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The Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 17 June 1998 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. At the Last Supper Jesus had said to the Apostles: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). On the evening of Easter Day, Jesus keeps his promise: he appears to the Eleven gathered in the Upper Room, breathes on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). Fifty days later, on Pentecost, occurs “the definitive manifestation of what had already been accomplished in the same Upper Room on Easter Sunday” (Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 25). The Acts of the Apostles has preserved a description of the event for us (cf. Acts 2:1-4). By reflecting on this text, we can discern some features of the Holy Spirit’s mysterious identity.

2. It is first of all important to see the connection between the Jewish feast of Pentecost and the first Christian Pentecost.

Initially, Pentecost was the feast of seven weeks (cf. Tb 2:1), the harvest feast (cf. Ex 23:16), when the new grain was offered to God (cf. Nm 28:26; Dt 16:9). Later on the feast acquired a new meaning: it became the feast of the Covenant God had made with his people on Sinai, when he gave Israel his law.

St Luke describes the Pentecost event as a theophany, a manifestation of God similar to the one on Mt Sinai (cf. Ex 19:16-25): a roaring sound, a mighty wind, tongues of fire. The message is clear: Pentecost is the new Sinai; the Holy Spirit is the New Covenant; it is the gift of the new law. St Augustine keenly grasps this connection: “Here is a great and wondrous mystery, brethren: if you observe closely, on the day of Pentecost [the Jews] received the law written by the finger of God and on the same day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came” (Ser. Mai., 158, 4). And an Eastern Father, Severian of Gabala, notes: “It was fitting that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be given on the same day that the old law was given” (Cat. in Act. Apost., 2, 1).

3. The promise made to the fathers is thus fulfilled. We read in the prophet Jeremiah: “This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts” (Jer 31:33). And in the prophet Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ez 36:26-27).

In what way is the Holy Spirit the new and eternal Covenant? By taking away sin and pouring the love of God into the human heart: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). The law of Moses pointed out obligations, but could not change the human heart. A new heart was needed, and that is precisely what God offers us by virtue of the redemption accomplished by Jesus. The Father removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh like Christ’s, enlivened by the Holy Spirit who enables us to act out of love (cf. Rom 5:5). On the basis of this gift, a new Covenant is established between God and humanity. St Thomas Aquinas says with keen insight that the Holy Spirit himself is the New Covenant, producing love in us, the fullness of the law (cf. Comment. in 2 Cor., 3, 6).

4. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends and the Church is born. The Church is the community of those who are “begotten from above”, “by water and the Spirit”, as we read in John’s Gospel (cf. Jn 3:3, 5). The Christian community is not primarily the result of the free decision of believers; at its ori- gin there is first and foremost the gratuitous initiative of the Love of God, who offers the gift of the Holy Spirit. The as- sent of faith to this gift of love is a “response” to grace and is itself motivated by grace. Therefore, between the Holy Spirit and the Church there exists a deep and indissoluble bond. St Irenaeus says in this regard: “Wherever the Church is, the Spirit of God is also there; and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, the Church is there and every grace” (Adv. Haer., III, 24, 1). Then we can understand St Augustine’s daring expression: “The Holy Spirit is possessed in so far as one loves the Church” (In Io., 32, 8).

The account of the Pentecost event emphasizes that the Church is universal at her birth: this is the significance of the list of peoples — Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc. (cf. Acts 2:9-11) — who hear the first proclamation made by Peter. The Holy Spirit is given to all people of every race and nation, and accomplishes in them the new unity of Christ’s Mystical Body. St John Chrysostom highlights the communion brought about by the Holy Spirit with the vivid observation: “He who dwells in Rome knows those in the Indies to be his members” (In Io., 65, 1; PG 59, 361).

5. Since the Holy Spirit is “the New Covenant”, the work of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity consists in making the risen Lord present and, with him, God the Father. The Spirit carries out his saving action by making God’s presence immediate. The new and eternal Covenant consists in this: God can now be reached by each one of us. Everyone, “from the least to the greatest” (cf. Jer 31:34), is given in a certain sense a direct knowledge of the Lord, as we read in the First Letter of St John: “The anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 Jn 2:27). Thus the promise Jesus made to his disciples at the Last Supper is fulfilled: “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).

