Pentecost and the Eucharistic Revival
COMMENTARY: As Pope Benedict told World Youth Day pilgrims in 2008, ‘every time we celebrate Mass we receive the Holy Spirit who unites us more deeply with Christ and transforms us into him.’
As we approach Pentecost during the first year of the three-year-plus Eucharistic Revival revivifying the Church in the United States, it’s fitting to deepen our awareness and appreciation for the role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic knowledge, faith, amazement, love and life.
It’s not a coincidence that Pentecost took place in the same Upper Room where Jesus, 53 days earlier, had celebrated the first Eucharist. During the Last Supper, Jesus had already spent much of his time speaking about the Holy Spirit, instructing us that the Holy Spirit would testify to him, remind us of all that he told us, teach us everything, guide us to all truth, give us what belongs to Jesus, convict the world with regard to sin, righteousness and condemnation, and declare to us the things that are coming (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:8, 16:13-14). Jesus even made the astonishing assertion that it was “better” for him to “go” — to die, rise and ascend — so that he could send us the Holy Spirit, as if the Holy Spirit were, somehow, a superior Gift (16:7).
In his beautiful 1986 encyclical on the Holy Spirit, St. John Paul II dedicated five rich paragraphs to the connection between the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.
The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary at the Incarnation, making it possible for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us within her womb, overshadows the priest and the altar to transform bread and wine into the continuation of that Incarnation. To bring about the Eucharistic sacrifice and communion, the sacramental realization of Christ’s salvific presence, the Pope asserted, is part of the Holy Spirit’s mission.
We see this in the earliest days of the Church, when Christians, right after Pentecost, were led by the Spirit to devote themselves to the “Breaking of the Bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), which, John Paul II stated, “expressed and confirmed” the Church’s identity as the Bride and Body of Christ formed through the Eucharist and helped her become an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence in the world.
When we look at the principal works of the Holy Spirit, they can all be understood with reference to Christ in the Eucharist.
First, the Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray, since we don’t know how to pray as we ought (Romans 8:26), which helps us to pray the Mass, to adore Jesus on the altar, in the tabernacle and monstrance, and within us in Holy Communion — and with Jesus to praise, thank, beg for mercy, intercede and petition God the Father with the confidence of beloved sons and daughters.
Second, the Holy Spirit helps us to live a truly Eucharistic life, which is life according to the Spirit (Romans 8:5-17; Galatians 5:16-25), putting to death in us all worldly life according to the flesh so that we might lift up our hearts and set them on the things of God.
The Holy Spirit, third, helps to bring about in us through worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist the spiritual communion — “one Body, one Spirit, in Christ,” as we pray in Eucharistic Prayer III — that Jesus prayed for repeatedly during the Last Supper (John 17:11, 21-23).
Fourth, the Holy Spirit helps us to make our lives a commentary on the words of consecration, teaching us interiorly how to make our entire existence — our body, blood, sweat, tears, joys and sufferings — a gift of love to God and to others, bestowing on us certain charisms and “manifestations of the Spirit” for the good of the Church and the world (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Finally, the Holy Spirit forms us to give joint witness with him to the Risen Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, making our hearts burn, illuminating our minds with his sevenfold gifts, and igniting our tongues to proclaim zealously and effectively that Christ is truly alive and with us until the end of time, just as he promised, in the Holy Eucharist.
Therefore, as we approach Pentecost, it’s clear that one of the principal ways by which we can grow in Eucharistic knowledge, faith, amazement, love and life is to grow in appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s role in the celebration of the Mass that makes the Eucharist possible.
We begin Mass in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, something that reminds us of our baptism, when we, through water, were baptized with the “Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
Immediately afterward, the priest, on behalf of the Church, echoes St. Paul’s prayer (2 Corinthians 13:13) that we will receive Christ’s grace, God the Father’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s “communion.” The Holy Spirit is the personal communion between the Father and the Son. We have been made in the image and likeness of that Trinitarian communion personified by the Holy Spirit, the communion for which Christ prayed during the first Mass and that the Mass effectuates through the worthy reception of Holy Communion.
Next, the Holy Spirit helps us acknowledge and confess our sins and implore God’s pardon. The Holy Spirit searches everything (1 Corinthians 2:10), convicts us about sin (John 16:9), helps us reject the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) as well as to trust in and cry out for God’s mercy (Matthew 12:31-32, 1 Corinthians 12:3).
Throughout the Liturgy of the Word, the Holy Spirit is very much at work, guiding us through the biblical readings he inspired, to “all the truth,” to remember and live all that Jesus taught, and to receive this revelation like little children (Luke 10:21). He similarly seeks to help those ordained to proclaim God’s word to preach it in a way that can cut to the heart (Acts 2:37, Matthew 10:19-20, Luke 12:12).
The culmination of the Creed, accentuated often in liturgical music as well as by genuflections twice a year, is when we ponder how, “by the power of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” We also proclaim the Holy Spirit as “Lord” and “giver of life,” to be “worshipped and glorified” and heeded, as he has “spoken through the prophets” and speaks still.
When we pray the General Intercessions, not only are we assisted by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), who intercedes for us and helps us to pray with the simplicity and confidence of beloved children (Romans 8:26), but the Holy Spirit is the principal response God the Father gives (Luke 11:13).
In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit becomes even more explicit and prominent. He is the one who helps us to lift up our hearts to the Lord (Romans 8:5; Colossians 3:1-2) and to fill us with a desire to thank God the Father always and everywhere.
The most obvious work of the Holy Spirit happens at the time of the epiclesis, when we ask God the Father to send the Holy Spirit over the bread and wine to transform them into the Body and Blood of his Son. After the consecration, we beg the Father to send the Holy Spirit down once more so that we may be “gathered into one by the Holy Spirit” (Eucharistic Prayer II), “become one body, one spirit in Christ” (III), “make us an everlasting gift” to him (III) and “become a living sacrifice in Christ” (IV).
In the Doxology at the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we summarize the entire Eucharistic sacrifice by giving God the Father all glory and honor “in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” who seeks to unite us to each other and to Christ and, through, with and in Christ, to the Father.
The Holy Spirit effuses the recitation of the Our Father.
He helps us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:14-17), to hallow God’s name by transforming us into his image (2 Corinthians 3:17-18), to enter into God’s kingdom (John 3:5-6), to accomplish God’s will (Romans 8:27; 12:2), to give us each day our supersubstantial Bread (John 6:63), to bring us the forgiveness of sins (John 20:22-23), to protect us when tempted (Matthew 4:1), and deliver us from the evil one (12:28).
At the Lamb of God, the Spirit helps the whole Church as Christ’s Bride say, “Come!” (Revelation 22:17).
In Holy Communion, he helps us to become the true temple and tabernacle of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), to guard the treasure entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14) and to give thanks (Ephesians 5:18-20).
At the final Trinitarian blessing, we are sent to glorify God by our life, which is a Eucharistic life according to the Spirit, and to “announce the Gospel of the Lord” in tandem with the Holy Spirit, leaving the Upper Room strengthened by the Holy Spirit like the first disciples did on Pentecost.
In his Message for the 23rd World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI called the Eucharist a “perpetual Pentecost,” since “every time we celebrate Mass we receive the Holy Spirit who unites us more deeply with Christ and transforms us into him.”
This is a recognition and reality in which we’re called to grow during this Eucharistic Revival.