John’s Baptism as Prophecy

Murillo, Baptism of Christ (c. 1665)

Baptism of Christ (c. 1665), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Part of a series on Baptism in Depth.

In my study of Baptism so far, I’ve taken for granted that the baptism of John the Baptist was somehow irrelevant to Christian Baptism, since all Christians agree that it was merely a foreshadowing of Christ’s. I now think my omission was a mistake. All combined, the accounts of John give us the most voluminous treatment of Baptism in the New Testament. All four Evangelists found John’s Baptism to be of central importance to their Gospel narratives, and necessary to understanding the person of Jesus and His work. That John is known to Christian tradition as “The Baptist” places a special emphasis on his role in connection with Baptism. To grasp a full understanding of what Baptism is and what it does, then, we should turn first to John.

Giotto, The Baptism of Christ (c. 1305)

The Baptism of Christ (c. 1305), by Giotto. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua.

“To give knowledge of salvation to His people”

The Evangelists understood John (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4), as John understood himself (John 1:23), to be the immediate forerunner of the Christ, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD,’” in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3). In what way was John supposed to prepare Christ’s way? John’s father Zechariah prophesied in his Benedictus:

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God… (Luke 1:76–77)

So we see that John’s mission is to give knowledge of salvation to [the LORD’s] people in the forgiveness of their sins. John gave knowledge of salvation — an understanding of how people could be saved — in the forgiveness of their sins. What in John’s message would have given that understanding?

From John’s first appearance, he preached a simple message: a baptism of repentance. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11). It is implied, then, that if John’s message was to convey “knowledge of salvation,” that knowledge had an intrinsic connection to his baptism and to repentance.

Baptism of Christ, from Mariawald Abbey

The Baptism of Christ, stained glass from Mariawald Abbey, by Gerhard Rhemish, The Master of St. Severin, Germany (Victoria and Albert Museum)

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”

John is also plain in his message that his baptism was only a precursor of a greater Baptism that was to come: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16). Certainly the key aspect of this Baptism was to be “with the Holy Spirit” (cf. Mark 1:8), since Mark refers to only Christ’s Baptism “with the Holy Spirit,” while both Matthew and Luke refer to the same Baptism as being “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Now, I have heard some Protestants, particularly from my own Charismatic tradition, suppose that this refers to two different baptisms, “with the Holy Spirit” and “with fire.” But what is John actually saying here? It’s evident in the original texts that the two terms refer to the same object: although many English translations include “with” twice, there is only one preposition here in the Greek: ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί [en pneumati hagiō kai puri], with the Holy Spirit and fire. This is a literary device called hendiadys (Greek for “one by means of two”), by which two words connected by a conjunction are used to express a single idea, where an adjective and a substantive might otherwise be used. Christ’s “baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire” is one and the same: baptism with the fiery Holy Spirit. In the words of the great Jesuit commentator Cornelius à Lapide, far more eloquent than my own:

By the Holy Ghost and fire is meant the Holy, Fiery, and Inflaming Spirit, who is fire—that is, like fire—and, as fire, burns, and kindles. It is a hendiadys. The Holy Ghost, as it were fire, purges the faithful from their sins, kindles and illuminates them, raises them towards heaven and strengthens them, unites them closely to Himself, and, like fire, transforms them into Himself. (The Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide, Volume 1: S. Matthew’s Gospel, trans. T.W. Mossman [London: John Hodges, 1887], 122)

Conclusion

So what is the upshot of all this? John declares plainly that his baptism is merely with water, a symbolic washing away of sins from repentant sinners. So Jesus’s Baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is clearly something more. John himself associates Christ’s Baptism with the work of the Holy Spirit. So the logic seems to me:

  1. John baptized with water.
  2. John said the Christ would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” — not “with water,” leading to a possible symbolic interpretation.
  3. But Jesus also baptized with water (cf. John 4:1), and water baptism became a Christian sacrament.
  4. No other movement of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is referred to as “baptism.”
  5. It appears, then, that the Baptism John prophesied would be “with the Holy Spirit and fire” was the only Baptism Jesus is known to have administered, in water.

By the testimony of John, Christian Baptism was to be something much more than merely “with water.” Baptism itself was to be a movement of the Holy Spirit.

The Sacrament of Confirmation in Scripture and the Church Fathers

Confirmation (c.1712), Giuseppe Maria Crespi

Confirmation (c.1712) by Giuseppe Maria Crespi.

