The work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments

“The Holy Spirit pervades all the liturgy of the Church”(LG50-51). All forms of cult can only be lived in the Holy Spirit because there cannot be any sanctifying action without the intervention of the ‘All Holy’, the Sanctifier[1]. The whole Church is a sacrament of the outpouring of the Spirit. But the Church also has special rites of sanctification called sacraments in a more precise sense. The individual sacraments are instituted in the Spirit and at the same time they are channels where the Spirit is at work[2]. We would like to investigate the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the seven sacraments defined by the Church, bearing in mind that ” the seven sacraments do not swallow up all the sacramental richness of the Church, everything the Church does has a sacramental density because the Church is fundamentally a Sacrament. Neither is grace tied down to the seven major signs of the faith”[3].

What is a sacrament?
“A Sacrament is a worldly reality which reveals the mystery of salvation, because it is its realization.”[4] Any theology of the sacraments emphasizes that 1. a sacrament is always performed in the name of Jesus Christ. 2. All sacraments are the work of the Holy Spirit, and both a gift and a call. 3. They are to be found at the heart of human life, and 4. they carry on Jesus’ mission to the world[5].

Importance of the sacraments
The Sacraments are deeply rooted in human life. They ensure that the whole of our lives is a proclamation of the gospel. They allow us to speak of God within the fabric of our existence.[6] The sacraments call Christians scattered in the world (forming an invisible Church) to be recognized by having the courage to demonstrate in their own lives their faith in the Lord Jesus.[7] The sacraments have a missionary dimension ignored by many Christians. They are indeed a means of salvation, but of the salvation of the World. They are a revelation of God, the presence of God in our affairs[8]. The sacraments puts us in a living and effective contact with the Savior.[9] They communicate the life of Jesus Christ to those who receive them. They are gift of salvation.
A sacrament entails commitment. The word ‘sacramentum’ originally signified this conversion of the human being to God. It signified precisely the sacred commitment to live in accordance with the demands of the Christian faith.[10]

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments
The sacrament is a time and a moment when human beings welcome the Spirit, and let that Spirit do its work. It is the presence of the Spirit that makes the sacrament an efficacious sign[11]. Every sacrament is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the believer because the Holy Spirit is the source of what we do for the salvation of the world: proclamation of the gospel, service of our brothers and sisters… In the sacrament, Christ through his Church gives his spirit so that we may wear his face and live his life. That is why the sacraments are not something to be received; they are to be lived.[12]
In spite of less emphasis on the central importance of the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments in western theology compared to Eastern theology, Catholic theology has always held that Sacraments owe their effectiveness to the Spirit. “Throughout the history of the Church, the effectiveness of the grace of the sacraments has always been attributed to the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit, the ‘virtus Spiritus Sancti’.[13] The conviction behind is that through the sacrament Jesus is in us. But if his sacramental presence is to have its effects, the holy Spirit must add his breath, his fire and his dynamism[14] because the Holy Spirit is the finger of God who refines and completes. The Holy Spirit is the artiste who ‘puts the last touch’ to the words of love of the Father and the Son. The Spirit assures the finishing.[15] The Spirit never works on his own. It is always on account of the Son and in union with him that the Spirit works on the heart of man[16]. This leads to ask one question: who acts in the sacraments?

