The Holy Spirit in and of the Church

The Church is holy because she has God for her Author, Christ for her Spouse, and the Holy Spirit for her source of life.

"Descent of Holy Spirit on the Apostles" (1885) by Mikhail Vrubel. []

Condensing forty-five pages of the Catechism into a brief reflection is a frustrating exercise, especially when the topic is the meaning of life in the Church. The approach here is not so much to summarize as to highlight special points of interest and/or items that have been ignored or contested in recent years about the Holy Spirit.

The very title of the section is important but elusive in English. Latin distinguishes between believing in something or someone and believing something or someone. The Creed says, “Credo in unum Deum Patrem omnipotentem. . ., in Filium. . ., in Spiritum Sanctum,” but [credo] “ecclesiam,” without the preposition. What is the significance? Very simply, that one does not believe in the Church in the same way as one believes in the Trinity; I believe in God while I believe the Church. Or better perhaps, I believe the Church because I believe in God. The act of faith in regard to the Church is secondary to that in regard to God.

In quick fashion, the basics of ecclesiology are rehearsed, giving the etymology of “church” [the assembly] and identity [the People of God nourished by the Body of Christ, so as to become themselves the Body of Christ]. We are reminded that the Church existed as part of God’s saving plan from all eternity “prepared for in the Ancient Covenant, founded by the words and actions of Jesus Christ, and realized by His redeeming Cross and Resurrection,” but yet to be revealed in all its glory at the end of time [778]. Picking up a critical theme from Vatican II, the Catechism recalls that “the Church is at one and the same time an hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ” [779]; in other words, it is neither desirable nor possible to separate the institutional elements of the Church from the more “spiritual” ones. Nor is it correct to view “official” Catholicism as one of many viewpoints, reflected in the “Catholicism” of various dissenting individuals or groups.

The next section discusses the Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Again echoing Lumen Gentium, the Catechism teaches that these images of the Church are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Hence, it is not legitimate to campaign under one banner in such a way as to put aside truths contained in other metaphors for the Church.

Much stress is placed on the call of the entire Church to sanctity – something often overlooked in the immediate post-Vatican II period; without a focus on holiness of life, one has no reason to belong to the Church. “One enters the People of God by faith and Baptism,” we read. Furthermore, we find the insight of Ad Gentes (Vatican II’s decree on missionary activity): “All men are called to participate in the People of God, so that in Christ, men form a single family and a single People of God” [805]. The missionary nature of the Church is thus emphasized, in response to those [even missionaries, oddly enough!] who have argued that there is no need to “make converts.”

The relationship between the ecclesial Body of Christ and the Eucharistic Body of Christ is developed in great depth: Being incorporated into the Body of Christ [the Church] in and though Baptism orients a believer to His Eucharistic Body; further, receiving the Eucharist makes one ever more fully and perfectly a member of that Body which is the Church [see 805; Cardinal Marx and the majority of the German bishops should re-read this section!]. Reading on, we learn that “in the unity of this Body [the Church], there is a diversity of members and functions,” but in so marvelous a manner that unity and diversity are strengthened, not compromised [806]. The uniqueness of every call within the Church is thus underscored; and so, there is no need for unhealthy competition among the various roles and ministries within the one Church, all of which exist to build up the one Body.

Everything is then put into proper perspective: “The Church is the Body of which Christ is the Head; she lives from Him, in Him and for Him; He lives with her and in her” [807]. How is the Church the Bride of Christ? Christ “loved her and gave Himself up for her. He purified her by His blood. He made of her the fruitful Mother of all the children of God” [808]. If every Christian, by virtue of Baptism, is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so is the Church, but even more wondrously, for “the Spirit is like the soul of the Mystical Body, the principle of its life” [809]. In sum, “the universal Church appears as one People which draws its unity from the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” [810].

We are next led through a consideration of the four marks or notes of the Church.

