One of the song that I and my wife chose during our wedding day was “Veni Creator Spiritus” (Come Creator Spirit), believed to be written by Rabanus Maurus in the 9th century. And some of our friends asked why would one choose a song about the coming of the Holy Spirit for their wedding day. My response at that time was, “why not? we need the Holy Spirit in our marriage life”. I have to admit that it was an interesting question. However, I have heard an even more interesting question, “why would you ask the coming of the Holy Spirit if you have been baptized, and the Holy Spirit is already IN you? We already have the Holy Spirit!” Well that makes a lot of sense. Why then? It is a question that I believe requires an answer as we approach the feast of Pentecost.
The funny thing that I realized is that, not only some people ask for the Holy Spirit to come. I would say even the Church continues to ask for the Holy Spirit to come. The song Veni Creator Spiritus was written in the 9th century and since then it has been one of the most loved traditional song sang in churches. People sing it during Easter vigil baptism ceremony. People sing it during ordination for priesthoods and bishops. People sing it during Pentecost. And people even sing it when they choose a Pope! In a word, the Church has been asking the Holy Spirit to come! Does that mean that the Church does not have the Holy Spirit all this while? Have you ever asked that question?
And I would say that the Church not only sing “Come Holy Spirit”. I believe the Church continues to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And believe it or not, it is every time the Eucharist is being celebrated, that she prays for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the second Eucharistic prayer we hear the epiclesis (Greek word for invocation or calling down from on high):
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us
the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And what are the gifts that the priest is praying for? They are surely the bread and wine. But what does the bread and wine symbolizes? It is our life offerings! The Eucharistic prayer follows the offering and it is these life offerings that are brought into the altar, so that just as the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, we too may become one body in Christ. Do we not receive Christ’s Spirit then when we receive His body?
Humbly we pray,
that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ
we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.
So it seems to me that the Church never stops asking the Holy Spirit to come. And I strongly believe that the Church is filled with the Spirit. But then why she ever needs to ask for the Holy Spirit to come? Do we need to ask for the Holy Spirit to come then? Maybe we have been asking the wrong question. Maybe we should ask what does it mean when the Holy Spirit is coming?
Who Proceeds from the Father and the Son
St. Thomas Aquinas once argued in his Summa Theologica that
Gift, taken personally in God, is the proper name of the Holy Ghost
Gift is the proper name of the Holy Spirit? Maybe that helps us to understand the preaching of St. Peter on the Day of Pentecost when he says
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Now what is interesting is that Peter used a singular for the word “gift” rather than the plural “gifts”. Peter was not talking about the seven messianic gifts or even any charismatic gifts. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Gift.
The Catechism of the Catholic church paragraph 733 onwards has a heading titled “the Holy Spirit – God’s Gift”. It says that:
“God is Love” and love is his first gift, containing all others. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (CCC 733)
The very reason why Gift is a proper name for the Holy Spirit is because Gift implies Love. Thomas Aquinas said that a gift is properly an unreturnable giving, quoting Aristotle. We do not expect any return when we give gifts (though some of us do these days). Now since giving gift does not expect any return, the only reason for this gratuitous donation is love. And so Thomas Aquinas said that love has the nature of first gift.
But we have not really answered our question on what it means by the coming of the Holy Spirit, haven’t we? Yes, we have not, but it gives us a glimpse about why the word “coming” is easily associated with the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the Holy Spirit is the Gift. The Holy Spirit is the Gift of the Father and the Son. It is through the Holy Spirit that God has loved us first.
The word Gift also shows us the dynamics of God. As the Gift from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Father and the Son to us. The Holy Spirit is the eternal Gift of God himself to us. Since the Holy Spirit is eternally the Gift, He eternally comes forth from the Father and the Son.
