On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and the Church was openly revealed to the world as the community of salvation
The Holy Father continued his catechesis on the Church at the General Audience of Wednesday, 2 October. In this week's discourse the Pope states that the Holy Spirit's coming at Pentecost initiated the "time of the Church", the time in which we are living now. Here is the text of the Holy Father's address.
1. Many times during the preceding catecheses we have referred to the Holy Spirit's intervention in the Church's origins. Now it is time for us to devote a special catechesis to this beautiful and important topic.
Jesus himself, before ascending to heaven, said to the Apostles: "I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24:49). Jesus intends to prepare the Apostles directly for the fulfilment of "the promise of my Father". The evangelist Luke repeats the same final exhortation of the Teacher in the first verses of the Acts of the Apostles: "While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father" (1:4).
During all of his messianic activity, Jesus preached about the kingdom of God and prepared for the "time of the Church", which was to begin after his departure. When his departure was close, he announced that the day was soon coming when this time was to begin (cf. Acts 1:5), i.e. the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. And looking to the future, he added: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
2. When the day of Pentecost came the Apostles, who were gathered together in prayer with the Mother of the Lord, saw proof that Jesus Christ acted in conformity with what he had announced: i.e., the "promise of the Father" was being fulfilled. The first of the Apostles, Simon Peter, proclaimed this when he spoke to the assembly. Peter spoke by first recalling the death on the cross, and then he gave witness to the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: "God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth" (Acts 2:32-33).
From the first day Peter asserts that the "promise of the Father" has been fulfilled as a result of the resurrection, because it is in virtue of his cross and resurrection that Christ, the Son who has been exalted "at the right hand of God", sends the Spirit, as he had announced even before his passion during the farewell in the Upper Room.
3. The Holy Spirit thus initiated the mission of the Church, which was established for all people. But we cannot forget that the Holy Spirit was at work as an "Unknown God" (cf. Acts 17:23) even before Pentecost. He was at work in a special way in the old covenant, enlightening and leading the chosen people on the way which brought ancient history to the Messiah. He was at work in the messages of the prophets and in the writings of all the inspired authors. He was especially at work in the incarnation of the Son, as is witnessed in the Gospel of the annunciation and the history of the subsequent events connected with the coming into the world of the Incarnate Word who had assumed human nature. The Holy Spirit was at work in the Messiah and surrounding the Messiah from the moment when Jesus began his messianic mission in Israel, as one can see in the Gospel texts about the theophany at the time of his baptism in the Jordan and his declarations in the synagogue of Nazareth. But from that time and throughout Jesus' whole life, expectations were heightened and promises renewed for the future, definitive coming of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist tied the mission of the Messiah to a new baptism "in the Holy Spirit". Jesus promised "streams of living water" to those who would believe in him: a promise mentioned in John's Gospel, which explains it this way: "He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified" (Jn 7:39). On the day of Pentecost Christ, who was now glorified after completing his mission, makes "streams of living water" well up from within himself and he pours out the Spirit to fill the Apostles and all believers with divine life. They were thus able to be "baptized in one Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). It was the beginning of the Church's growth.
4. The Second Vatican Council teaches: "Christ sent the Holy Spirit from the Father to exercise inwardly his saving influence, and to promote the spread of the Church. Without doubt, the Holy Spirit was at work in the world before Christ was glorified. On the day of Pentecost, however, he came down on the disciples that he might remain with them forever; on that day the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun. Finally, on that day was foreshadowed the union of all peoples in the catholicity of the faith by means of the Church of the new covenant, a Church which speaks every language, understands and embraces all tongues in charity, and thus overcomes the dispersion of Babel" (Ad gentes, n. 4).
The conciliar text indicates what constitutes the Holy Spirit's action in the Church, beginning with the day of Pentecost. It is an interior, saving work which is also expressed externally in the birth of a community and institution of salvation. This community—the community of the first disciples—is permeated with love, which overcomes all differences and divisions of an earthly nature. A sign of this is the Pentecost event with an expression of faith in God which is understandable to all, despite the differences in language. The Acts of the Apostles attest that the people who gathered around the Apostles at the first public manifestation of the Church said in amazement: "Are not all of these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us hears them in his native tongue?" (Acts 2:7-8).
5. The Church, which had just been born in this way on the day of Pentecost by the work of the Holy Spirit, was immediately revealed to the world. It is not a closed community, but an open one— it could be called a community thrown wide open—to all the nations "even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Those who enter this community through Baptism become, by virtue of the Holy Spirit of truth, witnesses of the Good News and are ready to pass it on to others. It is therefore a dynamic, apostolic community: the Church "in a state of mission".
The Holy Spirit first "bears witness" to Christ (cf. Jn 15:26) and this witness pervades the heart and soul of those who participate in Pentecost. They in turn become witnesses and proclaimers. The "tongues of fire" (Acts 2:3) which appeared over the head of each one present are the external sign of the enthusiasm enkindled in them by the Holy Spirit. The Apostles extended this enthusiasm to their listeners, as already happened after Peter's discourse on the first day: "Some three thousand were added" (Acts 2:41).
6. The entire Acts of the Apostles is a grand description of the Holy Spirit's work at the beginning of the Church, which — as we read — "was being built up and was making steady progress in the fear of the Lord; at the same time it enjoyed the increased consolation of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31). We know that there were internal difficulties and persecutions, and there were the first martyrs. But the Apostles were certain that the Holy Spirit was there to guide them. This awareness of theirs would in some way be formalized in the concluding decision of the Council of Jerusalem, whose resolutions began with the words: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too..." (Acts 15:28). In this way the community gave evidence of its own awareness of being moved by the action of the Holy Spirit.
L'Osservatore Romano October 7, 1991