Wednesday 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.
We have seen with what fidelity the Holy Ghost has fulfilled, during all these past ages, the Mission he received from our Emmanuel, of forming, protecting and maintaining His Spouse the Church. This trust given by a God has been executed with all the power of a God, and it is the sublimest and most wonderful spectacle the world has witnessed during the eighteen hundred years of the new Covenant. This continuance of a social body,–the same in all times and places,–promulgating a precise Symbol of Faith which each of its Members is bound to accept,–producing by its decisions the strictest unity of religious belief throughout the countless individuals who compose the society,–this, together with the wonderful propagation of Christianity, is the master-fact of History. These two facts are not, as certain modern writers would have it, results of the ordinary laws of Providence; but Miracles of the highest order, worked directly by the Holy Ghost, and intended to serve as the basis of our faith in the truth of the Christian Religion. The Holy Ghost was not, in the exercise of His Mission, to assume a visible form; but he has made His Presence visible to the understanding of man, and thereby He has sufficiently proved His own personal action in the work of man’s salvation.
Let us now follow this divine action,–not in its carrying out the merciful designs of the Son of God, who deigned to take to Himself a Spouse here below,–but in the relations of this Spouse with mankind. Our Emmanuel willed that she should be the Mother of men; and that all, whom he calls to the honour of becoming His own Members, should acknowledge that it is she who gives them this glorious birth. The Holy Ghost, therefore, was to secure to this Spouse of Jesus what would make her evident and known to the world, leaving it, however, in the power of each individual to disown and reject her.
It was necessary that this Church should last for all ages, and that she should traverse the earth in such wise that her name and mission might be known to all nations; in a word, she was to be Catholic, that is, Universal, taking in all times and all places. Accordingly, the Holy Ghost made her Catholic. He began by showing her, on the Day of Pentecost, to the Jews who had flocked to Jerusalem from the various nations; and when these returned to their respective countries, they took the good tidings with them. He then sent the Apostles and Disciples into the whole world, and we learn from the writers of those early times, that a century had scarcely elapsed before there were Christians in every portion of the known earth. Since then, the Visibility of this holy Church has gone on increasing gradually more and more. If the Divine Spirit, in the designs of His justice, has permitted her to lose her influence, in a nation that had made itself unworthy of the grace, He transferred her to another where she would be obeyed. If, at times, there have been whole countries where she had no footing, it was either because she had previously offered herself to them and they had rejected her, or because the time marked by Providence for her reigning there had not yet come. The history of the Church’s propagation is one long proof of her ever living, and of her frequent migrating. Times and places, all are hers; if there be one when or where she is not acknowledged as supreme, she is at least represented by her Members ; and this prerogative, which has given her the name of Catholic, is one of the grandest of the workings of the Holy Ghost.
But His action does not stop here; the Mission given Him by the Emmanuel in reference to His Spouse obliges Him to something beyond this; and here we enter into the whole mystery of the Holy Ghost in the Church. We have seen His outward influence, whereby He gives her perpetuity and increase; now we must attentively consider the inward direction she receives from Him, which gives her Unity, Infallibility, and Holiness,–prerogatives which, together with Catholicity, designate the true Spouse of Christ.
The union of the Holy Ghost with the Humanity of Jesus is one of the fundamental truths of the mystery of the Incarnation. Our divine Mediator is called “Christ” because of the anointing which he received (Ps. xliv. 8); and His anointing is the result of His Humanity’s being united with the Holy Ghost (Acts, x. 38). This union is indissoluble: eternally will the Word be united to His Humanity; eternally, also, will the Holy Spirit give to this Humanity the anointing which makes “Christ.” Hence it follows, that the Church, being the body of Christ, shares in the union existing between its Divine Head and the Holy Ghost. The Christian, too, receives, in Baptism, an anointing by the Holy Ghost, who, from that time forward, dwells in him as the pledge, of his eternal inheritance (Eph. i. 13): but, whilst the Christian may, by sin, forfeit this union which is the principle of his supernatural life, the Church herself never can lose it. The Holy Ghost is united to the Church for ever; it is by Him that she exists, acts, and triumphs over all those difficulties to which, by the divine permission, she is exposed whilst Militant on earth.
