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The Spirit: source of sacramental life

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 30 January 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Source of truth and life-giving principle of the identity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the Holy Spirit is also the source and principle of the sacramental life through which the Church draws the strength of Christ, participates in his holiness, is nourished by his grace and grows and advances on her journey toward eternity. The Holy Spirit, who is at the origin of the Incarnation of the Word, is the living source of all the sacraments instituted by Christ and at work in the Church. It is precisely through the sacraments that he gives people "new life," associating the Church to himself as his co-worker in this saving action.

2. We do not intend to explain the nature, properties and scope of the sacraments to which we shall dedicate, God willing, other future catecheses. But we can always turn to the simple, concise formula of the old catechism according to which "the sacraments are means of grace, instituted by Jesus Christ for our salvation." We can also repeat once again that the Holy Spirit is the author, dispenser and almost the breath of Christ's grace in us. In this catechesis we shall see how, according to the Gospel texts, this connection can be found in the individual sacraments.

3. This connection is particularly clear in Baptism, which Jesus describes in his conversation with Nicodemus as being "born of water and the Spirit": "What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.... You must be reborn from above" (Jn 3:5-7).

John the Baptist already announced and presented Christ as "the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:33), "in the Holy Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11). In the Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic writings the same truth is expressed in a different way. On Pentecost those who listened to Peter's message heard an invitation: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). The Pauline letters speak of a "bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" poured out by Jesus Christ our Savior (cf. Titus 3:5-6). The baptized are reminded that "you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). Again they are told that "in one Spirit [they] were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13). In Paul's teaching, as in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ are linked in the proclamation, conferral and mention of Baptism as the source of sanctification and salvation—of that new life Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus.

4. Confirmation, the sacrament connected to Baptism, is presented in the Acts of the Apostles in the form of an imposition of hands through which the apostles communicated the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter and John "laid hands on" the new Christians who had just been baptized "and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17). The same was said of the Apostle Paul in regard to the other neophytes: "And when Paul laid [his] hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts 19:6).

Through faith and the sacraments, therefore, we "were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance" (Eph 1:13-14). To the Corinthians Paul wrote: "But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (2 Cor 1:21-22; cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27; 3:24). The Letter to the Ephesians adds the significant admonition not to grieve the Holy Spirit with which we "were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30).

From the Acts of the Apostles we can deduce that the sacrament of Confirmation was administered through the imposition of hands after baptism "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (cf. Acts 8:15-17; 19:5-6).

5. In the sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), the connection with the Holy Spirit is established through the power of the word of Christ after his resurrection. Indeed, John testifies that Jesus breathed on the apostles and said to them: "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you forgive are forgiven them; whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:22-23). These words can also refer to the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, concerning which we read in the Letter of James that "the prayer of faith," together with the anointing by the presbyters "in the name of the Lord," "will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven" (Jas 5:14-15). Christian Tradition has seen in this anointing and prayer an initial form of the sacrament (cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, IV, C. 73). This identification was sanctioned by the Council of Trent (cf. DS 1695).

6. As to the Eucharist, in the New Testament its relationship with the Holy Spirit is marked, more or less directly, in the text of John's Gospel which recounts Jesus' announcement in the synagogue at Capernaum about the institution of the sacrament of his Body and Blood: "It is the Spirit which gives life, while the flesh is of no avail; the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn 6:63). Both the word and the sacrament have life and operative effectiveness from the Holy Spirit.

Christian Tradition is aware of this bond between the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit which was expressed, and still is today, during the Mass when, in the epiklesis the Church requests the sanctification of the gifts offered upon the altar: "by the power of your Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer III); "let your Spirit come upon them" (Eucharistic Prayer II); "bless and approve our offering" (Eucharistic Prayer I). The Church emphasizes the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit for the completion of the Eucharistic consecration, for the sacramental transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and for the communication of grace to those who participate in it and to the entire Christian community.

7. In regard to the Sacrament of Orders, St. Paul speaks of the "charism" (or gift of the Holy Spirit) which leads to the imposition of hands (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). He emphatically declares that it is the Holy Spirit who "appoints" bishops in the Church (cf. Acts 20:28). Other passages from Paul's letters and the Acts of the Apostles testify to a special rapport between the Holy Spirit and Christ's ministers, that is, the apostles and their collaborators, and later their successors: bishops, priests and deacons. They are heirs not only of their mission, but also of their charisms, as we shall see in our next catechesis.

8. Finally, I want to recall the sacrament of Matrimony, this "great reference to Christ and the Church" (Eph 5:32). In marriage, in Christ's name and through him, a covenant is established between two people, a man and a woman, a life-giving community of love. This sacrament is the human participation in that divine love which has been "poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5). According to St. Augustine, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity in God is the "consubstantial communion" ( communion consubstantialis ) of the Father and the Son [1] . Through the sacrament of Matrimony, the Spirit forms the human "communion of persons" between a man and woman.

