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Virginal Conception

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, 4 April 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The entire "Christ event" is explained by the action of the Holy Spirit, as we said in the previous instruction. For this reason, a correct and complete reading of the "Christ event" - and of its various stages - is for us the privileged path for reaching full knowledge of the Holy Spirit. We read the truth regarding the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity especially in the life of the Messiah: of him who was "consecrated with the Spirit" (cf. Acts 10:38). This truth is particularly clear in certain moments of Christ's life, upon which we will reflect in coming instructions. The first of these moments is the Incarnation itself, that is, the coming into the world of God's Word. He took on human nature in his conception and was born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit: " Conceptus de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine ," as we say in the creed.

2. It is the mystery hidden in the event which we hear about in the Gospel in the two versions of Matthew and Luke. We refer to them as substantially identical and also complementary sources. Working in the chronological order of the narrated events we ought to begin with Luke. But for purposes of our instruction it is opportune to use Matthew's text as a starting point. It gives the formal explanation of Jesus' conception and birth (perhaps in relationship to the first rumors which circulated in hostile Jewish circles). The evangelist writes: "This is how the birth of Jesus came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:18). The evangelist adds that Joseph was told of this fact by a divine messenger: "Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home because it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her'" (Mt 1:20).

Matthew's intention, therefore, was to assert unequivocally the divine origin of this event, which he attributed to the Holy Spirit's intervention. And this explanation became a text of the Christian communities of the first centuries out of which came the Gospels, the creeds and conciliar definitions, and the tradition of the Fathers.

Luke's text, in its turn, specifies for us the moment and the mode in which Mary's virginal motherhood originated from the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:26-38). These are the messenger's words as reported by Luke: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore he who is to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35).

3. We note in the meantime the simplicity, the precision and the conciseness with which Matthew and Luke report the concrete circumstances of the Incarnation of the Word. The prologue of the Fourth Gospel will later offer a more complete theology. This makes us see how far removed our faith in Christ is from the mythological sphere to which certain religious interpreters, even contemporary ones, reduce the concept of a God made man. The Gospel texts, in their essence, bear the fragrance of historical truth through their direct or indirect dependence on eyewitnesses and above all on Mary as the principal source of the narration. But at the same time, they allow the conviction of the evangelists and of the first Christian communities to shine through concerning the presence of a mystery, or rather of a revealed truth, in that event which happened "by the power of the Holy Spirit." The mystery of divine intervention in the Incarnation, as a real event, literally true, although not verifiable by human experience, except in the "sign" (cf. Lk 2:12) of humanity, of "flesh," as John says (1:14), is a sign offered to humble human beings open to God's attraction. The Incarnation is presented to us as a historical event, and not as a myth or a symbolic narration by the evangelists, in apostolic and post-apostolic literature and by Christian tradition. It is a real event, which "in the fullness of time" (cf. Gal 4:4) brought about what even in certain myths of antiquity could have been hinted at as a dream, or as a nostalgic echo or perhaps also as a prediction of perfect communion between humanity and God. We say with no hesitation that the Incarnation of the Word and the intervention of the Holy Spirit, which the Gospel writers present to us as a historical fact of their times, are at the same time mystery, revealed truth and object of faith.

4. Please note the new elements and the originality of the event even in relation to the writings of the Old Testament, which spoke only of the descent of the (Holy) Spirit upon the future messiah: "A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him" (Is 11:1-2). "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me" (Is 61:1). Luke's Gospel speaks instead of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary, when she became mother of the Messiah. Part of this new element is also the fact that this time the descent of the Holy Spirit involves a woman, whose special participation in the messianic work of salvation is highlighted. Thus the role of the woman in the Incarnation and the link between the woman and the Holy Spirit in Christ's coming stand out at the same time. It sheds light also on the mystery of the woman. It will have to be investigated and illustrated further throughout history in regard to Mary, but also in its repercussions upon the status and mission of all women.

