Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Pentecost Involves the Three Divine Persons

by Pope Saint John Paul II


The Holy Father's General Audience Address of May 31, 2000 in which he continued his catechesis on the Blessed Trinity. This is the tenth in the series.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano



Publisher & Date

Vatican, June 7, 2000

1. The Christian Pentecost, a celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, presents various aspects in the writings of the New Testament. We will start with the one we have just heard described in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles. It is the most obvious one in everyone's mind, in the history of art and in the liturgy itself.

In his second work, Luke situates the gift of the Spirit within a theophany, that is, a solemn divine revelation, whose symbols refer to Israel's experience at Sinai (cf. Ex 19). The roar, the driving wind and the lightening-like fire exalt the divine transcendence. In reality, it is the Father who gives the Spirit through the intervention of the glorified Christ. Peter says so in his address:  Jesus, "being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33). At Pentecost, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the Holy Spirit is "manifested, given and communicated as a divine Person.... On that day, the Holy Trinity is fully revealed" (CCC, nn. 731-732).

The Word of God is addressed to all humanity

2. The whole Trinity, in fact, is involved in the inbreaking of the Spirit, who is poured out upon the first community and upon the Church in every age as the seal of the New Covenant foretold by the prophets (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:24-27), to support its witness and as a source of unity in plurality. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles proclaim the Risen One, and all believers, in the diversity of their languages and thus of their cultures and historical events, profess the same faith in the Lord, "telling ... the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11).

It is significant to note that a Jewish commentary on Exodus, recalling chapter 10 of Genesis, which sketches a map of the 70 nations which were then thought to comprise humanity as a whole, leads them back to Sinai to hear the word of God:  "At Sinai the Lord's voice was divided into 70 languages, so that all the nations could understand" (Exodus Rabba' 5, 9). So too in the Lucan Pentecost, the Word of God is addressed to humanity through the Apostles, in order to proclaim "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11) to all peoples even with their differences.

3. In the New Testament, however, there is another account that we could call the Johannine Pentecost. In the fourth Gospel, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit actually takes place on the very evening of Easter and is closely connected to the Resurrection. In John we read:  "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you!'. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you'. And when he had said this, he 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 20:19-23).

The glory of the Trinity also shines out in this Johannine account:  the glory of the risen Christ who appears in his glorious body, of the Father, who is the source of the apostolic mission, and of the Spirit poured out as the gift of peace. This fulfils the promise which Christ had made between these same walls in his farewell discourse to the disciples:  "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). The Spirit's presence in the Church is intended for the forgiveness of sins, for remembering and carrying out the Gospel in life, for the ever deeper achievement of unity in love.

The symbolic act of breathing is meant to recall the action of the Creator who, after forming man's body from the dust of the ground, "breathed into his nostrils" to give him "the breath of life" (Gn 2:7). The risen Christ communicates another breath of life, "the Holy Spirit". Redemption is a new creation, a divine work with which the Church is called to collaborate through the ministry of reconciliation.

Holy Spirit makes us God's adoptive children

4. The Apostle Paul does not offer us a direct account of the outpouring of the Spirit but describes its fruits with such intensity that one could speak of a Pauline Pentecost, which is also marked by the Trinity. According to two parallel passages in the Letters to the Galatians and to the Romans, in fact, the Spirit is the gift of the Father, who makes us his adoptive children, giving us a share in the very life of the divine family. Paul therefore says:  "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!', it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:15-17; cf. Gal 4:6-7).

With the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we can address God with the familiar name abba, the name Jesus himself used with his heavenly Father (cf. Mk 14:36). Like him, we must walk according to the Spirit in profound inner freedom:  "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22).

Let us end our contemplation of the Trinity at Pentecost with an invocation from the liturgy of the East:  "Come, peoples, let us adore the Divinity in three Persons:  the Father in the Son with the Holy Spirit. For the Father begets from eternity a coeternal Son who lives and reigns with him, and the Holy Spirit is in the Father, glorified with the Son, one power, one substance, one divinity.... Holy Trinity, glory to you!" (Vespers of Pentecost).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said: 

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Finland, South Africa, Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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