9. In concluding this catechesis in which we at least gave a rough outline of the truth of the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church's sacramental life, as we see from Scripture, Tradition and especially from the sacramental liturgy, we cannot fail to emphasize the necessity of a continual deepening of our knowledge of this wonderful doctrine. Nor can we fail to recommend to everyone a sacramental practice which is ever more consciously docile and faithful to the Holy Spirit who, especially through the "means of salvation instituted by Jesus Christ," brings to fulfillment the mission entrusted to the Church to work for universal redemption.

[1]   cf. De Trinitate, VI, 5.7, PL 42, 928

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’ai le plaisir de souhaiter la bienvenue à toutes les personnes de langue française présentes. Aux Frères du Sacré-Cœur en session de spiritualité, j’adresse mes vœux chaleureux pour leur vie religieuse et leur apostolat.

Je salue aussi avec joie les nouveaux responsables de la Coordination Internationale de la Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, représentant le Mouvement fondé par le Cardinal Cardijn. Je renouvelle à cette équipe la confiance de l’Eglise pour un nouvel élan de la JOC dans le monde et je l’encourage à poursuivre son importante mission.

A tous, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My cordial greeting goes to the priests of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who are meeting in Rome this week: may the gifts of the Holy Spirit sustain you in your delicate task of training the young members of your Congregation. I invite all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience to join me in praying for a rapid and just settlement of the conflict in the Gulf Region. Upon all of you and your families I willingly invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Indem ich zum Schluß der heutigen kurzen Betrachtung dazu einlade, diese kostbare Lehre weiter zu vertiefen, vor allem durch eine gläubige Mitfeier der Sakramente der Kirche, grüße ich alle anwesenden deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Möge der Heilige Geist Euch stets neue Kraft schenken und Euch im Glauben stärken. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren Angehörigen daheim sowie allen, die uns über Rundfunk und Fernsehen verbunden sind, von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai numerosi pellegrini provenienti dalla Spagna e dall’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora saludar afectuosamente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua espańola, entre los cuales se encuentran dos grupos de jóvenes de la Argentina y del Paraguay.

Ante las graves amenazas que en nuestros días se ciernen sobre los pueblos, deseo alentaros, queridos jóvenes, a ser siempre instrumentos de paz, de entendimiento y de unidad entre los jóvenes de todo el mundo, conscientes de que somos hijos del mismo Padre y que estamos llamados a la fraternidad universal, al amor que el Espíritu Santo ha derramado en nuestros corazones.

Mientras doy mi más cordial bienvenida a todas las personas procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España, imparto a todos la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caros irmãos e irmãs,

Saúdo afectuosamente os grupos de peregrinos vindos de São Paulo, Salvador e Rio de Janeiro, do bem-amado Brasil, e como penhor da graça e da paz nas vossas vidas concedo-vos, extensiva aos vossos familiares e amigos, a implorada Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

“Siostry i bracia! Bardzo potrzebne jest nasze ponowne zamyślenie nad sprawą prawnej ochrony życia ludzkiego. Jesteśmy przekonani, iż chodzi nie tylko o naszą narodową sprawę, ale również o poruszenie sumienia innych narodów. Synonimem powrotu do Europy nie może być rezygnacja z Bożego Prawa. Wracając do Europy, pragniemy znaleźć się w gronie państw moralnie silnych, strzegących prawa, gwarantujących, także z naszą pomocą, przestrzeganie praw człowieka”.

Jasnogórska Strażniczko życia Bożego i ludzkiego na naszej ziemi, odczytuję wobec Ciebie powyższe słowa z listu biskupów polskich na niedzielę Najświętszej Rodziny. W tym liście przedkładają Tobie, Matko, sprawy rodzin w Ojczyźnie naszej - a wśród tych spraw troskę podstawową: “prawa do życia każdego Polaka, a także nie narodzonego”. Piszą: “nauki medyczne, a także psychologia prenatalna jednoznacznie rozstrzygają sprawę człowieczeństwa tej małej istoty, która z pomocą matki przygotowuje się do samodzielnego życia”.

Piszą dalej: “Prawo Boże "nie zabijaj" dotyczy każdego człowieka i każdego człowieka obowiązuje niezależnie od jego przekonań religijnych, gdyż jest prawem wpisanym przez Stwórcę w sumienie człowieka jako prawo naturalne. Stojąc zaś przed realną szansą pełnego urzeczywistnienia się koncepcji społeczeństwa obywatelskiego . . . budujemy tak nasz wspólny Dom, aby nie niszczono w nim poczętego życia ludzkiego”.

Ta troska biskupów polskich jest równocześnie moją troską. Jest też moją codzienną modlitwą, codziennym wołaniem do Ciebie, Matko i Strażniczko życia z Jasnej Góry. łączę się z moimi braćmi w pasterskiej posłudze i z wszystkimi, którym leży na sercu sprawa życia nie narodzonych oraz “ustawy, które zapewnią prawną ochronę poczętego życia”.