5. Another novelty in the Gospel narrative is found in comparing it with the narrations of miraculous births handed down by the Old Testament (cf. e.g. 1 Sam 1:4-20; Jgs 13:2-24). These births occurred in the usual manner of human procreation, even though in an unusual fashion, and in their announcement the Holy Spirit was not mentioned. Instead, during the annunciation to Mary in Nazareth, it is said for the first time that the conception and birth of God's Son as her Son would come about by the working of the Holy Spirit. This is a matter of a virginal conception and birth, as the Lucan text already indicates with Mary's question to the angel: "How can this be? I do not know man" (Lk 1:34). With these words Mary affirmed her own virginity, and not only as a fact, but also, implicitly as her intent.

This intention is better understood as a total self-gift to God through her virginity when one sees her virginity as a result of the Holy Spirit's action within Mary. That can be picked up in the very greeting directed to her by the angel: "Hail! Favored one, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). The evangelist will also say of the elderly Simeon that "the Holy Spirit was upon him, a man righteous and devout and awaiting the consolation of Israel" (Lk 2:25). But the words addressed to Mary say much more: they affirm that she has been "transformed by grace," "established in grace." This singular abundance of grace cannot be anything but the fruit of a preliminary action of the Holy Spirit in preparation for the mystery of the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit sees to it that Mary is perfectly prepared to become the mother of God's Son and that, in view of this divine motherhood, she is and remains a virgin. It is another element in the mystery of the Incarnation which shines through from the narrated event of the Gospels.

6. As for Mary's decision in favor of virginity, we can better realize that it is due to the working of the Holy Spirit if we consider the tradition of the old covenant in which she lived and was educated. In that tradition, the aspirations of the "daughters of Israel," also in reference to worship and God's law, went rather in the direction of motherhood since virginity was not an ideal which was embraced or even appreciated. Israel was completely caught up in the feeling of awaiting the Messiah. Women were psychologically oriented toward motherhood also in regard to the Messiah's coming. That personal and ethnic tendency rose to the level of prophecy which permeated the history of Israel, a people in whom the messianic expectation and woman's generative function were strictly connected. Marriage, therefore, took on a religious aspect for the "daughters of Israel."

But the Lord's ways were different. The Holy Spirit led Mary precisely in the direction of virginity, in which she stands at the origin of a new ideal of complete consecration—soul and body, emotions and will, mind and heart—in the heart of God's People of the new covenant, according to the invitation made by Jesus: "For the sake of the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:12). I spoke about this new evangelical ideal in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (n. 20).

7. Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, as a virgin remains the irreplaceable point of reference for God's saving action. Even our day, which seems to be heading in the opposite direction, cannot cloud over the light of virginity (celibacy for the sake of God's kingdom) which is inscribed by the Holy Spirit in such a clear way within the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. He who was "conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary" owes his birth and human existence to that virginal motherhood which made Mary the living symbol of woman's dignity, the synthesis of two humanly irreconcilable greatnesses—motherhood and virginity—and almost the identity card for the truth of the Incarnation. Mary is the true mother of Jesus, but God alone is his Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit."


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

Ad alcuni gruppi di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt einer Gruppe evangelischer Vikare aus der Landeskirche Pfalz. Mögen die kommenden Tage des Kirchenjahres, an denen wir des Todes und der Auferstehung unseres Herrn gedenken, unseren Glauben und seine Wirkung auf unser Leben stärken. Dazu erteile ich Euch allen und Eueren Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Hörerinnen und Hörern meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli provenienti dalla Francia 

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française qui sont venus prier auprès des tombeaux des Apôtres Pierre et Paul. En particulier, j’adresse mes voeux et mes encouragements aux nombreux jeunes venus de France, de Belgique et de Suisse. A tous, je souhaite une bonne préparation à Pâques et j’accorde de grand coeur ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. My warm welcome goes to the members of the Gregorian University Foundation, whom I thank for their generous support of theological scholarship at one of Rome’s most venerable centres of learning. To them and to the groups from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United States I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A gruppi di pellegrini provenienti da Tokyo e da Kumamoto 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! Dilettissimi pellegrini provenienti da Tokyo e da Kumamoto: la solennità della Pasqua è ormai vicina. Prima di assaporare la gioia della risurrezione di Gesù, il cristiano deve sostare con Maria sotto la Croce. Non dimentichiamo mai questa verità. Vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Mi más cordial saludo se dirige a lor numerosos peregrinos llegados de América Latina y de España, a los que agradezco su presencia en esta Audiencia. De modo particular, me es grato saludar a los alumnos de los Colegios de las Madres Concepcionistas de Madrid, Barcelona y San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A vosotros, al igual que a los numerosos jóvenes españoles que os acompañan en este encuentro, os aliento, de cara al Triduo Pascual de la próxima semana, a poner toda vuestra atención espiritual en la persona de Cristo, el Señor. El os acompaña a lo largo de vuestra existencia, sobre todo en esta etapa de la juventud tan decisiva para vosotros. Que Jesús de Nazaret, el Hijo de Dios, sea siempre vuestro punto de referencia.

