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Pentecost is a powerful manifestation of God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 12 July 1989 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Our knowledge of the Holy Spirit is based on what Jesus tells us about him, especially when Jesus speaks about his own departure and his return to the Father. "When I shall have gone away...the Holy Spirit will come to you" (cf. Jn 16:7). Christ's paschal "departure" through the cross, resurrection and ascension finds its culmination in Pentecost, that is, in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. They were "of one accord devoted to prayer" in the upper room "together with the mother of Jesus" (cf. Acts 1:14) and the group of persons who formed the nucleus of the original Church.

In that event the Holy Spirit remains the mysterious God (cf. Is 45:15), and such he will remain throughout the entire history of the Church and of the world. It could be said that he is hidden in the shadow of Christ, the Son-Word, one in being with the Father, who in visible form "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14).

2. In the event of the Incarnation the Holy Spirit was not manifested visibly - he remained the hidden God - and he enveloped Mary in the mystery. The angel said to the Virgin, the woman chosen for God's definitive approach to man: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35).

Similarly at Pentecost the Holy Spirit "overshadows" the nascent Church, so that under his influence she may be empowered to "announce the mighty works of God" (cf. Acts 2:11). What took place in Mary's womb in the Incarnation now finds a further fulfillment. The Spirit operates as the "hidden God," invisible in his person.

3. However, Pentecost is a theophany, that is to say, a powerful divine manifestation. It completes the manifestation on Mount Sinai, after Israel had gone forth from the bondage of Egypt under the guidance of Moses. According to rabbinical tradition, the manifestation on Mount Sinai occurred fifty days after the Pasch of the Exodus, the day of Pentecost.

"Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly" (Ex 19:18). The absolute transcendence of "he who is" (cf. Ex 3:14) then manifested it. Already at the foot of Mount Horeb, Moses had heard from the midst of the burning bush the words: "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Ex 3:5). Now at the foot of Mount Sinai the Lord said to him: "Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze and many of them perish" (Ex 19:21).

4. The theophany of Pentecost is the last of the series of manifestations in which God progressively made himself known to man. With it God's self-revelation reaches its culmination; through it he wished to infuse into his people faith in his majesty and transcendence and, at the same time, in his immanent presence of "Emmanuel," of "God with us."

At Pentecost there is a theophany which, together with Mary, directly touches the whole Church in its initial nucleus, thus completing the long process begun under the old covenant. If we analyze the details of the event in the upper room recorded in Acts (2:1-13), we find there different elements which recall previous theophanies, especially that of Sinai, which Luke seems to have in mind when describing the descent of the Holy Spirit. According to Luke's description, the theophany in the upper room takes place by means of phenomena resembling those of Sinai: "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).

Three basic elements mark the event—the sound of a mighty wind, tongues as of fire, and the charism of speaking in other languages. All these are rich in a symbolic value which must be borne in mind. In the light of these facts one understands better what the author of Acts had in mind when he said that those present in the upper room "were filled with the Holy Spirit."

"5. A sound like the rush of a mighty wind." From the linguistic point of view there is an affinity here between the wind (the breath of wind) and "the spirit." In Hebrew, as in Greek, "wind" is a homonym of "spirit": ruah—pneuma. We read in the Book of Genesis (1:2): "The spirit (ruah) of God was moving over the face of the waters," and in John's Gospel: "The wind (pneuma) blows where it wills" (Jn 3:8).

In the Bible a strong wind "announces" the presence of God. It is the sign of a theophany. "He was seen upon the wings of the wind," we read in the Second Book of Samuel (22:11). "Behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually," is the theophany described at the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:4). In particular, the breath of wind is the expression of the divine power which draws forth from chaos the order of creation (cf. Gen 1:2). It is also the expression of the freedom of the Spirit: "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes" (Jn 3:8).

"A sound like the rush of a mighty wind" is the first element of the theophany of Pentecost, a manifestation of the divine power at work in the Holy Spirit.

6. The second element of the Pentecost event is fire: "There appeared to them tongues as of fire" (Acts 2:3).

Fire is always present in the manifestations of God in the Old Testament. We see this in the covenant between God and Abraham (cf. Gen 15:17); likewise when God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush which was not consumed (cf. Ex 3:2); again, in the columns of fire which guided the people of Israel by night through the desert (cf. Ex 13:21-22). Fire is present particularly in the manifestation of God on Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 19:18), and also in the eschatological theophanies described by the prophets (cf. Is 4:5; 64:1; Dan 7:9 etc.). Fire, therefore, symbolizes the presence of God. On several occasions Sacred Scripture states that "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29; Dt 4:24; 9:3). In the rites of holocaust the destruction of the thing offered was of less importance than the sweet perfume which symbolized the raising up of the offering to God, while fire, also called the "minister of God" (cf. Ps 104:4) symbolized man's purification from sin, just as silver is refined and gold is tested in the fire (cf. Zech 13:8-9).

