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Christ Is Totally Holy

General Audience — June 6, 1990

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). As we know, these words which the angel spoke to Mary at the annunciation in Nazareth refer to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son-Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. They refer to a key truth of our faith which was the object of previous catecheses. By the power of the Holy Spirit—as we said—the hypostatic union is brought about: the Son consubstantial with the Father assumed a human nature from the Virgin Mary by which he became true man without ceasing to be true God. The union of divinity and humanity in the one Person of the Word-Son, that is the hypostatic union (hypostasis: "person") is the Holy Spirit's greatest accomplishment in the history of creation and in salvation history. Even though the entire Trinity is its cause, it is still attributed by the Gospel and by the Fathers to the Holy Spirit, because it is the highest work wrought by divine Love. It was wrought with the absolute gratuitousness of grace, in order to communicate to humanity the fullness of holiness in Christ. All these effects are attributed to the Holy Spirit [1] .

The words addressed to Mary during the annunciation indicate that the Holy Spirit is the source of holiness for the Son who is to be born of her. At the instant in which the Eternal Word becomes man, a unique fullness of human holiness is accomplished in the assumed nature, a fullness which goes beyond that of any other saint, not only of the old but also of the new covenant. This holiness of the Son of God as man, as Son of Mary—a holiness from the source rooted in the hypostatic union—is the work of the Holy Spirit. He will continue to act in Christ to the point of crowning his masterpiece in the Easter mystery.

This type of holiness is a result of the unique consecration about which Christ himself will speak explicitly during a discussion with his hearers: "Can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said: 'I am the Son of God'?" (Jn 10:36). That consecration (that is, sanctification) is linked to the coming into the world of the Son of God. As the Father sends the Son into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit (the messenger told Joseph: "It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her," Mt 1:20), so he consecrates this Son in his humanity by the working of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is the author of the sanctification of all people. He is especially the author of the sanctification of the man conceived and born of Mary, as well as the sanctification of his most pure mother. From the very first moment of the conception of this man who is the Son of God, he received from the Holy Spirit an extraordinary fullness of holiness, in a measure corresponding to the dignity of his divine Person [2] .

This sanctification refers to the entire humanity of the Son of God, his soul and his body, as is made clear by John the evangelist, who seems to stress the bodily aspect of the Incarnation: "The Word was made flesh" (Jn 1:14). The power of the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation of the Word overcomes that concupiscence which St. Paul speaks about in the Letter to the Romans (cf. Rom 7:7-25) and which wounds man from within. The "law of the Spirit" (Rom 8:2) liberates a person precisely from that concupiscence, so that the one who lives in the Spirit walks also according to the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25). The holiness of Christ's full humanity is the result of the action of the Holy Spirit.

The human body of the Son of Mary shares fully in this holiness through a growing dynamism which has its highpoint in the Easter mystery. Thanks to that, the body of Jesus, which the Apostle terms "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom 8:3), achieves the perfect holiness of the body of the risen one (cf. Rom 1:4). Thus a new destiny for the human body is begun—and for every body in the world, created by God and called, even in its materialness, to share in the benefits of the redemption [3] .

It must be added at this point that the body, which by the power of the Holy Spirit belongs from the first moment of its conception to the humanity of the Son of God, must eventually become in the Eucharist the spiritual food for men and women. In announcing the institution of this wonderful sacrament, Jesus Christ will stress that in it his flesh (under the species of bread) will be able to become food for people, thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit who gives life.

In this regard, the words he said near Capernaum are very significant: "It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail" (Jn 6:63). While Christ left us his flesh as spiritual food, he wanted at the same time to teach us about that state of consecration and of holiness which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was and is a prerogative even of his body in the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Eucharist.

Luke the evangelist, perhaps echoing private conversations with Mary, tells us that, as the Son of Man, "Jesus grew in wisdom, age and favor before God and man (Lk 2:52; cf. Lk 2:40). In an analogous way one can also speak of "growth" in holiness in the sense of an ever more complete manifestation and fulfillment of that fundamental fullness of holiness with which Jesus came into the world. The moment in which the consecration of the Son in the Holy Spirit was made known in a special way, at the level of mission, was at the start of the messianic activity of Jesus of Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: because he has anointed me; he has sent me" (Lk 4:18).

This activity manifested that holiness which one day Simon Peter will feel obliged to acknowledge with these words: "Lord, depart from me for I am a sinner" (Lk 5:8). And also at another time: "We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Son of God" (Jn 6:69).

The mystery-reality of the Incarnation, therefore, signals the entrance into the world of a new holiness. It is the holiness of the divine Person of the Son-Word who, in hypostatic union with humanity, permeates and consecrates the entire reality of the Son of Mary: soul and body. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the holiness of the Son of Man constitutes the principal and lasting source of holiness in human and world history.

[1]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 32, a. 1

[2]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 7, aa. 1, 9-11

[3]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 8, a. 2