A vosotros y a todos los aquí presentes de lengua española imparto complacido mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese 

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo cordialmente a todos os que acompanham esta Audiência - os Brasileiros anunciados e os demais - com votos de felicidade e graça, no caminho quaresmal, ao encontro de Cristo, nossa Páscoa.  

Ai connazionali polacchi 

Z Niedzielą palmową łączy się w całym Kościele Dzień Młodzieży.

Pragn w tym kontekście przypomnieć wszystkie nasze spotkania z młodzieżą polską, w szczególności jednak owo “ spotkanie jasnogórskie ”. Miało ono miejsce 18 czerwca 1983 r., w czasie mojej drugiej pielgrzymki do Ojczyzny - tej, która była szczególnie bolesna i trudna.

Rozważaliśmy wówczas apel milenijny, te zwięzłe słowa, które wraz z przygotowaniem do Tysiąclecia Chrztu weszły w życie Kościoła w Polsce: “ Maryjo, Króbowo Polski, jestem przy Tobie, pamiętam, czuwam ”.

“Co to znaczy "czuwam"? To znaczy, że staram się być człowiekiem sumienia. Że tego sumienia nie zagłuszam i nie zniekształcam. Nazywam po imieniu dobro i zło, a nie zamazuję”. Tak wówczas powiedziałem.

I mówiłem dalej do młodych: “ Moi drodzy przyjaciele! Do was, do was należy położyć zdecydowaną zaporę demoralizacji - zaporę wadom społecznym. . . . Musicie od siebie wymagać, nawet gdyby inni od was nie wymagali. . . . Czuwam - to znaczy także: czuję, zię odpowiedzialny za to wielkie, wspólne dziedzictwo, któremu na imię Polska. . . . To imię nas wszystkich zobowiązuje. To imię nas wszystkich kosztuie ”.

Gdybyśmy się dzisiaj spotkali na Jasnej Górze, podobnie jak wtedy, powtórzyłbym te słowa milenijnego apelu. Powtórzyłbym je nie tylko wobec młodzieży polskiej, ale także wobec młodego pokolenia naszych pobratymców i sąsiadów, a także całej Europy.

Czy ten Apel nie jest także “ europejski ”? Czy nie jest on “ uniwersalny ”? Przecież Chrystus sam powiedział do swoich uczniów w Ogrójcu: “Czuwajcie i módlcie się, abyście nie ulegli pokusie; duch wprawdzie ochoczy, ale ciało słabe”.

Witam ksidza kardynała metropolit wrocławskiego, pielgrzymk polonijną z Dortmundu, zespół folklorystyczny dzieci “ Wisełka ”, chór “ Polihymnia ” z Poznania, grupę osób przybyłych z Przemyśla na konsekrację biskupią ks. Edwarda Nowaka, grupę turystyczną “ Centrex ” z całej Polski oraz innych pielgrzymów z kraju i emigracji.

Ai gruppi italiani 

Rivolgo il mio benvenuto ai fedeli della parrocchia di S. Lucia in Montefiore dell’Aso (Ascoli Piceno), venuti in pellegrinaggio per far benedire la nuova statua della Madonna Addolorata.

Accolgo, pure, con affetto il gruppo dell’Associazione “Il prossimo senza frontiere” di Padova, composto da portatori di handicap e da volontari accompagnatori, i quali intendono tradurre concretamente nelle loro attività sociali lo spirito evangelico del Buon Samaritano.