In the theophany of Pentecost there is the symbol of the tongues as of fire which rested on each of those present in the upper room. If fire symbolizes God's presence, the tongues of fire distributed and resting on their heads seem to indicate the "descent" of God the Holy Spirit on those present, the gift of himself to each of them to prepare them for their mission.

7. The gift of the Spirit, the fire of God, assumes a particular form, that of "tongues." Its meaning is immediately explained when the author adds: "They began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). The words that come from the Holy Spirit are "like fire" (cf. Jer 5:14; 23:29). They have an efficacy that mere human words do not possess. In this third element of the manifestation of God at Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit, in giving himself to men, produced in them an effect which was both real and symbolic. It was real in that it concerned the faculty of speech which is a natural property of man. However, it was also symbolic since these men "from Galilee," while using their own language or dialect, spoke "in other languages," so that in the multitude that speedily gathered each one heard "his own language," although representatives of many different people were present (cf. Acts 2:6).

This symbolism of the "multiplication of languages" is very significant. According to the Bible the diversity of languages was the sign of the multiplication of peoples and of nations, and indeed of their dispersal following the construction of the tower of Babel (cf. Gen 11:5-9). Then the one common language understood by everyone was divided into many languages, thus causing a confusion of mutual incomprehension. Now the symbolism of the tower of Babel is succeeded by that of the languages of Pentecost, which indicates the opposite of that confusion of languages. One might say that the many incomprehensible languages have lost their specific character, or at least have ceased to be a symbol of division. They have given way to the new work of the Holy Spirit, who through the apostles and the Church brings to spiritual unity peoples of different origins, languages and cultures in view of the perfect communion in God announced and implored by Jesus (cf. Jn 17:11, 21-22).

8. We conclude with the words of Vatican Council II in the Constitution on Divine Revelation: "Christ established the kingdom of God on earth, manifested his Father and himself by deeds and words, and completed his work by his death, resurrection and glorious ascension and by the sending of the Holy Spirit. Having been lifted up from the earth, he draws all men to himself (cf. Jn 12:32), he who alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68). This mystery had not been manifested to other generations as it was now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 3:4-6), so that they might preach the Gospel, stir up faith in Jesus, Christ and Lord, and gather together the Church" (DViv 17). This is the great work of the Holy Spirit and of the Church in human hearts and in history.


After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

JE SALUE CORDIALEMENT les membres catholiques et orthodoxes du Centre “Saint-Denys-l’Aréopagite” d’Athènes. Chers amis, je vous remercie de votre visite. Je me réjouis de l’expérience spirituelle et culturelle que vous faites ensemble. Je vous encourage à la poursuivre et sonhaite que, comme de nombreuses autres initiatives œcuméniques, elle contribue à hâter le jour où l’Eglise catholique et l’Eglise orthodoxe se retrouveront dans la pleine communion. Que Dieu vous bénisse tous!

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I WISH TO OFFER a warm welcome to three groups of Religious taking part in spiritual renewal courses: priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Resurrection, the Marist Brothers, and Religious Sisters of the Holy Union. I pray that each of you will be renewed in a special way for serving the Lord and his Church with fresh zeal.

* * *

I AM HAPPY to greet the participants in the summer course entitled “ Christian-Muslim Encounter, Past, Present and Future ” organized by the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies.

* * *

I WELCOME THE CHOIRS from Indiana and California and the members of the dance troupe and choir from Taiwan.

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I GREET TWO STUDY groups from the United States: the Presbyterian Pastors taking part in the American Summer Institute, and members of the Western Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America. May your stay in Rome lead to greater understanding between us and help to prepare the way for that full unity which we all seek.

* * *

I AM PLEASED to welcome the pilgrimage group from Saint Clare’s College in Sydney, and the boys of the Minnesota Little Gophers baseball team.

Upon all those from English-speaking countries I invoke God’s blessings of peace and joy.