I’ve given an introduction to the Sacrament of Confirmation — the Sacrament that brings to perfection the grace begun at Baptism, gives to the believer an even deeper outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and seals him or her by His anointing. In this post I will take a closer look at the Sacrament of Confirmation in Scripture and in the Church Fathers.

In Scripture

I have heard sola scriptura Protestants scoff that the Sacraments cannot be found in Scripture. They can. Though it is never referred to as “confirmation” in the Bible, the practice is clearly there:

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction [διδαχὴν] about washings [βαπτισμῶν, lit. baptisms], the laying on of hands [ἐπιθέσεώς τε χειρῶν], the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1–2).

Note in the Greek the enclitic particle τε: it is unfortunately often not translated in modern Bible translations, as is the case here. It is a strong copulative, most simply translated and, but denoting a close, intrinsic, inseparable connection between the words or ideas it joins: in this case, βαπτισμῶν διδαχὴν ἐπιθέσεώς τε χειρῶν (baptismōn didachēn epitheseōs te cheirōn) should translate as “teaching of baptisms and laying on of hands” — with these two things sharing an inner bond as if part of the same action or idea. This verse is a reference to the Early Church’s “dual sacrament” of Baptism and Confirmation.

Confirmation from Seven Sacraments Altarpiee (der Weyden)

Confirmation. Detail from Seven Sacraments Altarpiece (1450), by Rogier van der Weyden.

Also note the clear progression of ideas here: since the author is about to move from the “milk” of Christianity to “solid food” (Hebrews 5:12–14), he sums up the essential ideas: repentance from sins; faith in God; Baptism; Confirmation; Resurrection of the Dead; and Final Judgment. This is the path of the Christian life, the stages from Christian birth to Christian eternity.

There are at least two episodes in the Acts of the Apostles of the Early Church administering Confirmation to new converts. In the first, St. Philip the Evangelist (not St. Philip the Apostle; this Philip is one of the Seven Deacons ordained in Acts 6:1–6) has been down to proclaim the Gospel in Samaria (Acts 8:4–8). Philip baptized the new converts there — since any Christian may administer the Sacrament of Baptism (CCC 1256). The new Christians received baptismal grace, and in some measure, the Holy Spirit. But because only an Apostle could carry out the Sacrament of Confirmation (and thus today only a bishop, or a priest to whom he explicitly delegates the authority), the Samarians did not receive this immediately. And so:

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14–17).

Here, by the laying on of hands, the new Samarian Christians are confirmed in God’s grace and receive the fuller measure of the Holy Spirit. Since, at the time St. Luke penned the Book of Acts, the Early Church was still fleshing out its theology and working to grasp fully the outpourings of grace that Christians were receiving, Luke’s theological terminology was still somewhat uncertain. We know that Christians receive the grace of the Holy Spirit at Baptism — so apparently these Christians had been baptized but not confirmed.

Another episode occurs later, when St. Paul ministers in Ephesus:

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all (Acts 19:1–7).

After Paul baptized these men in the name of Jesus, he laid hands on them — and they received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, as it had fallen at Pentecost. This is another clear example of what the Church came to call Confirmation.

In the Church Fathers

This is running a bit long. There are a lot of patristic quotations I could share concerning Confirmation. I will choose a few of the earliest and clearest.

Tertullian, writing ca. A.D. 200, demonstrates:

Tertullian

Tertullian

Then having gone up from the bath we are anointed with a blessed anointing of ancient discipline, by which people were accustomed to be anointed for priesthood, by oil from a horn from which Aaron was anointed by Moses [Exodus 30:22–30]. For this reason we were called “christs” (“anointed ones”) from “chrism,” which is the ointment which lends its name to the Lord. It was made spiritual because the Lord was anointed with the Spirit by God the Father, as it says in Acts: ‘For they were gathered together in that city against your holy Son whom you have anointed [Acts 4:27].’ Thus also the anointing flows on us physically, but benefits spiritually, as the physical act of baptism (that we are immersed in water) has a spiritual effect (that we are free from transgressions). Next, calling and inviting the Holy Spirit, the hand is imposed for the blessing (On Baptism 7–8).

