The Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and the Church

Web Exclusive
Kenneth D. Whitehead
From the May/Jun 2010 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

“Another Teacher”

It is quite generally known that Christianity teaches that God, the Supreme Being, though One, is yet mysteriously three divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The fact of this Christian teaching is known but, in an era of skepticism and religious illiteracy, is not believed to have much point or relevance. In the theology of the Fathers of the Church, the divine Son took on our flesh as Jesus Christ in order to raise up our human nature to a point where it was capable of sharing in the divine nature. In the New Testament Jesus is further consistently shown as teaching that here are things which men must do themselves (in addition to what He has done for men in assuming their nature and what He is going to do for them in dying on the Cross) if they are ultimately going to be able and fit to live with God.

According to the New Testament, Jesus both taught and worked miracles for the many, but He spent the bulk of His time teaching and forming a group of specially chosen disciples, the Twelve Apostles. His intention clearly was that they would become carriers of His message: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17). He even sent them out on a practice run to preach (Mt. 10:5-15, Mk. 6:7-13), but He seems to have intended that their real evangelizing mission as witnesses to His teaching and Resurrection would be carried out after His departure (cf. Mt. 28:19-20). It was for this reason, no doubt, that Jesus spent so much time trying to form these Twelve properly, even in the face of their often unpromising responses.

One of the most extensive accounts of what Jesus wanted to get across to His specially chosen Apostles is contained in chapters 13 to 16 of the Gospel according to John. Here Jesus lays out, with a wealth of illustration, exactly who He is and what He intends to do for those who believe in Him. And it is here that Jesus informs these immediate disciples of His, the Apostles, that He intends to ask the Father to send to them another Teacher besides himself (cf. Jn. 14:16). This Teacher—whom Jesus variously calls Counselor, Spirit of truth, and Holy Spirit—will teach the Apostles “all things” and bring to their “remembrance” all these things which Jesus has already taught them (cf. Jn. 14:26) and will be a “witness” to Him, Jesus, just as the Apostles themselves are to be witnesses to Him (Jn. 15:26-27). The Holy Spirit will come only when Jesus has departed (cf. Jn. 16:7), but this Spirit will then dwell “with” the Apostles and “in” them “forever” (Jn. 14:16-17).

We get more than a glimpse in all this of how God manifests Himself as a Trinity. The transcendent God appears only for a time incarnate in Jesus Christ but stays on in this world permanently through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

What is important to notice further, though, is that the Holy Spirit is not promised by Jesus to the world at large at this point but only to the Apostles in particular; the Spirit is to be their Teacher and Counselor and to confirm them in their task of being “fishers of men” for which Jesus has been grooming them from the beginning. The Spirit Jesus describes in these Gospel passages, in other words, is not some vague power or emanation which gives a feeling of peace or benevolence or well-being indiscriminately to all, but is a Spirit of truth given first of all to the Apostles to inspire and guide them in the concrete religious mission for which they have been selected by Jesus.

The promise of the Spirit to the Apostles is inseparable from their appointment by Jesus to their “office” of Apostle. Jesus names Apostles and assigns them a task; He also promises to have the Spirit sent; these two acts are related.

This is strikingly confirmed in St. John’s account of one of Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles after the Resurrection: “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. 20:22-23). Thus, in the same breath (no pun intended), Jesus links the gift of the Spirit to the Apostles with that very role of being judge and arbiter of the acts of His followers which in the Gospel according to Matthew (18:17) He earlier saw as being a function of “the Church.” The Apostles are assigned responsibility for carrying out this function of “the Church” at the same time that Jesus breathes the Spirit on them. Their “charismatic” role in the Church, in other words, is inextricably tied up with their “institutional” role. The Spirit will not operate apart from the Church, but through the Church—indeed, in the first instance, through the leaders of the Church.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost is well known as the day when the Holy Spirit earlier promised by Jesus actually came. This coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is not inconsistent with the fact that, after His Resurrection, Jesus had already “breathed” the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles (cf. Jn. 20:22). There is nothing to prevent God from sending His Spirit in particular ways for particular purposes (as the Church believes God does, in fact, in the various sacraments).

