Pentecost: The Mission of the Holy Ghost

Pentecost: The Mission of the Holy Ghost
Fr. Julius Pottgeisser, S.J.

“But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and will bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.” —John xiv. 26.

The mission of the Holy Ghost, referred to in the words cited, which took place on the day of Pentecost, after Our Lord’s Ascension, is the chief object of today’s celebration. This feast commemorates the day on which the promulgation of the New Law was inaugurated by the apostles in Jerusalem. But this inauguration, as you know, is the work of the Holy Ghost, the fruit of His mission. For it was the Holy Ghost who inspired and transformed the apostles and fitted them for the great work which they had been called to fulfil. Therefore I have chosen the mission of the Holy Ghost for the subject of my discourse, with a view to contribute to the renewal of your devotion to the Third Person of the Adorable Trinity. But as the sending of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles on the feast of Pentecost can hardly be sufficiently understood without first having a clear idea of the mission of the Holy Ghost in general, I must first premise a few truths, that will give you the necessary insight into this mystery. I shall, therefore, treat—

1. Of the mission of the Holy Ghost in general;

2. Of His special mission on the feast of Pentecost.


What, then, are we to understand by the mission of the Holy Ghost in general? In order to answer this question thoroughly we must understand two things: viz., by whom and to whom He is sent. For, a messenger, or one who is sent, must be sent by another to a third party. This belongs to the nature of a true mission, such as we believe that of the Holy Ghost to be.

I. To the first question I answer that the Holy Ghost is sent by the Father and the Son. For Christ says: “I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth” (John xiv. 16-17); and again He says: “It is expedient to you that I go; for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Ibid. xvi. 7). From these two passages it is manifest that the Holy Ghost is sent, and that He is sent by the Son as well as by the Father. However, though this truth is certain beyond all doubt, it is not so easy to explain how one Divine Person can send another, who is equal to Him in all things. Nay, this difficulty is so great that it led the followers of the heretic Arius to deny the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. For, they argued, the Holy Ghost is sent by the Father and the Son, as is evident from the Scriptures; but the person sent is always less than the person who sends. Thus the servant is sent by his master, the soldier by his officer. Therefore, they concluded, the Holy Ghost, who is sent, must be less than the Father and the Son, by whom He is sent.

Yet no truth is more clearly contained in Holy Scripture than the Godhead of the Holy Ghost. Numerous are the passages of Holy Writ in which this truth is unmistakably laid down or hinted at. And, first of all, is it not peculiar to God alone to be everywhere present? Now, the Psalmist says: “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit; or whither shall I flee from Thy face?” (Ps. cxxxviii. 7.) Again, is it not peculiar to God alone to fill all places with His presence? But the Wise Man says: “The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world” (Wis. i. 7). Is it not peculiar to God alone to know all things? And the Apostle says: “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I. Cor. ii. 10). Is it not peculiar to God alone to do all things, and to dispense the gifts of grace? But the same Apostle says: “All these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will” (Ibid. xii. 1 1). Is it not peculiar to God alone to create? Now, what does the Royal Prophet say of the Spirit? “Thou shalt send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created; and thou shalt renew the face of the earth” (Ps. ciii. 30).

Is it not, in fine, peculiar to God alone to have a temple for His dwelling-place? And again, the Apostle says: “Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you? Glorify and bear God in your body” (I. Cor. vi. 19-20). And who was it that spoke through the mouth of the prophets? Was it not God? For we read in the canticle of Zachary: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people; … as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who are from the beginning” (Luke i. 68-70). But St. Peter assures us that it was God the Holy Ghost who spoke through the prophets; “for,” he says, “prophecy came not by the will of man at any time; but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost” (II. Pet. i. 21). Finally, St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles expressly teaches the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, when he says to Ananias: “Why hath Satan tempted thy heart, that thou shouldst lie to the Holy Ghost? . . .Thou hast not lied to men but to God” (Acts v. 3-4). The Holy Ghost is, therefore, true God, equal to the Father and the Son. He is sent, then, not as an inferior but as an equal both by the Father and the Son.