  1. Who acts in the sacraments?
    It is Christ, the one and only priest, who acts in the Sacraments through his Spirit. And today Christ accomplishes his priestly activity through the Church, his body[17]. Only Christ is the instrument and the efficacious sign of the divination of humanity because he is the first and true sacrament of the Father.[18] The sanctifying action of God is realized in the sacrament through Christ, who in turn gives to the faithful his Holy Spirit.[19] We can say without doubt that Jesus Christ is the author of the sacraments because he is the Eternal Word incarnate in the concrete history who communicates himself in love and offers salvation through the sacraments. And in a stricter sense he is the author of the sacraments because he, in willing the Church, he willed the sacraments that concretize and spell out the Church in life’s various situations.[20] Then an important question has to be asked: How do the sacraments work?
  2. How do the sacraments work?
    There are four cardinal principles ruling the sacraments[21]: 1. In every sacrament, the inward reality is a divine act 2. The sacraments do not limit God’s gracious activity. 3. True faith and penitence are necessary conditions for the effectual receiving of God’s gift in the sacraments and 4. The Soul can receive more in the sacrament that it is capable of realizing.
    The Vatican Council II emphasized the understanding of Sacraments as sacraments of faith. The sacraments are effective because they express our life of faith. Their aim is to awaken our faith, to provoke it. This conception of sacrament goes against the tendency to attribute magical power to the sacraments in the sense that an action is performed or a word spoken by some one who has the ‘power’ (a priest, a minister of a sacrament) for the result to be achieved. That has never been the attitude of the Church.[22]
    Jesus Christ is central to the Sacraments. He is present and operative in the Sacraments through his Spirit because of God’s own promise.[23]
  3. Presence and role of the Spirit in the various sacraments[24].
    · The epiclesis
    The epiclesis is found in almost all sacramental celebrations. It is the invocation to the Holy Spirit, and that he should accomplish his work of sanctification. It shows that in the sacrament it is God’s power which is involved and not the power of the priest even if he is a sacramental reality[25]. The epiclesis actualizes the Pentecostal descent of the Spirit. In this sense it is the summary of the history of salvation[26]. The Spirit is given to perfects what the Father started and what the son continued.

b. The Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism

The Spirit in the rite:
· In Blessing of the water: “Father, […] By the power of the Spirit, give to the water of this font the grace of your Son. You created man in your own likeness: cleanse him from sin in a new birth to innocence by water and the Spirit. […] we ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this font….
· In the rite of baptism: “N. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The role of the Spirit:
The Spirit assures the regeneration and the radical renewal. He gives the justification and freedom from sin. Thus he gives the new life, which is a life of Christ, based of the virtues of faith, hope and charity. The Spirit incorporates the believer into Christ and in the Church. In baptism, the Spirit ‘christifies’ the person: the Spirit makes the person like Christ. The Holy Spirit is a principle of communion. In the baptism of infants, the Holy Spirit transcends the details of space and time and is able to include the infant in the faith of his parents, his sponsors and the whole Church[27]. The Spirit is represented by water, the living water ‘welling up to eternal life’ (Jn4: 14). What happens in baptism is what happened in the resurrection of Christ. The Spirit raises up the faithful by incorporating them to Christ. The spirit makes them children of God. It is a Spirit of fatherhood and sonship. The Spirit is also a power that gathers together and assures mutual communion. It is the ‘bond of the Church’ and through whom all the others share the treasures of each person.[28]

Question: Is the reception of the Spirit in baptism definitive and final?
No. The reception of the Spirit in baptism is not a definitive and final act. The self-giving of God in His Spirit is never finished or completed. The life of God is not exhaustible and finite.[29]

c. The sacrament of Confirmation

The Spirit in the rite:
· The laying on of hands: “let us pray to our Father that he will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ the Son of God. The laying on hands on the candidates by the bishop is the biblical gesture by which the gift of the Holy Spirit is invoked.
· All pray in silence for a short time: to allow the Spirit to fill the candidate.
· The prayer: “All-powerful God, send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide. Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of right judgment and courage, the Spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence…
· The anointing with chrism: the bishop dips his right thumb in the chrism and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the one to be confirmed, as he says: “N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”. The anointing with chrism and the accompanying words express clearly the effects of the giving of the Holy Spirit.