I think that answers partly of why the Church continuously ask for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the very nature of the Holy Spirit is Love. This love actualizes in the Gift of God himself. God gives himself to us. I believe that the best gift a person can give is not chocolate, flower, or even money. The best gift a person can give to others is himself. This is what God does through the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, the Gift, God gives himself. This giving of God himself does not happen only once in awhile. This gift of God himself, through the Holy Spirit, is eternal. In fact, we can say that the very life of God is this giving up of himself to the other. By the way, that is what love is all about. The very life of the Holy Trinity is to love and to receive love (CCC 735).
The Holy Spirit always comes forth from and go to somewhere else. Love always flows out. Love is not static, it is dynamic. Love always flows out to someone else. And so the Holy Spirit always proceeds from the Father and the Son, because the Holy Spirit is Love.
And so now we can answer a little bit of what it means when we pray “Come Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is God’s Gift, God’s outpouring of love. It is in this context of love that we ask the Holy Spirit to come. It is also in this context of love that Jesus speaks about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us.
If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23)
In fact the Church Fathers see the “we” in this verse as referring to the Holy Spirit.
So what does it mean by the coming of the Holy Spirit? It is the outpouring of the love of God himself to us. It is the coming of God to dwell in us. But this indwelling is not something static but rather dynamics. Some people used to explain to me that we already have the Holy Spirit just like a milo which is already in a cup of water. I don’t really think that the Holy Spirit is like a milo in a cup. I think the Holy Spirit is like a waterfall! The question is not about whether we have the Holy Spirit. The question is whether the Holy Spirit has us!
One of the most beautiful image that Jesus used when talking about the Holy Spirit is “living water” (John 4:10). The word living water also reminds us that the Holy Spirit is not like any static water. The Holy Spirit is like a fountain, it flows out. The Holy Spirit comes forth from a source and flows out. That is the reason why we said in our creed, the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Let us now talk about the effect of the Coming of the Holy Spirit. It is only then, we can answer convincingly, yes, we need to pray “Come Holy Spirit”.
One of the earliest traces of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is in the book of Genesis. There we read,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Gen 1:1)
If you have been following our argument of why we pray “Come Holy Spirit”, you will notice that the Spirit of God in this verse is associated with “moving over”. The Holy Spirit always comes forth from and go to somewhere else. But what is interesting is that in the beginning, there were darkness and disorder, but after creation, there is order and beauty and light. When the Holy Spirit comes, he creates. And not only just he creates any thing, but he creates something beautiful, something good, something orderly. This is what happens when the Holy Spirit comes. In fact, one of a traditional prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit says,
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your Love. Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the Earth.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is closely link to creation. Not just the creation of the first heaven and earth that we are living now, but also of the new heaven and the new earth that we are waiting for. When the Holy Spirit comes, he renews and changes us, and not only us, but the whole of creation.
The idea of creation also links to the giving of new life. In Genesis chapter 2, we read,
then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Gen 2:7)
By the way, the Hebrew word for Spirit is the same as “breath”. The Holy Spirit gives us life. That is what the creed also reminds us, I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He not only gives us this physical life, but also our new life in Christ Jesus. It is in baptism that we receive our new life in Christ Jesus, and we receive that new life through the Holy Spirit. The water of baptism symbolizes the living water who is the Holy Spirit.
This idea of a new life is also seen the vision of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel saw a valley full of dry bones, and God ask him to prophesy to the dry bones.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” (Ez 37:9)
Of course the dry bones in this context was Israel who felt abandoned, dried up, and lost hope. But I believe the Word of God applies even for us today. God is able to give us hope and new life. He is able to heal us from our brokenness and sins. It is when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives that we receive this newness of life and hope in Christ Jesus. When the Holy Spirit comes, he restores us to life!
There are many other things that we can see from the Scripture on the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But let me just conclude this article with one more reflection from the words “Come, Holy Spirit”.