How, then, are we to understand His mission? Beloved brethren, a mission or sending may take place in two ways: first, by command; and, secondly, by production. In the first manner the servant is sent by his master, the embassador by his sovereign or government; in the second way the rays of light and heat are sent by the sun, sweet odor is diffused by the flower. In the first case the person sent is an inferior; for only an inferior can receive a command, and only a superior can give such. But not so in the second case; for the light and heat of the sun, the sweet scent of the flower, are nothing foreign to the nature of the sources from which they are sent; and if the sun or the flower were something simple and indivisible, as is the nature of God, it would communicate not a part, but the whole of its nature. It is, therefore, in the second manner, that is, by production, that both the Son and the Holy Ghost are sent; the Son of the Father alone, by generation, the Holy Ghost of the Father and the Son as the mutual act of their infinite love. There is this difference, however, as I have said, between production in God and in His creatures, that God, being simple and indivisible, communicates His entire nature, while the creatures communicate their nature only in part. Thus the Holy Ghost is said to be sent, to be produced, or to proceed from the Father and the Son, as from one source or principle.

2. Let us now proceed to answer the second question: To whom, or where is the Holy Ghost sent? We say that a Divine Person has been sent, or comes to a certain person or place, when He begins to dwell or to operate with that person, or in that place, in a new and special manner. For, as God is everywhere present, we cannot say that a Divine Person comes, or is sent, where He did not exist before; but only that He exists or operates there in a new and special way, in which He did not exist or operate before. Thus the Son and the Holy Ghost were in the world from the beginning. Therefore St. John says of the Son of God: “He was in the world, and the world knew Him not” (John i. 10). But He was not present from the beginning as man; and therefore He is said to be sent by the Father, that is, to have assumed a new mode of existence on earth: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Ibid. 14).

The mission of the Holy Ghost takes place in a similar way. He is said to be sent to us when He begins to dwell in us in a new manner, or when He begins to operate in us with His grace, and sanctify us in a new way. And what is this new manner in which the Holy Ghost dwells and operates in us? There are many and various ways—as many and as various as are the graces, gifts, and virtues which He communicates to the soul. If, for instance, an infidel or heretic is converted to the true faith, the Holy Ghost is sent to him with the gift of faith; He is present in his soul in a new way, operating through faith. If a sinner who has not lost the faith does penance, and is reconciled with God, the Holy Ghost is sent to him. For, though He operated in his soul already through the gift of faith, yet He now takes up His abode with him anew, and operates within him by sanctifying grace and the various supernatural virtues and gifts which He communicates to the sanctified soul.

This being the case, since the Holy Ghost comes in to our hearts and transforms them; since He infuses salutary sorrow into our souls and gives us the grace of true repentance; since He continues to dwell in our hearts as in His temple, after they are once cleansed from sin; since He enlightens and inspires us, and urges us on to the practice of Christian virtue; since He is the true comforter, who confers upon us true peace and happiness, and smoothes our path to everlasting life; should we not love Him with our whole heart and our whole soul? Should we not often enter in the spirit of faith into our own hearts, which are His dwelling place, and there adore and honor Him? But still stronger motives of honor and devotion to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity we shall find in—


In order now to make you understand the wonderful mission of the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost, which forms the chief object of today’s feast, I may confine myself to what is peculiar to this great mystery, namely, the manner in which the Holy Ghost is here sent by the Father and the Son, and the gifts which He bestowed on the apostles on this occasion.

I. The manner was new and extraordinary. For He did not descend in the form of a dove, as He did on Our Lord at His baptism (John i. 32); not in a gentle breath, as on the occasion on which Jesus Christ conferred their highest spiritual authority on the apostles (Ibid. xx. 22); not at the preaching of the Gospel, as He descended on Cornelius, the centurion (Acts x. 14); nor, finally, in stillness and seclusion, as He once descended on the Mother of God (Luke i. 35). But, while the apostles were assembled in the upper room of the house, in fervent prayer and anxious expectation of the Comforter that had been promised them, “suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming; and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire; and it sat upon every one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost; and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak” (Acts ii. 2-4).