St. Hippolytus of Rome, writing ca. A.D. 215, documents:

St. Hippolytus of Rome

St. Hippolytus of Rome

The bishop, imposing his hand on them, shall make an invocation, saying, ‘O Lord God, who made them worthy of the remission of sins through the Holy Spirit’s washing unto rebirth, send into them your grace so that they may serve you according to your will, for there is glory to you, to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, both now and through the ages of ages. Amen.’ Then, pouring the consecrated oil into his hand and imposing it on the head of the baptized, he shall say, ‘I anoint you with holy oil in the Lord, the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.’ Signing them on the forehead, he shall kiss them and say, ‘The Lord be with you.’ He that has been signed shall say, ‘And with your spirit.’ Thus shall he do to each (Apostolic Tradition 21–22).

Finally, St. Cyprian, writing A.D. 253, exposits the passage from Acts 8 I quoted above, and connects the episode to the Church’s understanding of Confirmation:

St. Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian of Carthage

Some say in regard to those who were baptized in Samaria that when the apostles Peter and John came there only hands were imposed on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, and that they were not re-baptized. But we see, dearest brother, that this situation in no way pertains to the present case. Those in Samaria who had believed had believed in the true faith, and it was by the deacon Philip, whom those same apostles had sent there, that they had been baptized inside—in the Church. . . . Since, then, they had already received a legitimate and ecclesiastical baptism, it was not necessary to baptize them again. Rather, that only which was lacking was done by Peter and John. The prayer having been made over them and hands having been imposed upon them, the Holy Spirit was invoked and was poured out upon them. This is even now the practice among us, so that those who are baptized in the Church then are brought to the prelates of the Church; through our prayer and the imposition of hands, they receive the Holy Spirit and are perfected with the seal of the Lord (Epistulae 73[72]:9).

And so we see that the Church has practiced the Sacrament of Confirmation since the days of the Apostles. We reached the full understanding of it that we have today no later than the early third century.

The Sacrament of Confirmation: Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Poussin, The Confirmation (1649)

The Confirmation (1649) by Nicolas Poussin (from series on The Seven Sacraments). (SightsWithin.com)

I’ve written about the Sacrament of Baptism, by which the new believer’s sins are washed away, his or her old life is buried and raised again in a new life in Christ, and he or she receives the Holy Spirit. It is the first act of a believer’s initiation into the Church and into Christ. It is not a “work” by which we “save ourselves” — we are only brought to Baptism by God’s gift of grace — it is the means by which we receive God’s sanctifying grace.

A believer having been baptized has received the Holy Spirit and been washed in His grace; but we believe God has even greater things in store — an even greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. In the Catholic Church, baptismal grace — the process begun with Baptism — is completed and strengthened in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) describes:

In baptism the Blessed Trinity comes to inhabit the soul; in confirmation the Father and the Son send to it the Holy Spirit in pentecostal mission to consecrate anew the edifice which the first sacrament has established. The one is the sacrament of birth; the other the sacrament of manhood. Baptism incorporates a man [or woman] in Christ and His Church; confirmation elevates his being in Christ through the anointing which brings more abundant grace. The former fashions; the latter strengthens. The former initiates; the latter seals.

In the Early Church, Baptism and Confirmation were generally celebrated at the same time, as part of a “double sacrament.” This practice has continued in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In the West, however, the two Sacraments have been separated from an early date, out of a desire that the bishop of each church should celebrate the completion of Baptism — since, with the initiation of so many new Christians, through both natural birth and spiritual rebirth, he could not be present at every rite of Baptism.

Poussin, Confirmation (1645)

Confirmation (1645), by Nicolas Poussin (from series on The Seven Sacraments). The artist produced two separate series of seven paintings on the Sacraments (for different patrons). (WikiPaintings.org)

Confirmation, like Baptism, is a free, unmerited gift of God’s grace, and thus is open to all baptized Christians. By custom in the West, children of the Church receive Confirmation after they reach the “age of discretion,” have learned about their faith, and have freely chosen a deeper and more intimate union with Christ. At what age children receive Confirmation is at the discretion of each bishop and diocese, but the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has declared that the age for Confirmation should be between the age of discretion (“about the age of seven”) and sixteen. If a younger child is gravely ill and in danger of death, the Church extends Confirmation to them.

Adult converts to the faith receive Confirmation at the same time as their Baptism; or if they have already received Baptism, as in my case, Confirmation is itself the rite of initiation into the Catholic Church, together with partaking of the Eucharist.

Confirmation from Seven Sacraments Altarpiee (der Weyden)

Confirmation. Detail from Seven Sacraments Altarpiece (1450), by Rogier van der Weyden.