Jesus had said, after all, that the Spirit would not come until He went away (cf. Jn. 16:7), meaning, perhaps, the fullness of the Spirit, when the Apostles would be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). What is clear, though, is that the Spirit was granted to the Apostles, the leaders of the Church, in a special way, through Jesus’ “breathing” on them prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

This latter famous occurrence is described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

What is interesting about this bare account is that it doesn’t clearly say exactly who “they” were who were “all together in one place” when the Holy Spirit descended. Was it the Apostles alone? Further on in the text, after a “multitude” was attracted to the sound and heard the speaking of tongues (Acts 2:6), the text informs us that “Peter, standing with the Eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them” (Acts 2:14). This suggests, along with the
fact that “they” were “sitting” in a “house” when the Spirit descended, and thus there wouldn’t have been room for too large a gathering, that the Spirit descended upon the Apostles alone. It was to them, after all, that the Spirit had been promised (cf. Jn. 14:16, 26, etc.).

However, a strong Christian tradition attests to the fact that at Pentecost the Spirit descended not upon the Apostles alone but upon the whole Church gathered together in prayer. This tradition has held that in some sense Pentecost constituted the day when the Church, born from the side of Christ on the Cross, first manifested herself as an active, living, sanctifying, and missionary body—an assembly or institution with recognized leaders in the Apostles indeed, but one in which each individual member also enjoyed the benefits of the Spirit, and, moreover, had a role and responsibility to help bring Christ to the world. This tradition is supported by earlier passages in the Acts of the Apostles indicating that, prior to the descent of the Spirit, there certainly were other followers of Jesus besides the Apostles, followers who “accompanied [them] during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among [them]” (Acts 1:21).

It is also recorded in Acts that, again prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were joined in their regular devotions and prayers to the departed Jesus by “the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and . . . his brethren” (Acts 1:14). The company of persons following Peter and the other Apostles amounted to “in all about a hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15). The tradition that at Pentecost the Spirit descended upon this entire community in prayer is thus very fitting. The Church was, after all, destined to be a Spirit-filled body also in all her members, not just in her leaders.

The preeminence of the Apostles as the leaders in the Church had in any case already been unshakably established by Jesus’ prior “breathing” on them; this authority therefore didn’t have to be ratified at Pentecost. The authority and preeminence of the Apostles was, in any case, quite evident at and after Pentecost; the most salient result of Pentecost, in fact, was that the Apostles promptly began to carry out the task which Christ had assigned
them. The role of authority and leadership given to them by Christ became functional. They began to proclaim the “good news” of our redemption in Jesus Christ (“Gospel,” Greek “evangelium,” means “good news”). Under their leadership, the community they had been empowered to form and lead became the kind of living entity which Christ had envisaged. In other words, “the Church,” as a living, functioning body with “head” and “members”—the body of Christ—was effectively launched on Pentecost, as the Christian tradition has testified—a new kind of human community in which the Spirit of God was present.

From the February and March 1980 issues of Lay Witness.

Kenneth D. Whitehead is the author of The Pope, the Council, and the Mass (with James Likoudis), The New Ecumenism: How the Catholic Church After Vatican II Took Over the Leadership of the World Ecumenical Movement, and numerous other books and articles. Whitehead is a former career diplomat who served in Rome and the Middle East and as the chief of the Arabic Service of the Voice of America. For eight years he served as executive vice president of Catholics United for the Faith.

The Blessed Virgin Mary – Model for Women

Msgr. Charles M. Mangan
From the May/Jun 2010 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Widely considered by a host of writers throughout the years, the subject of this essay always admits of fresh analysis and insight. The instruction and edification that Mary, the Mother of God, offers to the women of every generation must not be ignored or slighted, nor may it be considered to have been exhausted in a previous era.

Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P. (1902– 1951), in his famous A Companion to the Summa: Volume IVThe Way of Life, tackled our topic with a certain keenness that still leaps off the page almost sixty years later.

