The Holy Spirit in the Mistery of Christmas - Mathias Augé
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Mathias Augé

«With Advent, we have begun the celebration for the second year of preparation for the Grand Jubilee of the Year 2,000, the year dedicated in a particular way to the Holy Spirit and its sanctifying presence within the Community of the disciples of Christ» (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 44). The Liturgical celebration is the privileged place where the work of salvation, made in Christ is realised. Because the Liturgy is the true story of the celebrated salvation and the perenniality (cfr. SC 6), and it is also the right place for the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit. From the day of the Incarnation, every presence of Christ is in indissoluble relation with the action of the Spirit. That is why Christ, present in the liturgical actions, «works uninterrupted in his Priestly office in our favour through the Spirit» (PO 5): the mystery of Christ becomes a sanctifying action and cultural presence through the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical action, the presence of the Spirit is incessant until the memory of the mystery of Christ is vital and that the participation to the mystery is fruitful and pregnant. We Christians are not always aware of this reality. Here I would like to briefly illustrate how the test of the Roman liturgy, noted for their classic sobriety, put into evidence the presence and the action of the Spirit in the celebration of the Christmas mystery.

The presence and the action of the Holy Spirit are particularly intense in the mysteries of the conception and the birth of Jesus. In the celebration of these mysteries through the yearly liturgical cycle an unsubstitutable guide is the readings and mediation of the first chapters of the Gospel of Saint Luke, taken and proclaimed from the Christmas liturgy. Saint Luke reads these events and he tells them in the light of the resurrection of Christ. And thus emerges from the themes contained in the worlds of the angel to Mary: «The Holy Spirit will descend upon you, on you he will place his shadow and the power of the Highest. He who will be born will thus be called the Son of God» (Luke 1, 35). The conception by virtue of the Holy Spirit underlines that the mystery of the person of Christ goes beyond that which appears on the exterior. That divine glory which will manifest itself in a new way at the end of terrestrial life of Christ in his resurrection and fully to the end of time «when his glory will come» (Matthew 25, 31), is now already present in him, even if it is still hidden. Anticipating the Annunciation, the themes of the power, of the cloud, of the glory and of the divine affiliation, Luke tries to affirm that the glory of Christ is not specific either in recent times or at the resurrection, but that it is already present in Jesus from the beginning of his earthly existence. The Jesus «descending from David, according to the body», is the same who was «constituted Son of God with powers according to the Spirit of sanctifying through the resurrection of the dead» (cfr. Romans 1, 1-7). The divine affiliation of Jesus proclaimed in the mystery of the Incarnation is the same of Christ Risen, yet no longer in the condition of weakness of the body but in the strength and the power of the Spirit. In this way, even while being Son before the resurrection, it can be said that Jesus was «constituted Son of God with power» after it.

Coherent with the Lucana position, the texts of the liturgy invite us to celebrate Christmas at the light and in the reality of Easter. The theology of the Incarnation present in the texts of the office and of the Christmas Masses can be summarised like this: the Son of God came on earth and assumed our nature to be able to fruition our salvation in the mystery of his death and resurrection. In the anthem of the Vespers at Christmas time we sing: «In the joy of Christmas we salute you, Christ, redeemer of the world». And the oration during the offerings of the Vespers Mass on the eve, presents Christmas as the «grand day which leads to the beginning of our redemption». Christmas is already the beginning of the redemption, in the assumption of human nature on the part of the Son of God, in which he can consume his passion and renders himself capable and perpetual, always by virtue of the Spirit, the resurrection of the body. In the response of the Psalm of the Christmas Mass, inspired by Psalm 97, we repeat: «All the earth has seen your salvation Lord». In the son of Bethlehem this salvation manifested itself, and all the men of the earth are invited to contemplate and welcome it. It is the Spirit who renders us capable of contemplating and welcoming this salvation. Because it is he who realises and accomplishes from within the saving work of Christ (cfr. AG 4). As Pio XII said in the Mystici Corporis, «without the Spirit we cannot produce even a minimal act which leads to salvation»