Z wdzięcznością myślę o przykładzie, jaki przed niedawnym czasem dał Europie król belgijski, odmawiając swego podpisu pod ustawą, która godziła w prawo do życia dzieci nie narodzonych.

Klęcząc u Twoich stóp, Matko mojego narodu, proszę, aby rodzina w Polsce była moralnie zdrowa i silna, ażeby była “Bogiem silna”.

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski: młodzież i nauczycieli VI Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. Reytana z Warszawy; z parafii św. Józefa z Katowic; młodzież i nauczycieli Liceum Katolickiego z Częstochowy; grupę modlitewną z parafii św. Maksymiliana z Częstochowy; młodzież duszpasterstwa księży salezjanów, młodzież i maturzystów z II Liceum Ogólnokształcącego w Przemyślu; pielgrzymkę “Quo vadis” z Krosna i Dukli; z parafii św. Jadwigi z Wrocławia; z parafii św. Karola Boromeusza z Wołowa w archidiecezji wrocławskiej; z parafii św. Józefa ze Świdnicy; grupę nauczycieli z Kielc; z parafii Matki Boskiej Szkaplerznej z Brzegu Dolnego, oraz innych pielgrzymów nie objętych tymi grupami, z Polski i z emigracji.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Saluto ora i numerosi pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, accolgo con gioia voi, Sacerdoti Salesiani, che partecipate alla settimana di spiritualità sul tema “La dimensione sociale della Carità”. Le esigenze della nuova evangelizzazione, sulle quali state riflettendo, vi spingano ad una sempre più generosa disponibilità nel servizio del Vangelo.

Rivolgo, quindi, un caloroso benvenuto al gruppo di soldati del Battaglione “Ascoli Piceno” di Cagliari ed ai loro Superiori. Cari giovani, questo tempo di servizio alla Patria vi serva anche per crescere nella vostra personalità e nello spirito di servizio e di solidarietà.

Mi è gradito, poi, salutare i membri dell’Arciconfraternita San Giovanni Decollato di Roma, che con lodevole generosità si dedicano alla cura dei detenuti, delle famiglie in difficoltà e dell’infanzia abbandonata; e inoltre i fedeli della parrocchia del Sacro Cuore di Cosenza, che concludono, con questo pellegrinaggio presso la Tomba di San Pietro, le celebrazioni del 50 della fondazione della loro Chiesa. L’artistica “Via Crucis”, che avete qui recata e che fra poco benedirò, vi ricordi sempre l’amore misericordioso di Cristo che per salvare gli uomini dai loro peccati non ha rinunciato a percorrere la via verso il Calvario.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo ora un saluto cordiale ai Giovani, agli Ammalati e agli Sposi novelli. Vi sia di esempio la figura di San Giovanni Bosco, di cui domani celebreremo la memoria liturgica.

Egli, che seppe dedicare l’intera sua esistenza al servizio del mondo giovanile, ispiri la vostra vita, cari giovani, affinché siate testimoni coerenti di Gesù tra gli amici, negli ambiti della scuola, del lavoro, dello sport.

Voi, ammalati, abbiate sempre coscienza del grande valore salvifico della sofferenza, quand’essa è cristianamente vissuta e generosamente offerta per la redenzione del mondo.

Giovanni Bosco, che comprese l’importanza della famiglia per la crescita in una fede profonda e responsabile, aiuti voi, sposi novelli, ad essere segno efficace dell’amore paterno e materno che Dio nutre per ogni uomo.

La Benedizione Apostolica, che ora imparto, sia a tutti d’augurio, incoraggiamento e sostegno.

* * *

Pressanti richieste di pace e invocazioni di aiuto e di solidarietà per la Guerra nel Golfo

In quest’ora, in cui continuano a giungere preoccupanti notizie sui drammatici sviluppi del conflitto in corso nella regione del Golfo, non posso non farmi eco dei numerosi messaggi che continuamente mi pervengono: sono richieste di pace, invocazioni di aiuto e di solidarietà per le famiglie delle vittime, per le popolazioni civili, per i profughi e per i prigionieri.

Faccio miei questi pressanti appelli e, rivolgendomi ancora una volta con fiducia alle parti in causa, trasmetto loro queste richieste di pace e di solidarietà.

Esse si fanno, ora, fervida e fraterna preghiera:

- che Dio ascolti questo grido invocante misericordia!

- che Dio accolga la nostra preghiera e quella di tutti i credenti, i quali si rivolgono a Lui con fede e cuore sincero!

- che Dio ci illumini e ci aiuti a capire che cosa, in concreto, possiamo fare per la pace e per soccorrere quei nostri fratelli!

A questo fine recitiamo, insieme, il Pater Noster.

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