Presentation on theme: "The Birth of the Church General audience of August 30, 1989."— Presentation transcript:
The Birth of the Church General audience of August 30, 1989
The Church, which originated in Christ's redemptive death, was manifested to the world on Pentecost Day by the work of the Holy Spirit.
We have seen how, in reference to the old covenant between the Lord God and Israel as his "chosen" people, the people of the new covenant made "in Christ's blood" (cf. 1 Cor 11:25) are called in the Holy Spirit to holiness.
It is the people consecrated through "the anointing of the Holy Spirit" in the sacrament of Baptism. It is the "royal priesthood" called to offer "spiritual gifts" (cf. 1 Pet 2:9).
By forming the people of the new covenant in this way, the Holy Spirit manifests the Church which flowed from the Redeemer's heart wounded on the cross.
Jesus Christ, by "transmitting to the apostles the kingdom received from the Father" (cf. Lk 22:2; Mk 4:11), laid the foundations for building his Church. He did not limit himself to attracting listeners and disciples by means of the words of the Gospel and the signs worked by him. He clearly stated that he wished "to build the Church" on the apostles, and in particular on Peter (cf. Mt 16:18).
When the hour of his passion, the evening of the previous day, arrived, he prayed for their "consecration in the truth" (cf. Jn 17:17); he prayed for their unity: "That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you...so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (cf. Jn 17:21-23).
Finally, he gave his life "as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45), "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Jn 11:52).
The conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium emphasizes the connection between the Paschal mystery and Pentecost: "When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, he appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and he poured out on his disciples the Spirit promised by the Father" (n. 5).
This happened in accordance with what Jesus announced during the supper before his passion, and repeated before his final departure from this earth to return to the Father: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem... and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
This fact is culminating and decisive for the Church's existence. Christ announced and instituted her, and then finally "generated" her on the cross through his redemptive death.
However, the Church's existence became evident on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended and the apostles began to "bear witness" to Christ's paschal mystery. We can speak of this event as a birth of the Church, as we speak of a person's birth at the moment when he comes forth from his mother's womb and "is manifested" to the world.
"The era of the Church began with the 'coming,' that is to say, with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, together with Mary, the Lord's mother. The time of the Church began at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church.... The Holy Spirit assumed the invisible but in a certain way 'perceptible' guidance of those who after the departure of the Lord Jesus felt deeply that they had been left orphans. With the coming of the Spirit they felt capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to them. They felt full of strength. It is precisely this that the Spirit worked in them, and this is certainly at work in the Church, through their successors" (Dominum et Vivificantem n. 25).
The Church's birth is like a "new creation" (cf. Eph 2:15). We can make an analogy with the first creation, when "the Lord formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7). To this breath of life man owes the spirit which makes him a human person.
We must refer back to this creative breath when we read that the risen Christ, appearing to the apostles assembled in the upper room, "breathed on them, and said to them: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (Jn 20:22-23).
This event, which took place the very evening of the Pasch, can be considered as a Pentecost in anticipation, not yet public. Then followed the day of Pentecost, the public manifestation of the gift of the Spirit. Jesus Christ, "exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out this Spirit" (Acts 2:33). Therefore through the work of the Holy Spirit there has been "the new creation" (cf. Ps 104:30).
We can find other passages in the Book of Ezekiel where we read: "Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (Ez 37:9). "Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your grave, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel" (Ez 37:12). "And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live...you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken" (Ez 37:14). "...and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet" (Ez 37:10).
This magnificent and penetrating prophetic vision concerns the messianic restoration of Israel after the exile, announced by God after the long period of suffering (cf. Ez 37:11-14). The same announcement of revival and new life was given by Hosea (cf. 6:2; 13; 14) and by Isaiah (26:19). Yet the symbolism used by the prophet gave Israel the desire for an individual resurrection, perhaps already foreseen by Job (cf. 19:25).
As other passages show, this idea would develop gradually in the Old Testament (cf. Dan 12:2; 2 Macc 7:9-14; 23-36; 12:43-46) and in the New (Mt 22:29-32; 1 Cor 15). However, that idea prepared for the concept of the new life which would be revealed in Christ's resurrection and would come down on those who would believe, through the work of the Holy Spirit. We believers in Christ can also read a certain paschal analogy in the text of Ezekiel.
Here is a final aspect of the mystery of the Church's birth at Pentecost through the Spirit's action. In it Christ's priestly prayer in the upper room is realized: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).
Descending upon the apostles assembled with Mary, Christ's mother, the Holy Spirit transforms and unites them, "filling them" with the fullness of the divine life. They become "one," an apostolic community, ready to bear witness to the crucified and risen Christ. This is the new creation which flowed from the cross and was given life by the Holy Spirit, who gave it its historical beginning at Pentecost.