The passage of Is. 62, 1-5, read in the same Mass of Christmas Eve, illustrates the them of the conjugal union between God and Jerusalem, who is the figure of the Church. This union has its first great manifestation in the mystery of the Incarnation: the eternal Son of God appears in time, indissoluble united to human nature, in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, even the antiphony of the Magnificat of the Vespers on the Christmas solemnity reaffirms the conjugal theme: « the groom in the nuptial room, he comes from the Father». The author of this conjugal union is the Holy Spirit. Saint Frances de Sales affirmed in one of his letters that «we are husband and wife, when for the Holy Spirit the soul of the faithful is united to Jesus Christ». Christ marries the Church in the Spirit, in the divine arm of the Father and of the Son, in their donation of love. The Son, marrying the Church brings it in the house of the Father so that it glorifies in its own life between the three divine Persons. As Saint Paul said, «the love of God was reversed in our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit which was given to us» (Romans 5, 5). And Saint Peter adds: in this way we become «participants of the divine nature»(2 Peter 1, 4). This mystery, which started with the Incarnation, participated to us through the Sacraments of baptism- confirmation, finds full realisation in the Eucharist. The prayer after communion in the Mass on the day of Christmas affirms that the Saviour, in the mystery of his birth, has regenerated us like as children of God and «communicated to us the gift of his immortal life». We find the same theme in the Prefazio III of the Christmas period. Of this immortal life, the Spirit is the offering and the deposit (cfr. Ef 1, 14; 2 Cor 1, 22; 5,5).

The first two biblical letters of the Sunday II Mass following Christmas highlight the theme of the divine Knowledge which «make your dwelling in Jacob» (Sirach 24, 8) and that of our predestination as children of God through Jesus Christ (cfr. Ef. 1, 3-6). It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to discover the mysteries of the Knowledge of God and renders us in the image of the Son (cfr. Ef. 1, 17). Is. 63, 14 attributes to the Spirit the function that in the story of the people of Israel was exercised by the luminous cloud in the dessert: «the Spirit of the Lord guided them towards rest». And that which in the book of Isaiah is attributed to the Spirit of God, the author of the book of Wisdom attributes it to the Knowledge of God (cfr. Wisdom 10, 15-21). Jesus leaves his disciples with this promise: «When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the entire truth, because it will not speak of itself, but will tell you all that it has heard and will announce future things to you. He will glorify me, because he will take from me and will announce it to you» (John 16, 13-14; cfr. 14, 26). It is the Spirit who gives us the comprehension of the mystery of the Son of God made man. As Saint Paul said, we have received the «Spirit of God in order to know all that God has given us» (1 Corinthians 2, 12). The supreme gift which the Father gave to the world was his Incarnate Son.

Going back to the theme of glory, mentioned above, we can affirm that Christmas is the feast of the glory of God. With the words of the angel of Bethlehem echoing, the Church proclaims: «Glory to God in the highest» (Luke 2, 14). But the glory of God, sign and presence, is already on earth: Christmas is the manifestation of the glory of God. The antiphony at the beginning of the Christmas Eve Mass announces: «Today you know that the Lord is coming to save us: tomorrow you will see His glory». In a similar way the antiphony of the communion is expressed in that same way during that same Mass. This glory of the Lord we contemplate in the Incarnate Word (cfr. John 1, 14). But the glory which the Father gave to the on and which is already manifested in the mystery of the Incarnation, is given to us to the point where we become one sole thing with the Father by virtue of the Spirit (cfr. John 17, 20). The gift of the Spirit is the presence in us of the glory of the Lord which transforms us into his image (cfr. 2 Corinthians 3, 18). The God of creation and of the Alliance has invited in the fullness of the times his Son and them, so that the work would be completed he sent in our hearts the Spirit of the Son (cfr. Gal 4, 4-6). If we eliminate the Holy Spirit, Christ is reduced to the rank of a good but unlucky teacher, whose memory fades with the passing of time. In fact, Jesus is living and amongst us because of the Spirit. The event of the Spirit does not ever detract from the event-Christ, it is in fact the representation, the actualisation in the variety of the human question. For the presence of the Spirit, the Church is a living and varied community, which is fixed in the world of its head, Christ, and stretches out towards the his only summit, the Kingdom, he moves in history with a rich dynamism of different and always new forms. The liturgy of the Church can guide us to rediscover and live this living presence of the Holy Spirit.