The Church is one because “she has one Lord, confesses one single faith, is born from one Baptism, forms a single Body, is enlivened by one Spirit,” thus causing her to “surmount all divisions” [866]. The Catechism exerts particular care to explain the meaning of Lumen Gentium’s “subsistit in” [is] in reference to the one Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. In answer to troublesome and mischievous theologians, the text teaches clearly that one is to see the realization of the one Church within the boundaries of the Catholic Church. It goes on to discuss the fractured unity of Christians in a way which is both honest and hopeful, relying on the realism of the Council and not the euphoria of the era following.

The Church is holy because she has God for her Author, Christ for her Spouse, and the Holy Spirit for her source of life. Although the Church is all-holy, she holds within herself sinners, all the while producing saints, of which the Blessed Virgin stands out as the first [see 867].

The Church is catholic because “she announces the totality of the Faith. . ., carries within herself and administers the fullness of the means of salvation. . ., is sent to all peoples, addresses herself to all men; embraces all times, and is, by her very nature, missionary” [868]. That’s quite a mouthful, but all that is encompassed in any true understanding of catholicity, while anything less is but a partial truth. Also discussed is the fact that “each particular church [diocese] is ‘catholic'” [832] because of its bishop standing in apostolic succession and in communion with the Bishop of Rome and every other Catholic bishop in the world.

The text asks the question: Who belong to the Catholic Church? It answers by citing Lumen Gentium 14, which speaks of those who “fully accept [the Church’s] organization and all the means of salvation instituted within her” [837]. It then continues by dealing with those who have “a certain but imperfect communion with the Catholic Church,” at which point specific reference is made to the Eastern Orthodox [see 838]. Clearly taking a cue from Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio, the Catechism spends much time talking about the importance of missionary activity [849-856].

In presenting the apostolic character of the Church, the Catechism writes of her foundation on the Twelve Apostles, going on to observe that she is thus “indestructible” and “infallibly maintained in the truth,” due to her governance “by Peter and the other apostles, present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops” [869].

The fourth section is concerned with Christ’s faithful, which term includes all members of the laity, hierarchy and consecrated life. This diversity of roles is the clearest example of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit within the Church. An excellent explanation is given of “the hierarchical constitution of the Church,” taking in the very basic notion of ecclesial ministry in general, with the salutary reminder that “no one can take upon himself the mandate and mission of announcing the Gospel. The messenger of the Lord speaks and acts not by his own authority, but in virtue of the authority of Christ; not as a member of the community, but speaking to the community in the name of Christ” [875].

Careful delineation is given to the college of bishops and its relationship to the Church as a whole and to the Pope. The teaching task within the Church is elucidated in regard to the Pope, an ecumenical council and individual bishops, but not for bishops’ conferences – contrary to what some theologians and prelates have been proposing [888-892].

The ministry of sanctification is located within the ordained ministry [893]. Ecclesiastical governance is likewise entrusted to the bishops, who should emulate the example of the Good Shepherd [894-896]. Relying on Vatican II and subsequent teaching, the Catechism holds that the mission of the laity is primarily toward the world and normally not to be exercised within the Church, except in situations of genuine need [897-903]. The task of evangelization [outside the Church] and re-evangelization [within the Church] is something especially geared to the gifts of the laity [904-906].

Those “in the state of consecrated life, vowed more intimately to divine service and dedicated to the good of the whole Church” make “public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience in a stable state of life recognized by the Church” [944-945]. This, of course, is nothing more or less than what we have always believed as Catholics, although not necessarily what some religious would have us think is the current mentality of the Church in regard to their special vocation.

In the discussion on the communion of saints, we are reminded that, called to be saints through Baptism, we are directed toward holy things. As the Eastern liturgy puts it, Hagia hagiois [Holy things for the holy]. This communion includes fellowship in the faith, sacraments, charisms, common life and charity [949-953]. Furthermore, our present communion on earth is inextricably linked to communion with the Church in her three-fold existence: on earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven. The intercession of the saints and the poor souls benefits us; our request for their intercession acknowledges our bond to them; our prayer for the souls in Purgatory and their attention to our needs reveal the bonds which death itself cannot break [954-959].