But this manner of sending the Holy Ghost was not only new and unwonted; it was also highly befitting, and suited to the purpose of His mission. For by the various signs which accompanied this communication of the Holy Ghost were symbolized the various gifts which He bestowed on the apostles—the gift of wisdom, the gift of love, the gift of tongues, the gift of miracles. And who does not see in this wonderful fire which descended on the apostles the emblem of wisdom and of love? And do not the parted tongues clearly signify the gift of speaking various languages, which the apostles displayed on their first appearance as the preachers of the New Law? And what else is the signification of that mighty sound of winds coming from heaven than the wonderful power which they were to exert over the elements of nature, the power of working miracles; and, above all, that miracle of miracles, the conversion of the nations by their preaching? This commotion of the elements, at the same time, signifies the wonderful power of the Holy Ghost which was to reside with them, to confound and vanquish their enemies, and fill all men with holy awe and admiration of the power which God had given to men.

2. The gifts which the Holy Ghost communicated to the apostles on the feast of Pentecost were the best adapted to their vocation. Their vocation was to announce the Gospel of Christ to all nations, and to become the ideals and models of the preachers of God’s word that were to come after them.

For this end, poor and ignorant fishermen as they were, they needed, in the first place, the gift of wisdom. Before appearing as teachers of others they themselves had to be instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of God. And this was the work of the Holy Ghost, who was to teach them all truth, and practically to introduce them into the teachings of Christ, which so far they had been unable to understand.

No less necessary for them was the gift of love. For what would all their wisdom avail them, if they did not possess this virtue, so indispensable to the apostles of Christ? What is the fruit of the preaching of the Gospel if it enlightens the understanding without inflaming the heart? Now, it is love, and not wisdom, that inflames the heart; it is love that edifies; without it knowledge only puffeth up (I. Cor. viii. i).

They further needed the gift of tongues and powerful eloquence. Their mission was to all people, of all tribes and tongues. But what would their wisdom and zeal profit them, if their words could not reach the minds and hearts of their hearers? This difficulty was remedied by the gift of tongues, in virtue of which, while they preached, they were understood by all as speaking in their own tongue. But it was necessary also that they should speak as having power, that they should convince and move their hearers. And therefore the Holy Ghost added to the gift of languages that of extraordinary eloquence, so that only the obdurate could withstand the power of their words.

Finally, it was befitting, if not necessary, that they should possess the gift of miracles. They were sent to preach a new religion, to enforce a new law—a religion and a law which were repugnant to human nature, and most particularly to a depraved and sensual generation. Miracles were, therefore, morally necessary to commend the truths which they preached, to impress upon their doctrine a divine seal, which no one could contest or gainsay. For miracles are the arguments of God Himself, which He is wont to use to accredit His special messengers here one earth. And without this divine approval their preachings would be vain.

Thus you see, beloved brethren, that the Holy Ghost equipped the apostles with all gifts requisite for their divine vocation. But the Holy Spirit is at all times ready to do the same in favor of all of us. How comes it, then, that the apostles received so largely, while we often obtain but a small share of the gifts of the Holy Ghost? One reason is, because the apostles had a much higher and more arduous vocation than we have, and therefore had need of a greater fulness of the gifts of the Spirit than we. But another reason is, that we have not the same intense longing for those supernatural gifts which the apostles had, and that we do not pray for them fervently, and dispose our hearts to receive them. In short, we have not sufficient devotion to the Holy Ghost.

And, in fact, how little are we accustomed to think of the Third Person of the Adorable Trinity! How seldom do we invoke the Holy Ghost! How seldom do we thank Him for the countless favors which He bestows on us! Numberless, indeed, are His benefits to us. For, as the works of omnipotence are attributed to the Father, the works of wisdom to the Son, so the works of love are attributed to the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of love. From Him proceed, therefore, all graces which we receive. It is He who sustains us in temptation and preserves us from sin; it is He who gives us the strength to overcome ourselves, to perform our duties faithfully, and to advance in perfection and holiness. In short, it is He who continually guides us on the way to our eternal salvation. How grateful and tender, then, should be our love to the Holy Spirit! Does not our own highest interest, as well as the duty of gratitude, demand that we should love and honor the Holy Ghost?

Let us, then, today, on this glorious feast of His manifestation, be renewed in our devotion to the Holy Ghost; let us henceforth carefully avoid all that could grieve this Spirit of love, and especially all impurity, whether in thought, word, or deed—this sin which most of all denies His sacred temple—and let us invoke Him in all our necessities. Thus He will continue to dwell in our hearts, adorn them with His virtues and gifts in this life, and, in union with the Father and the Son, will be the source and the object of our eternal happiness. Amen.