Through the Holy Spirit, our meeting with the Lord occurs in the ordinary context of filial life, in the “face to face” encounter of friendship, in the experience of God as Father, Brother, Friend and Bridegroom. This is Pentecost. This is the New Covenant.

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

Invito tutti a farsi solidali nella preghiera con gli abitanti della Guinea Bissau, in particolare con il Vescovo Monsignor Settimo A. Ferrazzetta, O.F.M., e con i suoi diocesani, che ho avuto l'opportunità di visitare ben due volte, nel 1990 e nel 1992.

Mi rivolgo con insistenza alle parti in conflitto, perché depongano le armi e mettano termine alla violenza e al conseguente esodo delle popolazioni. Auguro ardentemente che la comunità internazionale continui la sua opera in favore della pace e possa contribuire con mezzi non violenti alla riconciliazione di tutti.


Je suis heureux d'accueillir les personnes de langue française présentes ce matin. J'encourage amicalement les grands séminaristes de Strasbourg sur leur route, et je salue cordialement les pèlerins de l'Ile Maurice. J'invite les nombreux Vietnamiens venus célébrer le dixième anniversaire de la canonisation des martyrs de leur pays à vivre courageusement la même foi. Aux représentants de la Fondation Terre des Hommes, je souhaite de voir leurs efforts en faveur des enfants dans le monde porter des fruits abondants.

À tous je donne de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.

I warmly greet the students of the Pontifical Beda College who will be ordained deacons this afternoon, as well as their families and friends. I extend a special greeting to the priests from the Diocese of Scranton on pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land. I also welcome the Buddhist group Rissho Kosei Kai and the Shinto group Omoto- Kyo, from Japan. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Singapore, Japan, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

In den Mittelpunkt meiner Katechese habe ich heute den Heiligen Geist gestellt, der am Pfingstfest auf die Urgemeinde herabgekommen ist.

In zwei Tagen werde ich meinen dritten Pastoralbesuch in Österreich beginnen, der unter dem Thema steht: Komm Schöpfer Geist. Schon heute richte ich einen herzlichen Gruß an die Bevölkerung dieses Landes. In der Geschichte haben seine Christen viel für die Evangelisierung in Europa und in der Welt beigetragen.

Die letzten Jahre waren für die Kirche in Österreich aber auch eine Zeit großer Leiden. Der Papst und die Bischöfe möchten helfen, die Schwierigkeiten zu überwinden. Sie wollen die Gläubigen ermutigen, auch weiterhin am Aufbau des Reiches Gottes mitzuwirken, das schon mitten unter uns ist, aber noch nicht ganz (vgl. Lumen gentium, 5). Auch das Leiden kann geistlich fruchtbar werden.

Ich freue mich auf die Seligsprechung dreier beispielhafter Christen in Wien, die ein Zeichen der Lebendigkeit der Kirche in Österreich sind.

In der Hoffnung, daß mein Besuch eine Hilfe zur Einheit der Kirche in Wahrheit und Liebe sei, rufe ich allen Österreichern aus ganzem Herzen zu: "Grüß Gott!"

Gleichzeitig grüße ich auch alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Besonders heiße ich die vielen Schüler- und Jugendgruppen willkommen, darunter den Chor des Johann-Michael-Fischer-Gymnasiums Burglengenfeld. Euch allen und Euren Angehörigen zuhause sowie den über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen mit uns verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Con agrado saludo ahora a los peregrinos españoles y latinoamericanos, en particular a los miembros del "Centro Mexicano de Sindonología", así como a los grupos venidos de España, Uruguay, Colombia y México. Al invitaros a todos a experimentar la presencia y la acción del Espíritu Santo en la vida cotidiana, os imparto de corazón la Bendi ción Apostólica.