As with the other Sacraments, Confirmation accomplishes an inward, spiritual grace by means of an outward, visible action. Confirmation has several outward manifestations. The most basic, ancient, and biblical sign of Confirmation is the laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2), to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit. Very early in the Church, to better signify this gift of the Spirit, the anointing with perfumed oil, the oil of chrism, was added to the rite. As Christ is the Anointed One, Christians thus are anointed to mark the fullness of their communion with Him. The anointing with oil represents, as it does in the Old Testament, a spiritual cleansing, a healing, an outpouring of joy, the commissioning to a divine vocation — the Sacrament of Confirmation reflects each of these dimensions. From this anointing, Confirmation is known in the East as Chrismation.

The anointing with oil — the tracing in oil of the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the believer — also marks the believer, places on him or her the seal of the Holy Spirit. Just as a document bears the seal of its Author and Judge, or a sheep bears the mark of its Master, the believer is marked with the indelible seal of belonging to Christ, of bearing His Spirit and carrying out His mission. In the Latin rite, the minister of the Sacrament, with the laying on of hands and the anointing with chrism, speaks, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti).

For as much as I have striven in my life as a Christian to avoid the emotionalism of my Pentecostal youth, my Confirmation and First Communion were among the most joyful, most deeply felt moments of my life. I felt more intimately joined with Christ than I ever had before. I felt the mark on my forehead even after I had washed it. Since that day my life of faith and my Christian walk have been changed and deepened radically. I am Christ’s! I am sealed with His Spirit! I am united with His Holy Church! This ancient Sacrament of the Church has been such a profound outpouring of grace in my life, such a precious gift of love — I feel that it in itself, in its moment, is an incomparable prize that all should seek after. Thanks be to God that it will be followed by a lifetime of the most intimate Communion!

(For a fuller treatment of Confirmation, see §§1285–1321 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Coming up next:

  • A biblical study of the Sacrament of Confirmation in Scripture
  • A consideration of Confirmation and Protestantism

Traditional Latin Mass

Latin Mass

Tridentine Mass in a chapel of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston. (Wikipedia)

Last Sunday I attended my first traditional Latin Mass, at a local parish in Alabama while I was home visiting my parents. I had been meaning to check it out for a while. It was considerably different than what I’ve been used to; though I could still observe the basic form of the Mass. I wanted to briefly share my thoughts and observations.

What is commonly referred to as the “traditional” Latin Mass is also known as the Tridentine Mass (Tridentine from Tridentinus, belonging to the city of Tridentum — or Trent) — the Mass that was in use from the Council of Trent (1545–1563) until the revision of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The Mass liturgy we use today is known as the Mass of Paul VI. There is actually a bit of disagreement about what to call the pre–Vatican II Mass. The Catholics who hosted this Mass I attended were Traditionalists, and so referred to it as the “Traditional Latin Mass.”

But “Traditional Latin Mass” is something of a misnomer, I discovered. The liturgy was traditional, certainly; but the form that was presented was essentially 1962 frozen in time. I was kind of expecting something more ancient — traditional music and chant forms, in particular — but the music felt like the 1950s. It was pretty, don’t get me wrong; but it wasn’t “traditional.” My parish, especially before the recent Mass revisions, was much more traditional in its music.

Mantilla

Something like this.

It was immediately apparent, as soon as I entered the church, that these people were Traditionalists. All of the women wore headcoverings, mostly in the form of lace mantillas. This was kind of neat; though besides it being in the Bible (1 Corinthians 11), I don’t understand the reasons for doing it. (Is that the only reason? They argue that the requirement of headcoverings is still binding today.) If the idea of headcoverings is modesty, I must confess, like many modest fashions, I found it rather alluring, wondering what the ladies’ hair and faces looked like underneath their headcoverings.

Another thing I noticed is that the church was packed. It wasn’t a very large church, but the pews were mostly full. A man was leading the Rosary. At my church, we also pray the Rosary about thirty minutes before Mass, but there are usually only a handful of people there then. Here, everyone was praying. It was rather moving.

But here I noticed another aspect of Traditionalism: at every iteration of the Glory Be, the orator invoked the “Holy Ghost,” rather than the “Holy Spirit” as I’m used to. Throughout the entire meeting, the name “Holy Ghost” was consistently used in English (in the priest’s homily, too — this was Pentecost, so he talked about the “Holy Ghost” quite a lot). This seems to me a rather pointless traditionalism just for the sake of traditionalism. Why insist on the Germanic “ghost” rather than the Latinate “spirit” — when the Latin of the Mass, which this gathering was supposed to preserve, refers to the Spiritus Sanctus?