Finally, our gaze is directed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and first member of her Son’s Church, as she “already participates in the glory of the Resurrection of her Son, anticipating the resurrection of all the members of His Body,” for we believe that she “continues in heaven her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ” [974-975]. Thus, the Church which has its origins in the eternal plan of God is likewise pointed in the direction of her final goal.

Heaven is indeed our final goal – the Church Triumphant. We need to keep our eyes fixed on that goal. With that in mind, we can make our own the lovely, moving and very sensible prayer of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, which brings into one all the themes which have occupied us in this novena to the Holy Spirit:

O my Lord and Savior, support me in my last hour in the strong arms of Thy Sacraments and by the fresh fragrance of Thy consolations. Let the absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me; and let Thine own Body be my food, and Thy Blood my sprinkling; and let my sweet Mother, Mary, breathe on me, and my Angel whisper peace to me, and my glorious saints and my own dear patrons smile upon me, that, in them all and through them all, I may receive the gift of perseverance, and die as I desire to live, in Thy faith, in Thy Church, in Thy service, and in Thy love. Amen.

One final thought: In not a few parishes, the faithful are invited to wear red on Pentecost Sunday – not just to match the chasuble of the priest – but so as to produce that blaze of fire which Our Lord declared He had come to ignite (see Lk 12:49 ) and which His Spirit conferred on that fearful yet hopeful band of disciples. In a thoroughly delightful poem, Holy Cross Sister M. Madeleva – onetime poet laureate of American Catholicism – playfully but profoundly would have us turn our minds and hearts to the ones she dubs “Red Tulips”:

God wrote it;
I quote it;
All ye, do ye note it
On the the margin of spring,
This homely apostil,
This miracle thing

“A dozen dull tulips were gathered together
In fear, every one;
When sudden arose a great stirring of weather,
Of wind and of sun,
And there sat on each tulip a parted tongue whether
Of petal or flame!” – lo, their gospel of life has begun!

The prayer of Mother Church is that each of us “dull tulips” be stirred into flame by “this miracle thing Pentecostal!”

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 266 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.


  1. “Catechism spends much time talking about the importance of missionary activity” [849-856].

    At Pentecost The Spirit of God inspires the Apostles and sends them on their mission; while all the Baptized are asked to do the same. As those who receive the Holy Spirit are also empowered to give witness to Jesus Christ in the world, while He the Holy Spirit sanctifies our hearts in creating a dwelling place for Himself (The Divine Presence) to reside within us.

    After the Crucifixion in the Upper Room we see those who had travelled the road of enlightenment/self-realization with Jesus (The Word Made Flesh) hide in fear of the Jewish leadership, while now knowing the full reality of their brokenness (Betrayal and cowardice) before our Father in heaven. It could be said that their hearts were now readied to receive The Holy Spirit as a humble heart is His dwelling place, as in

    “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid”

    Prior to the Pentecost we see Man’s understanding of the righteousness of God manifest by Prophets, such as, in Elijah’ murderous blood bath of the vile prophets of Baal, with all their wives and innocent children. He then hides in fear because “I have been very zealous (Ruthless) for the Lord” Similar to St Paul’s zealous murderous persecution of Christians, while James and his brother John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town; they were rebuked by Jesus. Prior to this rebuke Jesus called James and John, Boanerges, which meant “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) – probably a reference to the positive side of their bold and zealous personalities

    A Personal understanding of 1 Kings 19:11-12

    A wind there was (of Pride), rude and boisterous, that shook the mountains (Heavens) and broke the rocks (Holy precepts) in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not to be found in the wind (of my bluster). Nor in the storm (High expectations of life) and earthquake(Of self-made foundations/delusions) leading to the Fire (of suffering/Reality of the selfhood) and after the fire, the whisper of a gentle (Uplifting) breeze

    For men of good intent on the Worldly plain It is natural to want prevail over evil (especially in others) to call to account and punish those who do evil, this desire comes from a worldly feeling of self-righteousness but as seen by Elijah’s inspired self-realization, God is known through His gentleness, as in a gentle breeze.

