Descent of the Holy Spirit

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Cæli enarrant

The third glorious mystery of the rosary marks the continuing transit of human beings to God and of God to human beings, in a further divine descent. God is in the business of building communion and extending his family, founded within the original love of the Trinity, and all the divine missions serve this cause of touching human beings — “with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm, for his mercy endures for ever” (Ps. 136:12). God the Father meets us in his Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to lead us to eternal life, which we call salvation. To meet God is therefore to journey with him, starting with our own rescue. “He reached down from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of great waters” (Ps. 18:17).

It is no accident of the Christian year that, following the day of Pentecost or Whitsunday, marking 50 days after Easter, we come immediately to Trinity Sunday. Here, one supposes, with the whole sweep of divine action before us — Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit — we can see all the persons of God in action. As the creeds attest, God is the sustained focus of our faith and worship because his action generates both our beginning and our end — in creation and in redemption, as we learn to walk with Christ, growing in holiness and being drawn to him. “He brought me out into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (Ps. 18:20).

God, indeed, goes to great lengths to chase us down, in a remarkable series of trinitarian movements, ordered around divine speaking. He gratuitously creates in the first place — not as a one-off initiation but continually, “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3); “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). We rightly conceive of life in Christ also in this sense: that through him all things were and are made. And then re-made, as this same Word of the Father “came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit … and was made man,” and upon dying descends to the dead, as the Apostles’ Creed asserts (see Eph. 4:9; cf. John 3:13). Here God shows the extraordinary extent of his love, “so that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). Finally, the Word incarnate pledges to “ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth …. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17). The Spirit comes, descending on the apostles in the form of “tongues, as of fire,” so that they could “speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:3, 4).

We say in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” to establish his divinity, so that he also may be “worshiped and glorified,” and to express God’s sustained unity: that the Spirit is not a new or created thing but of God. And because Jesus in particular pledges the Spirit — as in Acts: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (1:8) — St. Paul naturally speaks of the Spirit of Christ who “raised Christ from the dead.” This same Spirit will also “give life to [our] mortal bodies” by dwelling in us (Rom. 8:11). As the creed finally affirms: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Our resurrection begins now by life in the Spirit, as we “put to death the deeds of the body,” rejecting the slavery of fear. When we cry out “Abba! Father!” says Paul, “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (8:12, 15, 16-17).

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, teach us to depend wholly on you, in the Spirit of your Son. Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, rejoicing in his holy comfort. And make us one body with one hope, one faith, and one Lord, who is above all and through all and in all. Amen.

Christopher Wells


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