A couple of other aspects of the priest’s homily grated on me. He referred several times to Pentecost as the birth of the Catholic Church, and to the Holy Spirit as a gift to Catholicism; he never once used the word “Christian.” His words seemed chosen specifically to separate and exclude all others but Catholics from the celebration of the Holy Spirit — and, I suspect, he would have privileged Traditionalists if he’d had the chance.

On to the Mass itself: I picked up a little booklet that contained the Latin liturgy and an English translation on the opposite page. Now, my Latin is fairly good, though pretty rusty. But the priest celebrated the Mass ad orientem, and spoke his Latin very fluidly and not distinctly. I was almost immediately lost, and struggled to keep up in the book throughout the liturgy. I wasn’t in a very good position to see what he was doing, either, since he was facing away and I wasn’t very close, so I didn’t have any visual cues. It was very much like experiencing a liturgy in an unknown foreign language. I suppose that those who attend Latin Mass every week probably have a much easier time following and understanding — looking around, none of the regulars had the little liturgy books — but I didn’t feel that I had taken much of a part.

But that’s just it — no one really did. It was true what I had heard — that before Vatican II, the congregation didn’t really have much to do or say; that they mainly just watched the priest. The liturgical reforms of Vatican II restored many of prayers and responses of the faithful that had fallen into disuse and been transferred to the priest over the centuries; in this Mass, he said nearly all of them. The main response the people consistently had was to answer “Et cum spiritu tuo” (“And with your spirit”) to the priest’s “Pax vobiscum” (“Peace be with you”). At several other places — the Pater Noster, the Credo — the choir sang, and the faithful could sing along if they liked, but not many people did.

I also didn’t get the feeling that even the priest was speaking the Latin with a grasp or appreciation for its sense and meaning. The words were rote, for both the priest and the people. They may have known what they meant, but they didn’t act like it. A prime example that stood out to me: When the priest spoke, “Oremus” (“Let us pray”), he didn’t actually pause for anybody to pray. He did this consistently throughout the liturgy.

In the second part of the Mass, the Mass of the Faithful (so called because the non-baptized were once excluded from it; in some places they still are) — what’s known in today’s Mass as the Liturgy of the Eucharist — the priest more or less conducted the liturgy privately. His prayers were low and inaudible (at least from where I was sitting), and the sense was that he was praying for the consecration of the Host in his own intimate communion with God. The faithful weren’t a part of this.

And that, I think, is what bothered me the most. The participation of the faithful throughout the Mass — and most especially at that intimate moment of consecration — is one of the most important aspects of the Mass to me. It’s at that moment that I feel the most connected, the most in communion, with the Church and with her members and with all believers over the ages. I respect the mystery of the liturgy; I know that in the medieval church, the rood screen separated the people in the nave from the priest in the sanctuary, and that Orthodox churches have an even more solid separation in the iconostatis — but I feel, as the Vatican II Council Fathers felt, that the people should not be excluded from the liturgy. The liturgy is the work of the people; we are the people of Christ. I go to Mass to be a participant, to practice my worship actively; not to be a spectator.

One thing I liked, and this is minor, and not exclusive to a Traditionalist Mass: in receiving Communion, we went to kneel at the altar rail, and the priest walked by to communicate us. It was much more solemn and humble than our usual habit of lining up, efficient though it may be.

Missale Romanum

Overall, my experience at the “Traditionalist” Latin Mass was one of intriguing cultural reconnaissance, and a peek into the past, though it was the not-too-distant past: the way a Catholic would have experienced Mass in 1962. I decidedly prefer today’s Mass, especially since the recent revision. The Tridentine Mass is beautiful, and its tradition is valuable — but tradition shouldn’t stand in the way of the faithful approaching God. I think, in some basic respects, the Mass of Paul VI is more conducive to our corporate worship.

I don’t understand the Traditionalists’ objections; I admittedly haven’t read much about that. But I get the feeling that they object to change just because it is change. I do think the intentions of the Vatican II Council Fathers were good, that the reforms were needed, and that the letter of their voices in the documents is true and faithful to the tradition of the Church. The Church today is making steady progress to undo the abuses and mistakes that were wrought by modernists “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

On the Place of Latin in Our Liturgy

I value the Latin of the liturgy a lot. Contrary to popular conceptions, Vatican II didn’t eliminate Latin as the language of the Mass. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, firmly states (36),

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the [vernacular] tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. . . . These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority . . . to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used . . .