St. Augustine thus admirably expresses this doctrine in one of his Sermons for the Feast of Pentecost: “The spirit, by which every man lives, is called the Soul. Now, observe what it is that our Soul does in the body. It is the Soul that gives life to all the members; it sees by the eye, it hears by the ear, it smells by the nose, it speaks by the tongue, it works by the hands, it walks by the feet. It is present to each member, giving life to them all, and to each one its office. It is not the eye that hears, nor the ear and tongue that see, nor the ear and eye that speak; and yet they all live; their functions are varied, their life is one and the same. So is it in the Church of God. In some Saints, she works miracles; in other Saints, she teaches the truth; in others, she practises virginity; in others, she maintains conjugal chastity: she does one thing in one class, and another in another; each individual has his distinct work to do, but there is one and the same life in them all. Now, what the Soul is to the body of man, that the Holy Ghost is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church: the Holy Ghost does in the whole Church, what the soul does in all the members of one body (Serm. cclxvii. In die Pentecostes).”
Here we have given to us a clear exposition, by means of which we can fully understand the life and workings of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, and the Holy Ghost is the principle which gives her life. He is her soul,–not only in that limited sense in which we have already spoken of the Soul of the Church, that is, of her inward existence, and which, after all, is the result of the Holy Spirit’s action within her,–but He is also her Soul, in that her whole interior and exterior life, and all her workings, proceed from Him. The Church is undying, because the love, which has led the Holy Ghost to dwell within her, will last for ever: and here we have the reason of that Perpetuity of the Church, which is the most wonderful spectacle witnessed by the world.
Let us now pass on, and consider that other marvel, which consists in the preservation of Unity in the Church. It is said of her in the Canticle: One is my dove; my perfect one is One (Cant. vi. 8). Jesus would have but One, and not many to be His Church, His Spouse: the Holy Ghost will, therefore, see to the accomplishment of His wish. Let us respectfully follow Him in His workings here also. And firstly; is it possible, viewing the thing humanly, that a society should exist for eighteen hundred years, and never change? nay, could it have continued all that time, even allowing it to have changed as often as you will? And during these long ages, this society has necessarily had to encounter, and from its own members, the tempests of human passions, which are ever showing themselves, and which not unfrequently play havoc with the grandest institutions. It has always been composed of nations, differing from each other in language, character, and customs; either so far apart as not to know each other, or, when neighbours, estranged one from the other by national jealousies and antipathies. And yet, notwithstanding all this, — notwithstanding, too, the political revolutions, which have made up the history of the world,–the Catholic Church has maintained her changeless Unity: one Faith,–one visible head,– one worship, (at least, in the essentials,)–one mode for the deciding every question, namely, by tradition and authority. Sects have risen up in every age, each sect giving itself out as “the true Church:” they lasted for a while, short or long, according to circumstances, and then were forgotten. Where are now the Arians with their strong political party? Where are the Nestorians, and Eutychians, and Monothelites, with their interminable cavillings? Could anything be imagined more powerless and effete than the Greek Schism, slave either to Sultan or Czar? What is there left of Jansenism, that wore itself away in striving to keep in the Church in spite of the Church? As to Protestantism,–the produce of the principle of negation,–was it not broken up into sections from its very beginning, so as never to be able to form one society? and is it not now reduced to such straits, that it can with difficulty retain dogmas which, at first, it looked upon as fundamental,–such as, the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the Divinity of Christ?
Whilst all else is change and ruin, our mother the holy Catholic Church, the One Spouse of the Emmanuel, stands forth grand and beautiful in her Unity. But how are we to account for it? Is it, that Catholics are of one nature, and Sectarians of another? Orthodox or heterodox, are we not all members of the same human race, subject to the same passions and errors? Whence do the children of the Catholic Church derive that stability, which is not affected by time, nor influenced by the variety of national character, nor shaken by those revolutions that have changed dynasties and countries? Only one reasonable explanation can be given:– there is a divine element in all this. The Holy Ghost, who is the soul of the Church, acts upon all the members; and as he himself is One, he produces Unity in the Body He animates. He cannot contradict Himself: nothing, therefore, subsists by him, which is not in union with him.
