Holy Trinity, by Sandro Botticelli (1491-1493).
The Holy Spirit and the Contemporary Reform of the Catholic Church | Rev. Fr. Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, S.T.L. | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Ecclesia semper reformanda est (The Church is always to be reformed). This phrase originated in the Nadere Reformatiae of the Dutch Reform during the 1600s, and first appeared in the 1674 work, Beschouwinge van Zion (Contemplation of Zion), by Jodocus van Lodenstein, published in Amsterdam. In this phrase, the Reformed Protestant movement offers a sort of examination of conscience for the Church itself, in which it evaluates its effectiveness and ability to lead people to holiness of life. During the 19th century, the Wesley brothers, inadvertent founders of the Methodist Church, founded the Holiness movement as a reform of Anglicanism. The focus of this reform was the activity of the Holy Spirit as anima Ecclesiae (soul of the Church), which is the People of God, and which leads us to perfect holiness, as evident from our witness to the Holy Spirit in our life.
The Catholic Church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit has become of particular interest since the time of Bl. Elena Guerra (1835-1914), who petitioned Pope Leo XIII to provide a clearer and more systematic presentation of the Church’s Magisterium regarding the Holy Spirit. In 1897, he responded with his encyclical letter, Divinum Illud Munus. This encyclical was quite apropos, as it came four years before the birth of Pentecostalism in 1901, when Charles Fox Parham was the first to formulate a comprehensive idea of praying for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through the reception of charismatic gifts, such as tongues. He hoped, in this way, to recreate in his own day, the apostolic experience as spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles. In 1906, after William Seymour’s experience on Bonnie Brae St. and Azusa St. in Los Angeles, California, Pentecostalism took off with great fervor.
The Catholic Charismatic movement was ignited by the Duquesne University Revival, where, at a birthday party, the Catholic student association prayed for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and members began to speak in tongues. Even before this, the Catholic Church’s Cursillo movement was recognized by both Popes Pius XI and XII as a Spirit-inspired movement of the laity to consecrate the world. The expression of this role of the laity was later concretized at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). In 1986, Pope St. John Paul II wrote the encyclical, Dominum et Vivificantem, which further defined the role of the Holy Spirit as Lord and vivifier of the life of the Church. Previously, the Holy Spirit was, by and large, addressed in theological works of the Papal Magisterium focused on Divine Revelation, such as Spiritus Paraclitus, by Pope Benedict XV, and Divino Afflante Spiritu, by Ven. Pope Pius XII. For this reason, Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical is so very important, as it is the first since Divinum Illud Munus to explore the subject of the identity and mission of the Holy Spirit.
In 2006, the document, On Becoming a Christian: Insights from Scripture and the Patristic Writings: With Some Contemporary Reflections, was published, the result of an international dialogue between classical Pentecostal churches and the Catholic Church. This document specifically discusses the Holy Spirit in his role regarding his bringing people into the Church, (which Catholics view from a specifically sacramental perspective, for example, concerning baptism and confirmation), as well as that of guiding and sanctifying members to sustain the life of the Church.
Since the beginning of his pontificate, it has been very clear that Pope Francis is most interested in addressing the need (as in every age) for Church reform today. A look at the role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church is a great starting point. Let us to examine what the Church believes regarding: 1) The role of the Holy Spirit to bring people into the Church; and 2) How the Holy Spirit sustains the life of the Church. This will allow us to see how the Holy Spirit engages all the People of God, both clergy and laity, in order to bring about holiness of life for the whole Church. Starting with these two points, we can explore the role of the Holy Spirit in reforming the Catholic Church today.