“In the spirit of Vatican II,” modernists have run a lot further with this than they should have. The use of the vernacular language is certainly advantageous to the people. The faithful need to understand and take part in our worship and devotion. But the Latin of the Mass is our glory and our heritage, and it should be preserved and celebrated. Again, Sacrosanctum Concilium (54):

In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their [vernacular] tongue. . . . Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

When I first started attending Mass in my parish, this is what we did. We sang in Latin, in traditional chant forms, much of the Ordinary of the Mass: the Kyrie (in Greek), the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. And the people loved it and embraced it; it was never an impediment but an ornament to our worship. Now, since the new Mass settings ordered by our bishop, we only have the Agnus Dei in Latin. (We also still sing the Salve Regina and the other seasonal Marian antiphons in Latin.) But I would love so much to reincorporate more Latin.

What I would really like to experience, in fact — and I don’t know of anybody around here who does this — is the whole of the ordinary form of the Mass celebrated in its underlying Latin.

Cum Sancto Spiritu: The Holy Spirit Reveals Christ

Holy Spirit as DoveOkay, so it’s increasingly clear that I won’t have time anytime soon either to research or to write a thorough, comprehensive post about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic tradition. But for several reasons, I thought it important that I go ahead and move on this, if only in spurts and gasps. A dear friend who is questioning his faith recently posed some questions about the Holy Spirit that seemed timely to this post. Today at a used bookstore I picked up a second, paperback copy of the Catechism, for me to carry around and to write in. And tonight at RCIA, we had Catholic trivia night, and my team won. (We beat the team behind us by only five points. The answer that pushed us over the top was to the bonus question: What was Pope John XXIII’s family name? Roncalli.) We each won copies of the Compendium of the Catechism. I promptly dropped mine in a puddle, but I dried it quickly, and I don’t think it’s too damaged. Anyway — the Catechism is in my hand and on my mind, so now seemed a good time to take a crack at this.

Again, this won’t be comprehensive, complete, or well-studied. These writings represent my ongoing process to wrap my head around these concepts. But through working through this and refining it, from both the Catholic and Protestant positions, I hope to come up with something worth presenting.

The primary role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic understanding is to reveal Christ to the believer. The Catechism:

[The] knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us. By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son. [683]

What about, though, those nonbelievers who haven’t yet received baptism? How do they receive faith? Presumably the Holy Spirit also gives them grace and faith to believe, to be converted and baptized. St. Paul says,

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. . . . How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:9-17, ESV)

And also in Ephesians, in a favorite verse of Protestants:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

So God gives us the gift of faith, through the Holy Spirit, and it is by this faith that we believe. The Catechism continues:

Through his grace, the Holy Spirit is the first to awaken faith in us and to communicate to us the new life, which is to “know the Father and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). [684]

“No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).  Now God’s Spirit, who reveals God, makes known to us Christ, his Word, his living Utterance, but the Spirit does not speak of himself. The Spirit who “has spoken through the prophets” makes us hear the Father’s Word, but we do not hear the Spirit himself. We know him only in the movement by which he reveals the Word to us and disposes us to welcome him in faith. The Spirit of truth who “unveils” Christ to us “will not speak on his own” (John 16:13). [687]

So we hear the Word, as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. He disposes us to welcome Christ in faith. The Spirit grants us the gift of faith to believe. This seems to be the most essential work of the Holy Spirit, regardless of what Christian tradition you are coming from.

Cum Sancto Spiritu: A First Look

In the liturgy of the Mass, where it reads Cum Sancto Spiritu — at the end of the Gloria, where “You alone are the Most High Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father” — I have sometimes gotten the sense, from both the Latin and the English, that the tone of this is “and the Holy Spirit, too!” — as if the Holy Spirit were a tag-along, there gratuitously as a part of the Trinity, without a clear idea of what He’s doing there. Coming into the Catholic tradition, it often seemed as if the Holy Spirit was downplayed, a less important figure than in the tradition I’m coming out of. So I’m searching for the role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic tradition, trying to understand who he is and what he does in the Catholic understanding. It seems rather more complex, and less visible, but nonetheless important.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