Tomorrow, we will speak of what the Holy Ghost does for the maintaining Faith, one and unvarying, in the whole body of the Church; let us, to-day, limit our considerations to this single point, namely, that the Holy Spirit is the source of external union by voluntary submission to one centre of unity. Jesus had said: Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church (St. Matth. xvi. 18): now, Peter was to die; the promise, therefore, could not refer to his person only, but to the whole line of his successors, even to the end of the world. How stupendous is not the action of the Holy Ghost, who thus produces a dynasty of spiritual Princes, which has reached its two hundred and fiftieth Pontiff, and is to continue to the last day! No violence is offered to man’s free will; the Holy Spirit permits him to attempt what opposition he lists; but the work of God must go forward.
A Decius may succeed in causing a four years’ vacancy in the See of Rome; anti-popes may arise, supported by popular favour, or upheld by the policy of Emperors; a long schism may render it difficult to know the real Pontiff amidst the several who claim it: the Holy Spirit will allow the trial to have its course, and, whilst it lasts, will keep up the faith of his Children; the day will come when he will declare the lawful Pastor of the Flock, and the whole Church will enthusiastically acknowledge him as such.
In order to understand the whole marvel of this supernatural influence, it is not enough to know the extrinsic results as told us by history; we must study it in its own divine reality. The Unity of the Church is not like that which a conqueror forces upon a people that has become tributary to him. The Members of the Church are united in oneness of faith and submission, because they love the yoke she imposes on their freedom and their reason. But who is it, that thus brings human pride to obey? Who is it, that makes joy and contentment be felt in a life-long practice of subordination? Who is it, that brings man to put his security and happiness in the having no individual views of his own, and in the conforming his judgment to one supreme teaching,–and this, too, in matters where the world chafes at control? It is the Holy Ghost, who works this manifold and permanent miracle, for He it is who gives soul and harmony to the vast aggregate of the Church, and sweetly infuses into all these millions a union of heart and mind which forms for our Lord Jesus Christ his “One” dearest Spouse.
During the days of his mortal life, Jesus prayed His Eternal Father to bless us with Unity: May they be one, as we also are (St. Joh, xvii. 2). He prepares us for it, when He calls us to become His Members; but, for the achieving this union, He sends His Spirit into the world,–that Spirit, who is the eternal link between the Father and the Son, and who deigns to accept a temporal Mission among men, in order to create on the earth a Union formed after the type of the Union which is in God Himself.
We give thee thanks, O Blessed Spirit! who, by thy dwelling thus within the Church of Christ, inspirest us to love and practise Unity, and suffer every evil rather than break it. Strengthen it within us, and never permit us to deviate from it by even the slightest want of submission. Thou art the soul of the Church; oh! give us to be Members ever docile to thy inspirations, for we could not belong to Jesus who sent Thee, unless we belong to the Church, his Spouse and our Mother, whom He redeemed with His Blood, and gave to thee to form and guide.
Next Saturday, the Ordination of Priests and sacred Ministers is to take place throughout the whole Church. The Sacrament of Orders is one of the principal workings of the Holy Ghost, who comes into the souls of those who are presented for Ordination, and impresses upon them, by the Bishop’s hands, the character of Priesthood or Deaconship. The Church prescribes a three days’ fast and abstinence; with the intention of obtaining from God’s mercy, that the grace thus given may fructify in those who receive it, and bring a blessing upon the Faithful. This is the first of the three days.
At Rome, the Station is in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It was but right, that on one of the days of this great Octave, the Faithful should meet together under the protection of the Mother of God, whose sharing in the mystery of Pentecost was both a glory and a blessing to the infant Church.