her glories in some other way. Look at His present workings in the Church. Whence, if not from Him, are those ever increasing vocations to the apostolic ministry? Moreover, whilst conversions from heresy are more numerous than at any previous period, there is not an infidel country where the Gospel is not being preached. Our century has had its Martyrs for the Faith; it has heard the authorities of China and Cochin China, like the Proconsuls of old, putting the Christians through an examination; it has heard the sublime answers, suggested by the Holy Ghost to these brave Confessors, as Christ had promised (St. Matth. x. 20). The farthest East produces its elect; the negroes of Africa are evangelized; and if a fifth part of the World has been made known, it already counts its faithful by thousands, flourishing under a hierarchy of lawfully appointed Pastors.
Be thou blessed, then, O Holy Spirit! Who thus watchest over the dear Spouse of Jesus! Thanks to thy ceaseless and untiring action, she has never once failed. In every age, thou hast raised up Apostles to enrich her by their conquests; Thy grace has been uninterruptedly inviting men to give themselves to her; in every nation and period, Thou Thyself hast chosen the members of her happy and countless family. She is our Mother and we are her Children; she is the Spouse of our divine Master, to Whom we hope to be united through her: so that, by working for the glory of the Son of God, Who sent Thee, O Holy Spirit! Thou hast deigned to work for us poor sinful creatures. We offer Thee our feeble tribute of thanks for all these Thy benefits to us.
Our Emmanuel has revealed to us, that Thou art to abide with us to the end of the world; and we now understand how necessary is Thy presence. It is Thou that presidest over the formation of the Spouse; that maintainest her; that renderest her victorious over her enemies; that earnest her from one country to another, when a people becomes unworthy to possess her; that avengest her when she is insulted; and all this Thou wilt continue to do to the end of time.
But this noble Spouse of our God is not to remain forever an exile from her Lord. As Mary was left for several years upon the earth, in order that she might labour for the glory of her Son, and was then taken up to heaven, there to reign eternally with Him; so, likewise, the Church is to remain Militant here below as long as God sees her to be needed for completing the number of His Elect. But the time will come, of which it is written: The Marriage of the Lamb is come, and his Wife hath prepared herself. And it is granted to her, that she should clothe herself with fine linen, glittering and white: for the fine linen are the justifications of the Saints (Apoc. xix. 7, 8), that is, the virtues of the Saints she has formed. In those days, the Spouse, ever comely and worthy of her Jesus, will grow no more, nay, she will decrease on earth in proportion as her Triumphant glory is perfect in heaven.
The Revolt, spoken of by St. Paul (II. Thess. ii. 3), will show itself; men will abandon her, side with the Prince of this world, who is to be let loose for a little while (Apoc. xx. 3), and serve the Beast, to whom it shall be given to make war with the Saints, yea, and to overcome them (Ibid. xiii. 7). The Spouse herself will not be degenerate, during those her last days on earth, for thou, O Holy Spirit! wilt still be with her, supporting her. But, as soon as the last of the Elect shall have been born, the Spirit and the Bride will say “Come (Apoc. xxii. 17)!” Then will Jesus appear upon the clouds of heaven; the Mission of the Spirit will be accomplished; and the Spouse, leaning upon her Beloved (Cant. viii. 5), will ascend, from this ungrateful barren earth, to heaven, where the eternal Nuptials with the Lamb await her.