The role of the Spirit:
Signed with the gift of the Spirit in confirmation, Christians more perfectly become the image of their Lord and are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit conforms believers more perfectly to Christ and strengthens them so that they may bear witness to Christ before the entire world for the building up of his body in faith and love. The Spirit marks through anointing and seal. Hence he assures the total belonging to Christ. The Spirit helps the Christian to grow in Christ and in God’s likeness. The Spirits grants his seven gifts as particular strength to enables the faithful to ‘witness’ his or her faith and defend it by word and with example. The Spirit makes the faithful participate in the prophetic mission for which Christ himself was consecrated. The Spirit is a power for developing personality. He helps the believer to develop towards adult age where his union with the risen Christ will be more authentic. The Spirit ensures that each believer passes from the age of receiving to that of giving, in which the believer shares Christ’s responsibility with regard to the Church and to Humanity[30]. The Spirit ensures an effective integration into Christ, the Savior of the word and into the Church, the universal institution of salvation.

Question: what does confirmation add to the grace of baptism?
Confirmation is the simple completion of baptism. It is its final stage[31]. Confirmation “adds nothing, but confirms everything. Its grace is that of baptism, but with its dynamism increased.”[32]

d. The sacrament of the Eucharist

The Spirit in the rite:
The epiclesis: 1. On the gifts: “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” 2. On the people: “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.”(Eucharistic Prayer II)

The role of the Spirit:
The Spirit makes Christ present. He makes the paschal mystery actual. The Spirit makes the celebration of the Eucharist a Pentecost. He gives a foretaste of the future kingdom. He makes the vital communion with the Lord possible. The Spirit again incorporates to the ‘Whole Christ’. Thanks to the Spirit the whole life of the Christian becomes a liturgy and a cult. The consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is brought about by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transforms and sanctifies the elements into the real symbols of the paschal presence of Christ in the midst of the Church. And he does that through the same power, which raises Christ to life, for he always acts in the Church as the power of the resurrection. . It is the Spirit who gives meaning to things.

Question: Who is the agent of the consecration? Is it the priest as he representative of Christ in the sacramental action in which Christ’s words were re-used or the Holy Spirit as invoked in the epiclesis? The Consecration of the sacred gifts in an act of Christ, the sovereign high priest who is active through his minister and through his power, the Holy Spirit[33].

e. The sacrament of penance

The Spirit in the rite:
In the preparation of the priest and the penitent: the priest should call upon the Holy Spirit so that he may receive enlightenment and charity.
In the welcoming of the penitent: the penitent makes the sign of the cross, saying: “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In the formula of absolution: The priest extends his hands, over the head of the penitent and pronounces the formula of absolution, in which the essential words are: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The role of the Holy Spirit
The Spirit is the one who moves the sinner to come to continual conversion. He gives the pardon for the sins and ensures the reconciliation with the Church. Only the Spirit can create a true conversion to God from the whole heart. Because deeply united to the Father, the Spirit can give a deep love of God and commit the faithful completely to God. The Spirit calls back to life lost as he called back Jesus to life. The Spirit is the strength to gain the full freedom of the Children of God. A serious striving to perfect the grace of baptism can only be assure by the same Holy Spirit poured out in baptism. The Spirit acts so that life of Christ may be seen in us ever more clearly (2Cor4:10). By the Spirit, the Christians move to more fervent service of God and the neighbour through the grace of this sacrament of penance. “God forgives sin though the gift of the Spirit by opening the heart of the person to this gift. The Holy Spirit is the power to forgive sins as testifies by Jn 20:22ff.: ‘receive the Holy Spirit. For those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”[34]

f. The sacrament of marriage

The Spirit in the rite:
In the exchange of rings: “N., take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The role of the Spirit:
The Spirit makes the Christians share in the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his church (Eph 5:32). He helps the married to help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. Christ, through his Spirit raised this union to the dignity of a sacrament so that it might more clearly recall and more easily reflect his own unbreakable union with his Church (GS48). The Spirit makes married Christians steadfast and ready to cooperate with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will constantly enrich and enlarge his own family (GS48, 50). The Spirit is implored as gift of love for the spouses. Through the power of the Spirit married couples come ever closer to the mystery of Christ and the Church of which they are symbol. The Spirit assures the unity of the couple for in his power Christian couples have the grace and duty to become ever more husband and wife in order to make their conjugal community effectively indissoluble. “The Spirit is the fountainhead of this sacrament”[35].