In the Pentecostal tradition, the Holy Spirit takes a central role in Christian life. Prayers are offered to the Holy Spirit, asking him to “fill this place” or “move in this place.” My feeling has always been that in this context, the Holy Spirit is an atmosphere of fervency and emotion that spreads and envelops. The Holy Spirit is said to have moved, for instance, after a service in which the congregation “gets lost” in emotional worship. But the Holy Spirit also fills, and overflows. He manifests himself in miracles and miraculous spiritual gifts, such as healing, prophecy, and especially speaking in tongues — the sine qua non of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This “baptism of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by speaking in tongues” is one of the hallmarks of the “Spirit-filled life.” This, and the moving of these spiritual gifts, define the Christian life for Pentecostals, who call themselves “Spirit-filled Christians.”

This understanding of the Holy Spirit is based primarily in the Book of Acts (especially Acts 2Acts 10:44-46 and Acts 19) and Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12 and 14). Being “baptized” or “filled with the Holy Spirit” is something that takes place separate from believing in Christ or “being saved,” as seems to be the case in Acts 19, in which “disciples” had “believed” and been baptized (in water) but had not yet “received the Holy Spirit.” (Another way to read this, as my ESV Study Bible notes suggest, is that these people clearly didn’t know very much about Jesus or his teachings if they had never heard of the Holy Spirit, and had only been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism. So receiving the Holy Spirit was merely the product of receiving the fullness of Christ’s message and being baptized in his name.) Certainly 1 Corinthians 12 lists spiritual gifts, and 1 Corinthians 14 speaks at length about the gifts of prophecy and tongues. But these are the only places they are mentioned in the New Testament.

The Catholic Church, and most non-Charismatic Christians, believe that these miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the passing of the Apostolic Age — this view is called Cessationism; the opposite view, that the gifts continued, is Continuationism. I have never read much in the way of this theological debate — like most theological debates, I’ve found it dizzying and threatening and detrimental to my spiritual health. I have a book on the debate I’ve never gotten through; perhaps I should try again. I feel that it, like most doctrinal debates, is a rabbit trail that distracts believers from more important issues of Christian life — but I am curious about the reasoning here. I wonder if there are any Catholic books on this issue?

Anyway, I’ve gotten completely off the track of the well-meaning, and I thought well-settled, outline I set for this post a couple of weeks ago. I’m tempted to delete all of the above distraction, but I think I will leave it just to illustrate how confusing an issue this is for me, and to hope that some helpful reader might stumble upon it and offer me book recommendations. It’s nearly midnight, but I will leave you with what I meant to reach: a summary of what I understood, in the Pentecostal tradition, to be the roles and functions of the Holy Spirit. (I would give Scripture references, but I’m tired and it’s late. Consequently, this list may be flawed or incomplete. So this does not represent a studied effort, just my off-the-cuff understanding.)

  1. The Holy Spirit enters the heart and life of all believers, as part of “asking Jesus into your heart” or “getting saved” — but this is different than the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
  2. The Holy Spirit, indwelling in one’s heart, is a Counselor. He leads the believer to decisions or courses of action, and urges him to act.
  3. The Holy Spirit is a Comforter, consoling and assuaging the heart of the believer.
  4. The Holy Spirit also convicts the believer of sin and guides him to repentance.
  5. The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets and inspired the writers of Scripture of the New Testament also.
  6. The Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture for the believer, leading him to a correct understanding of it and allowing the Bible to function as the living Word of God and a continuing revelation.
  7. The Holy Spirit gives the believer words to say in ministry, speaking for him or through him.
  8. The Holy Spirit bears the virtuous fruits of the Spirit in the believer who walks by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-22).
  9. The Holy Spirit moves one to zeal, joy, or other high emotion, leading one into worship.
  10. The Holy Spirit baptizes or fills a believer, granting a more intimate connection and manifesting in miraculous gifts, especially speaking in tongues.
  11. The other gifts of the Holy Spirit (all of which Pentecostals believe continue), as enumerated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, are:
    1. Word of wisdom.
    2. Word of knowledge.
    3. Miraculous faith.
    4. Gift of healing.
    5. Working of miracles.
    6. Prophecy.
    7. Discerning of spirits.
    8. Speaking in tongues.
    9. Interpretation of tongues.

Next time, I’ll attempt to tackle Catholic doctrine about the Holy Spirit. But that’s requiring a good bit of studying of the Catechism, and I’ve been busy with school. So this post has been delayed, and will probably continue to be.