Ad un pellegrinaggio giapponese

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

DILETTISSIMI PELLEGRINI provenienti da ogni parte del Giappone, il frutto del vostro pellegrinaggio in Terra Santa, qui a Roma e ad Assisi, rimanga nella vostra vita quotidiana. Auspico pure che questo frutto, per intercessione della Madonna, contribuisca alla diffusione del Regno di Dio.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

MIT DIESER KURZEN Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt einer Gruppe von Salesianern aus Österreich und Deutschland, die an einem Fortbildungskurs in ihrem Generalat teilnehmen. Möge Euch das Grundanliegen des heiligen Don Bosco für unsere Zeit wieder neu bewußt werden. Versucht ihn stets nachzuahmen in der Erziehung junger Menschen, die auf seiner optimistischen Einfühlungskraft in die Welt der Jugend wie auch auf Religion, Vernunft und Liebe basiert. Euch und allen Anwesenden, Euren Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Höreri nen und Hörern erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

DESEO SALUDAR a los numerosos peregrinos de España y de America Latina. En particular, saludo a las Hermanas Marianistas, Hijas de María Immaculada; a las Misioneras de “Nuestra Señora del Pilar” y a las Religiosas de la “Sagrada Familia de Urgel”. A todas aliento a seguir con plena disponibilidad a Cristo, siendo testigos fieles de su mensaje salvífico en los diversos apostolados que lleváis a cabo.

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ME ES GRATO saludar igualmente a los diferentes grupos parroquiales de España; al Centro de rehabilitación “Villa San José” de Palencia; a la peregrinación de los Padres Franciscanos y a los alumnos y, profesores de las Escuelas profesionales de Valencia.

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SALUDO TAMBIÉN a los jóvenes colombianos del “Equipo Calima” de balonvolea, así como a los peregrinos del Hogar Hispano de la diócesis de Arlington, Estados Unidos.

Al agradecer a todos vuestra presencia, os deseo unas felices vacaciones, a la vez que os imparto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

SAÚDO QUANTOS me escutam, em particular, os numerosos Brasileiros presentes, vindos de São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro e Belo Horizonte e também o grupo da comunidade paroquial de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, de Belém do Pará. Abençoo a todos, desejandolhes felicidades. E que vossa vinda a Roma seja encontro com Cristo, na fé da Igreja, e encha os vossos corações de caridade, para anunciardes, com o testemunho cristão, “as maravilhas de Deus”!

Ad un gruppo di pellegrini ungheresi

È PRESENTE NELL’ODIERNA udienza generale un gruppo di pellegrini ungheresi provenienti dalla città di Budapest e dalle altre località della diocesi di Esztergom.

Ai fedeli polacchi

POZDRAWIAM GRUPY pielgrzymów: z Katowic-Bogucic, z parafii św. Szczepana; z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki z Lublinća - ojcowie oblaci; Klub Katolicki z Lublina; z parafii Matki Bożej Pocieszenia -Żyrardów; młodzież diecezji siedleckiej; młodzież z parafii Podwyższenia Świętego Krzyża z Łaskarzewa i innych parafii diecezji siedleckiej; z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Komarówki Podlaskiej; pielgrzymkę z Suwałk; z parafii Matki Bożej Nieustajicej Pomocy ze Słuchania - księża chrystusowcy, diecezja szczecińsko-kamieńska; z parafii Matki Bożej Ostrobramskiej ze Szczecina; z parafii Świętego Ducha z Poznania; z parafii św. Macieja z Wrocławia - księża jezuici; Liceum Ogólnokształcące Sióstr Urszulanek Unii Rzymskiej z Wrocławia; z parafii św. Jana Apostoła z Oleśnicy - franciszkanie; z parafiiśw. Anny z Zabrza; współpracowników sióstr pallotynek; współpracowników misyjnych księżypallotynów; chór Akademii Medycznej z Poznania; grupę biura Turystycznego w Mielcu; grupę Towarzystwa Przyjazni PolskoWłoskiej; pracowników spóldzielni Asko-Świt z Gorzowa Wielkopolskiego; grupę, pracowników kopalni Zabrze; lekarzy z Krosna; grupę z Inowrocławia; pielgrzymkę z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Rzeszowa; uczestników grup turystycznych Orbisu i Turysty . . .

Módlmy sią stale za ważne wydarzenia, za doniosłe sprawy naszej Ojczyzny, która idzie swoją drogą wżród tylu ludów i narodów, ażeby tą swoją drogą, swoją własną drogą mogła dalej iść w dziejową przyszłość.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai gruppi di giovani, di malati e di sposi novelli, qui presenti. A voi, cari giovani, auguro che sia consentito un sereno riposo dopo gli impegni scolastici e che possiate profittare delle vacanze estive per ritemprare lo spirito anche con la lettura di qualche buon libro. A voi, prediletti ammalati, auguro che il Signore non faccia mancare, in questo periodo di ferie, tutte quelle amorevoli cure di cui avete bisogno e alle quali avete diritto: vi sia di conforto la presenza benefica, accanto a voi, di cuori generosi e premurosi. E a voi, sposi novelli, che avete reso santo e forte il vostro amore col sacramento del matrimonio, auguro di vivere nella gioia l’unione delle vostre vite, e maturare e rafforzarvi sempre più nella donazione reciproca per poter affrontare serenamente eventuali difficoltà. Tutti vi benedico di cuore.

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