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, a minha saudação agradecida e cordial de boas-vindas a todos! Viestes a Roma para revigorar, junto do túmulo dos Apóstolos, a vossa fé cristã e os vínculos de amor e de obediência à Igreja, que Jesus quis fundar sobre Pedro. Que os vossos corações, fortes na fé, possam estar sempre ao serviço do amor de Deus, e que as suas bênçãos desçam abundantes sobre vós e sobre as vossas famílias!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua neerlandese

Adesso vorrei porgere il benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini belgi e neerlandesi.

Auguro che il vostro pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli approfondisca il vostro amore per Cristo e la sua Chiesa.

Di cuore imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata

Carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle, nella “pienezza del tempo” il Padre ha inviato il Figlio, perché gli uomini ricevessero l’adozione a figli di Dio e l’eredità preparata per ciascuno di loro (cf Gal 4, 4-7). Lo Spirito Santo attesta agli uomini tale figliolanza e tale eredità e in lui ogni coerede di Cristo può gridare: “Abba! Padre!” (cf Rom 8, 14-17).

Saluto cordialmente tutti i pellegrini croati, in particolare gli insegnanti e gli studenti del Centro di Formazione “Slava Raškaj” di Zagabria, e su tutti invoco la benedizione di Dio.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca

Un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini provenienti da Veselí nad Moravou e da Velehrad!

Dopodomani celebreremo la solennità del Sacro Cuore di Gesù. L’amore del Padre si è manifestato a noi uomini nel Cuore del Suo Figlio Gesù. Affidiamoci a Lui: Gesù mite e umile di cuore, trasforma i nostri cuori ed insegnaci ad amare Dio e il prossimo con generosità.

Volentieri vi benedico tutti.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovacca

Cordialmente saluto i pellegrini slovacchi da Bratislava e dalla Parrocchia di Konská.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, fra due giorni ricorre la festa del Santissimo Cuore di Gesù. Siate certi che il Signore Gesù vi ha amato quando è morto per voi sulla croce, e che vi ama ancor oggi quando vi invita: “Imparate da me, che sono mite ed umile di cuore!”.

Con gioia imparate da Lui a compiere i vostri lavori quotidiani umilmente e con amore verso il Padre celeste. Che lo Spirito Santo vi accompagni in ciò come luce e come forza. E io vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovena

Saluto la prima generazione degli studenti e delle studentesse del ginnasio diocesano Anton Martin Slomšek di Maribor come pure i vari pellegrini della Slovenia. Sono lieto della vostra Visita perché mi fa ricordare le belle giornate vissute due anni fa in Slovenia. Lo Spirito Santo sia la vostra guida e rimanete fedeli alla Chiesa nonchè alla vostra bella patria.

* * *

Rivolgo ora un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, ai novelli sacerdoti della Diocesi di Brescia, accompagnati dai loro familiari ed a quelli delle Diocesi di Bergamo e di Padova che ricordano l'anniversario della loro Ordinazione presbiterale. Carissimi, grazie per la vostra presenza. Mentre assicuro un costante ricordo nella preghiera, auspico per ciascuno di voi una rinnovata effusione di favori celesti, perché siate rafforzati nei vostri generosi propositi di fedeltà alla chiamata del Signore.

Mi rivolgo ora ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Venerdì prossimo celebreremo la festa del Sacro Cuore di Gesù e sabato ricorderemo il Cuore Immacolato di Maria.

Cari giovani, vi saluto con affetto e tra voi saluto specialmente i numerosi bambini e ragazzi che hanno ricevuto la Prima Comunione e la Cresima. Carissimi, la ricchezza del Cuore di Cristo e la tenerezza del Cuore di Maria vi accompagnino e vi sostengano sempre. Aiutino voi, cari ammalati, ad affidarvi con generoso abbandono nelle mani della Provvidenza divina; ed incoraggino voi, cari sposi novelli, a vivere la vostra unione cristiana con paziente comprensione e generosa reciproca dedizione.

Con affetto tutti vi benedico.

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