g. The sacrament of order

The Spirit in the rite:
In the Laying on of the hands: a gesture that points to the communication of the Holy Spirit.
In the silence before the consecratory prayer: to allow God to fill the candidate.
In the words of the consecratory prayer:
For the deacons: “Lord, send forth upon them the Holy Spirit, that they may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.”
For the priests: “Almighty Father, grant to these servants of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within them the Spirit of holiness….
For the bishop: “Pour out the power that comes from you, (that) of the sovereign Spirit, that which you gave to your beloved Son Jesus Christ and which he granted to his holy apostles who constituted the Church in various places as your sanctuary, to the praise and glory of your name.”

The role of the Spirit:
The Spirit is asked for and granted as spirit of holiness and grace. The Spirit entrusts to the ordained minister the whole Church of God, assigns to him the totality of the ministry, and involves him wholly in the service of the apostolate. Thus the Spirit integrates him into the heart of the Church, which is the organ of presence and contact between Christ and the world. The Spirit consecrates a Christian to Christ in his death and glory and thus makes him a sacrament for salvation. The Spirit makes the ordained minister the symbol of Christ. He consecrates the person to be the servant of all the faithful for their salvation.

h. The sacrament of anointing of the sick

The Spirit in the rite:
In the laying on of hands
In the anointing the sick person on the forehead and on the hands: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. R/Amen. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. R/Amen.

The role of the Spirit:
The word anointing means in itself the gift of the Spirit and his power. The role of the Spirit is to sanctify the sick person for his recovery. It is an eschatological gift, for the salvation of the whole person. The Holy Spirit does not act as a medicine. It touches the roots: it comforts the suffer as a person. The action may have some influence on the physical strength of the faithful if God wills. The Spirit strengthens the faithful who are afflicted by illness with the sacrament of anointing, providing them with the strongest means of support. The Spirit encourages trust in God and he gives strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One and anxiety about death. Thus the sick person is able not only to bear his suffering bravely, but also to fight against it.

Conclusion
The Holy Spirit through and in the sacraments incorporates us progressively into the glorified Body of Christ, towards the eschatological fulfillment. The Holy Spirit is “the eschatological gift through and in which we return to the father”[36]. Every sacrament, in as much as it is a fulfillment of the wonders of God, an act of faith and cult, and communication of grace, presupposes a specific and different effusion of the Holy Spirit[37]. We have the responsibility to make people understand and live the rites of the sacraments as cultural expressions of their faith. Christ assumes and uses the sacraments to make himself present and to communicate his love and grace through his Spirit[38]. Sacraments presuppose, express and nourish faith. Because faith implies conversion, a sacrament is efficacious and fully realized in the world only when it expresses conversion and leads to ongoing conversion. “A sacrament without conversion is condemnation. A sacrament with conversion is salvation”.[39] And it is the Spirit who ensures that ongoing conversion.

Bibliography

a. Books

Béguerie, Philippe & Claude Duchesneau, How to Understand the Sacraments, New York: Crossroad, 1997.

Boff, Leonardo, Sacraments of life, life of the Sacraments, translated by John Drury, Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1987.

Congar, Yves, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983.

Durrwell, F.X., Holy Spirit of God: an essay in biblical theology, translated by Sister Benedict Davies OSU, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986.

Joseph A., Mary Collins, Dermot A., eds., The New Dictionary of Theology, Washington: Delamare, Michael Glarier, 1989.

Rey-Mermet, Th., Croire: Vivre la foi dans les sacraments, Limoges: Droguet&Ardant, 1977.

The Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Your Spirit, Lord, Fills the Earth, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997.

The Pastoral-Missionary Commission of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, The Spirit is Lord and Gives Life, Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997.

Wheeler, Robinson H., The Christian experience of the Holy Spirit, Glasgow: Fontana Books, 1962.

b. Documents
The rites of the Catholic Church, New York: Pueblo Publishing Co, 1976.
The rites of the Catholic Church II, Volume II, New York: Pueblo Publishing Co, 1980.

[1] The Pastoral-Missionary Commission of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, The Spirit is Lord and Gives Life, Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997, p.18.
[2] F.X. Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God: an essay in biblical theology, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986, p.91.
[3] Leonardo Boff, Sacraments of life, life of the Sacraments, Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1987, p.5.
[4] Philippe Béguerie &Claude Duchesneau, How to Understand the Sacraments, New York: Crossroad, 1997, p.4.
[5] Ibid., p.4.
[6] Ibid., p.5.
[7] Ibid., p.12
[8] Ibid., p.15
[9] The Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Your Spirit, Lord, Fills the Earth, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997, p.78.
[10] Ibid., p.92.
[11] Philippe Béguerie &Claude Duchesneau, How to Understand the Sacraments, New York: Crossroad, 1997, p.14.
[12] Ibid., p.14
[13] Yves Congar, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p.250
[14] Ibid., p.264.
[15] Th. Rey-Mermet, Croire: Vivre la foi dans les sacraments, Limoges: Droguet&Ardant, 1977, p.110-111.
[16] F.X. Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God: an essay in biblical theology, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986, p.95.
[17] Philippe Béguerie &Claude Duchesneau, How to Understand the Sacraments, New York: Crossroad, 1997, p.67-68.
[18] Th. Rey-Mermet, Croire: Vivre la foi dans les sacraments, Limoges: Droguet&Ardant, 1977, p.28.
[19] Joseph A., Mary Collins, Dermot A., eds., The New Dictionary of Theology, Washington: Delamare, Michael Glarier, 1989, p.922.
[20] Leonardo Boff, Sacraments of life, life of the Sacraments, Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1987, p.4.
[21] H. Wheeler Robinson, The Christian experience of the Holy Spirit, Glasgow: Fontana Books, 1962, p163.
[22] Philippe Béguerie &Claude Duchesneau, How to Understand the Sacraments, New York: Crossroad, 1997, p.26.
[23] Ibid., p.71-72.
[24] The information of this section are found in The rites of the Catholic Church, New York: Pueblo Publishing Co, 1976 (Volumes I and II) with some additional information from Yves Congar, F.X. Durrwell, and the Official Catechetical Text in preparation for the Holy Year 2000.
[25] Philippe Béguerie &Claude Duchesneau, How to Understand the Sacraments, New York: Crossroad, 1997, p.68.
[26] The Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Your Spirit, Lord, Fills the Earth, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997, p.89.
[27] Yves Congar, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p.268.
[28] Jean Danielou as quoted by Yves Congar, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p.268.
[29] The Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Your Spirit, Lord, Fills the Earth, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997, p.80.
[30] F.X. Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God: an essay in biblical theology, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986, p.94.
[31] [31] Yves Congar, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p.222.
[32] F.X. Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God: an essay in biblical theology, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986, p.93.
[33]Yves Congar, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p.234.
[34] F.X. Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God: an essay in biblical theology, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986, p.101.
[35] Ibid., p.104
[36] Yves Congar, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol III: the river of life flows in the East and in the West, New York, London: The Seabury Press & Geoffrey Chapman, 1983, p.267.
[37] The Pastoral-Missionary Commission of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, The Spirit is Lord and Gives Life, Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997, p.18.
[38] Leonardo Boff, Sacraments of life, life of the Sacraments, Washington: The Pastoral Press, 1987, p.86.
[39] Ibid., p.92.

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