Many people, out of their good intentions, think that they do not need to call for the Holy Spirit to come as they already have the Holy Spirit in their lives. But the very words of this prayer “Come Holy Spirit” reminds us that we are always in need of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is first and foremost a Gift. We do not deserve it and maybe we can never contain him fully in a way a cup of water can contain milo. The Holy Spirit is this living fountain that continues to be poured out for you and for me, and this brings us to the other point of this reflection. When the Holy Spirit is poured out to us, and dwells in us, he does not dwell in a way like any static or still water. When the Holy Spirit dwells in us, he continues to spring up and flow out. The Holy Spirit is God’s Love, and Love always flows out from the lover to the beloved. And so it is appropriate that Jesus say
He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)
We, who believes in Jesus and baptized, have received the Holy Spirit. It is about us that Jesus says, “out of his hearts shall flow rivers of living water”. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in us idle and dead. The Holy Spirit moves us to be a new fountain where other people can taste and drink, and where other people can receive God’s life as well.
It is no wonder, then, that on the day of Pentecost, the church began her evangelization mission. We simply cannot contain the Holy Spirit! As the Holy Spirit is being poured into the Church, the Church is moved to go out and share the good news. That is what should happen in our lives as well. When we say that the we have the Holy Spirit, one of the authentic signs of this indwelling in us is that we become a spring of living water for other people.
Now if you remember your science lessons in schools about the cycle of water, I am sure you will see the similarities between water and the Holy Spirit. In this cycle, we see that rains fall from heaven to earth and gives life to earth, and the earth will bear fruits. But the story does not stop here, the water continues to flow and at the end go up again to heaven. This cycle between heaven and earth is what sustain life on earth. Similarly, we can see the Holy Spirit who comes forth from the Father is being poured to us and gives us life. But it should not stop there. We should bear fruits and our love should flow back to God. This cycle of love between heaven and earth is also what sustain our lives. This is the ecosystem of our spiritual lives.
Let me conclude with a beautiful image of living water from the book of Ezekiel chapter 47. Ezekiel saw a river flowing from the temple and an angle of the Lord ask him to measure the depths of the river. As Ezekiel followed the river outside the temple, the water got deeper and deeper, until the water was too deep. The spring had become a big river. And this is what the angel said to Ezekiel,
And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. (verse 9)
And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (verse 12)
I think this is a beautiful image of the Holy Spirit. The river comes forth from the temple and flows out and gives life to every living creature. I cannot resist the temptation to compare this image with our Eucharistic gathering every Sunday. It is there from the altar that we receive the body and blood of Christ. And whenever we receive his body, we too receive his Spirit. And if only we hear carefully the call to go out after every Eucharistic celebration and can see the church from above, we will see people flowing out of the Church to go to their houses, families, friends, and work places. We see a living water flowing out from the temple of God. And this living water grows into a big river that gives life to every creature. When we say, “Come Holy Spirit”, it is just a humble prayer asking the Holy Spirit to flow over us and gives us life, so that at the end we too may give life to others. The question we should ask to ourselves is whether our lives give life others. Can other people drink from us and be refreshed? Or have our lives bring bitterness and sickness to those who drink from us? So, when someone ask whether the baptized should say, “Come Holy Spirit” I would say, “Why not?”
Come Creator Spirit
Come, O Creator Spirit, come,
and make within out heart thy home;
to us thy grace celestial give,
who of thy breathing move and live.
O Comforter, that name is thine,
of God most high the gift divine;
the well of life, the fire of love,
our souls’ anointing from above.
Thou dost appear in sevenfold dower
the sign of God’s almighty power;
the Father’s promise, making rich
with saving truth our earthly speech.
Our senses with thy light inflame,
our hearts to heavenly love reclaim;
our bodies’ poor infirmity
with strength perpetual fortify.
Our mortal foes afar repel,
grant us henceforth in peace to dwell;
and so to us, with thee for guide,
no ill shall come, no harm betide.
May we by thee the Father learn,
and know the Son, and thee discern,
who art of both; and thus adore
in perfect faith for evermore.