    Jesus says “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart”

    So, the battle has to be fought on the Spiritual Plane if it is to bear lasting fruit, we do this this when we walk with the Holy Spirit in humility. (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases him-self).

    At Pentecost we see the Holy Spirit descend and then separate onto the Apostles conferring within them (and now to those who serve Him) the power of Truth. The Truth bears witness to Itself and needs no embellishment, as those who are of the Truth hear His voice. It could be said that authority comes with Truth and those who serve It. (As manifest in a humble heart)

    So, mankind needs to see the light of the Holy Spirit dwelling/working within us, as only a humble Priesthood/Church can lead mankind away from evil, as a humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its short comings, and in doing so confers authenticity (Holiness), as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth/Love) first, before any other as the Holy Spirit (Divine Presence) cannot dwell in an untruthful heart as “The Truth” will not permit evil to hide itself. We are ALL sinners, but been honest with ourselves and others permits us to walk in humility (friendship) with the Holy Spirit, where no deception or lie is tolerated within ourselves or between each other.

    Christ reveals that the Holy Spirit will “convince the ‘unbelieving’ world of sin, and of justice and of judgement;” he will “teach…all truth;” and will “glorify” Christ.

    Words of condemnation have their place, but it is the whisper of a gentle breeze’ bearing witness to the Truth, in a humble heart, which glorifies God as it permits others to see and believe in His merciful gentle ‘living’ Face/heart, which leads others to contemplate/know/follow Him in humility also.

    “Father forgive them they know not what they do”

    Here we see His understanding of the human heart and the compassion that He had for all of mankind. Reflected in Isaiah 42:3 “He won’t break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done”
    There is no self-righteous anger, rather a call for mercy and insightfulness for all those sinners who dwell in darkness. Which was manifest in His total self-giving on the Cross, for all men.
    As with the Centurion who stood facing Him as He hung on the Cross “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” The divine spark had been ignited within the Centurion, a new understanding had commenced as he exclaimed “This man was indeed God’s Son.”

    We can look to St Mother Teresa as a modern-day example of Christian Charity in the way she spread the Gospel through works of charity and her confrontation with a fallen sinful world. In her confrontation with the promotors of abortion (The Clintons) it was not in a ranting emotional bluster, driven by self-righteous indignation. See the link

    An extract from the article given via the link, the parts highlighted in bold text emanate from a gentle humble (Loving) heart, which is what my post is all about.
    “This was not the end of the relationship, which Hillary has always looked back upon with fondness. In the short time she had left on earth, Mother Teresa continued to try to change Clinton’s view on abortion. According to Hillary, “she sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. She dealt with the first lady with patience and kindness, but firm conviction: “Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me; her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt,” wrote Hillary, adding that she had “the greatest respect for her opposition to abortion.” Mother Teresa saw in Hillary a potentially huge convert to the pro-life cause, and never gave up, but to no avail”

    I take umbrage with the statement “to no avail as only God knows the full long-term effects that her firm conviction and the persistent actions of Mother Teresa will have had on Hilary Clinton and those around her, as those who walk with Holy Spirit, produce good fruit, the seeds of which are often sown unseen within human hearts, at the time of their encounter with Him.

    Mother Teresa will have known this and trusted in the workings of the Holy Spirit knowing that all enlightenment comes from God and because of this she would not have been driven to distraction or bitterness as the peace that He gives to His true Disciples, cannot be taken from them.

    It could be said that these actions by Mother Teresa spring from “a gentle breeze” living ( Dwelling ) within her loving humble heart.

    “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

    Father! with tongue and flame give us unity again.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. I think that “I believe in the Church” is probably the correct understanding, even if the word “in” isn’t present. The statement about the Church is part of a list of several beliefs, most of which are things that one has to believe “in”. While the statement “I believe the Church” is plausible , “I believe the forgiveness of sins” or “I believe life everlasting” are not. Neither is “I believe the resurrection of the body”. So I think the “in” must be understood throughout. Its lack is of no significance.

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