Liturgy and Sacraments: The Spirit at Work in the World

Blogger’s Note: This was my final short reflection paper for Module II of the Catechetical Institute, on liturgy and the sacraments. I continue to be drawn toward the person and activity of the Holy Spirit, which I’ve been slow to comprehend in the past.

The Spirit is the fuel of the Church, the energy and life force of the Body of Christ. And we can’t get him through heroic effort. We can only get him by asking for him. That’s why, for the past two thousand years, the Church has begged for this power from on high. Jesus told us that the Father would never refuse someone who asked for the Holy Spirit. So ask! And ask again! Realize that every liturgy is a begging for the Holy Spirit. (Bishop Barron, Daily Gospel Reflection 5/8/18).

The second pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery,” pertains to liturgy and the sacraments. The opening paragraphs (CCC 1066-2068) connect back to the first pillar, “The Profession of Faith,” by re-asserting God’s plan outlined in the Creed:

“For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’” For this reason, the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation (CCC 1067).

The liturgy in its various forms celebrates the great mystery of Jesus’ saving mission. It is the “public work” (leitourgos) of the Church: the “participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069), which manifests her as a visible sign of communion between God and man (CCC 1071).  The Church is born on Pentecost, the new Body of Christ on earth following the ascension of the resurrected One, and Jesus acts “in and with” this body through the sacramental economy (CCC 1076). The fruits of this mystery are shared liturgically, especially through the sacraments, “efficacious signs” (CCC 1131) instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church to give us the grace we need to live lives of holiness.

The Catechism characterizes liturgy as the work of the Holy Trinity, with the Father as the source and goal of the liturgy (“from blessing to blessing”) and the Son as the primary actor whose mission is manifested in the signs and works of the Church. As is appropriate in this age of the Holy Spirit, the role of the Spirit in liturgy and the sacraments is substantial:

“[H]e prepares the Church to encounter her Lord; he recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly. By his transforming power, he makes the mystery of Christ present here and now. Finally the Spirit of communion unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ (CCC 1092).

The Spirit calls us to prayer and enables us to pray. He disposes us to faith, conversion, and doing the Father’s will, thereby opening us to grace. He is the Church’s “living memory” (CCC 1099), who inspires in us both love for and understanding of God’s word, and in each sacrament He is invoked to hasten the coming of the kingdom of God through His transformative power. Finally, it is He who draws together all of God’s children in communion with God—He knits together many parts into one Body.

The Holy Spirit plays these roles in each of the liturgies associated with the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders. Since the Spirit is for me the most abstract of the persons of the Trinity, it is edifying to think of Him at work in signs as physical and effective as these, each with form and matter we can sense, recognize, and remember.  Now if only I could see the Holy Spirit, not as a dove or a tongue of fire but as a person…

Just a few days ago, the gospel reading included Philip’s request: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Jesus responds by saying whoever has seen Him has seen the Father. This morning’s gospel reading began with these words of Jesus, “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me” (John 15:26).  Bishop Robert Barron’s reflection on this passage recalls Jesus’ response to Philip:

“Who is the Holy Spirit? He is the third Person of the Holy Trinity, but more precisely, the love shared by the Father and the Son. As the love between Father and Son, the Spirit comes most fully to historical expression during the great events of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery” (Bishop Barron, Daily Gospel Reflection 5/7/18).

If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. If we receive Jesus, we receive his Spirit. All three are one God. All three are Love made manifest in the world, through Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification. It seems I am seeking Him whom I would have to be blind to miss.

May I be more aware of the Holy Spirit at work in this world, more recollected to Him, and more disposed to His gifts and graces in prayer, the sacraments, and the liturgy. Amen.

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