Saluto particolarmente i partecipanti al 50º Convegno del Comitato Cattolico per le Migrazioni Intraeuropee (CCMIE) sul tema “1992 - Una Europa per l’uomo: una unione originale”. Cari fratelli, l’elaborazione dei principii per una carta europea della mobilità umana - che è lo scopo del vostro incontro - è quanto mai doverosa perché l’Europa non si costituisce da sola né per caso, ma con il contributo effettivo di tutti. La caduta dei muri di divisione, come ho ricordato in altra occasione, deve fornire le pietre per costruire la nuova casa Europea. Ma questo non potrà avvenire se non si pongono a fondamento i valori umani, morali e spirituali che già a suo tempo formarono l’Europa sin dal suo nascere e che ora, dopo i recenti rivolgimenti, vanno ricuperati e rivitalizzati. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Porgo con particolare affetto il mio saluto a voi, Giovani, a voi, Ammalati, ed a voi, Sposi Novelli. Sono certo che il tempo quaresimale, nel favorire un’adeguata preparazione all’imminente celebrazione della Pasqua, vi ha condotto ad una ancor maggiore vicinanza a Cristo e ad una sua più assidua imitazione. Vi esorto a tradurre nella vostra esistenza i profondi sentimenti di Cristo, per testimoniare con lui che il suo amore redentivo reca gioia, luce, pace e produce tanti frutti di bene. Voi giovani, siate intrepidi testimoni di Cristo, Crocifisso e Risorto. Voi malati, trovate conforto nel Signore sofferente, che continua la sua opera di redenzione nella vita di ogni uomo; voi, sposi novelli, scoprite nel mistero pasquale la sorgente inesauribile dell’amore. La Vergine Maria accompagni i vostri passi ed ottenga dal Redentore - per ciascuno di voi - le grazie necessarie per compiere quanto Egli vi chiede, e per restare sempre fedeli al suo disegno di salvezza. Con la mia Benedizione Apostolica. 

Al termine dell’udienza generale il Santo Padre riceve i membri del Comitato Cattolico di Collaborazione Culturale presso il Pontificio Consiglio per la Promozione dell’Unità dei Cristiani ai quali rivolge il seguente discorso. 

Dear Friends of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

I am happy to welcome you on the occasion of your visit. Your presence gives me the opportunity to express my thanks and the thanks of the Church for the assistance you give the Council for Promoting Christian Unity in its important mission of representing the Catholic Church in the ecumenical dialogue with other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities, a dialogue and a process of growing fellowship which is no less than an act of obedience to Christ himself, who wished that all his followers the one. 

May this visit to the city where the Apostles Peter and Paul gave the supreme witness of fidelity to their Lord help you to see the full spiritual significance of your work.

In a few days we will celebrate the great mysteries of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. May this be a time of spiritual joy and consolation for you and your loved ones. God bless you and keep you in his love! 

Ecco le parole del Santo Padre in una nostra traduzione italiana.

Cari amici del Pontificio Consiglio per la promozione dell’unità dei cristiani.

Sono felice di darvi il benvenuto in occasione della vostra visita. La vostra presenza mi offre l’opportunità di esprimere la mia gratitudine e quella della Chiesa per l’assistenza che voi date al Consiglio per la promozione dell’unità dei cristiani nell’importante missione di rappresentare la Chiesa cattolica nel dialogo ecumenico con le altre Chiese cristiane e con le comunità ecclesiali, un dialogo e un processo di crescente amicizia che non è meno di un atto d’obbedienza a Cristo stesso, che desiderava che tutti i suoi discepoli fossero una cosa sola (cf. Gv 17, 21). Possa questa visita presso la città dove gli apostoli Pietro e Paolo diedero la suprema testimonianza di fedeltà al loro Signore aiutarvi a capire il pieno significato spirituale della vostra opera. Tra pochi giorni celebreremo i grandi misteri della morte e della risurrezione del Signore. Possa questo essere un tempo di gioia e consolazione spirituali per voi e per i vostri cari. Dio vi benedica e vi mantenga nel suo amore!

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