The perfection of Mary’s womanhood stands out most sharply in the supreme moments of her life: in her divine maternity and her preparation for it. To put the same thing in the words we have been using up to this point, Mary’s perfection is brought out from the confused detail of her age by the application of these basic tests of any woman’s life: sanctity, virginity, marriage, the evaluation of the infant. Mary, seen from the vantage point of these basic tests, leaves no room for doubt of the basis upon which woman’s life is lived to its fullest. It must, of course, be remembered that Mary is a model in the order of nature as well as in the order of grace. Grace does not destroy but rather perfects nature. Mary, then, is the exemplar for women, but also as the most womanly of women, the most free, winning the highest possible place in the hearts and minds of men. [1]

Using Fr. Farrell’s categories, we can examine how Our Blessed Lady is the “exemplar” for women, “the most womanly” and “the most free” of women, and what she teaches us about sanctity, virginity, marriage, and the evaluation of the infant—the four “basic tests of any woman’s life.”


Spiritual authors agree that Mary’s holiness is evident in her total, unhesitating submission to God and His all-wise plan for her life. Her fiat—”Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38)—is the embodiment of supernatural strength, a vigor that comes from the Holy Spirit Himself, and only from Him. Our Lady was clear about where the grace that enveloped her soul derived: It was not from any inner resources but rather directly
from Our Lord. Mary sang in her Magnificat, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk. 1:48–49).

Our Blessed Mother demonstrates that it is possible for a completely human person to achieve—with God’s assistance—incredible sanctity. Her thoughts, words, desires, and deeds were conceived and carried out with the Almighty in view.

If Our Lord’s choice of Mary from all eternity to become the Mother of Christ and Mary’s subsequent Immaculate Conception paved the way for her outstanding likeness to God, then it is the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism that allows a woman—truly, anyone—to begin the ascent of the mountain of holiness. The seven sacraments, particularly Penance and the Most Holy Eucharist, are the lifeblood of the Catholic woman as she strives for sanctity.

Along with the sacraments, the contemporary Catholic woman shares with her sisters who preceded her the “tried-and-true” recipe for holiness: daily prayer, prayerful study of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, veneration and imitation of Our Lady, acts of charity and self-denial, and readings from the lives of the saints, among other acknowledged spiritual practices.


What once was esteemed in many quarters of society is today very little cherished, indeed, even openly ridiculed. To some, virginity is a sore reminder that one is unlovable and unbeautiful— in short, a loser.

What a vastly different understanding than that possessed by the Church!

Virginity for women may be seen in two ways. First, it is the distinction of being unmarried and the state of physical intactness regarding the reproductive organs. Second, it is the reality of having consecrated one’s entire self, virginity included, to Jesus Christ in the pursuit of spiritual perfection through a rite approved by the Church.

The magisterium, under the inspiration of the Paraclete, as well as the vast majority of the Fathers of the Church and various authors, have long proclaimed Mary’s perpetual virginity. She was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of her divine Son. God’s singular action in Our Lady was truly miraculous. She is the only woman hailed as both virgin and mother.

We would miss something, however, if we concluded that Our Blessed Mother’s virginity was only physical. There is a very real spiritual component, too. In other words, Mary preserved, with Our Lord’s help, the extraordinary purity of soul that He had granted to her. She was always chaste in thought and desire. Mary comprehended well the beauty of the human body and the gift of sexuality.

Scores of women and men have been hurt deeply by the media’s representation of the woman as an object to be used instead of a mystery to be explored. Pope Benedict XVI, in referring to the consecration to Our Lady that the humble Franciscan friar St. Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao made, said:

There is a phrase included in the formula of his consecration which sounds remarkably contemporary to us, who live in an age so full of hedonism: ” Take away my life before I offend your blessed Son, my Lord!” They are strong words, the words of an impassioned soul, words that should be part of the normal life of every Christian, whether consecrated or not, and they enkindle a desire for fidelity to God in married couples as well as in the
unmarried. The world needs transparent lives, clear souls, pure minds that refuse to be perceived as mere objects of pleasure. It is necessary to oppose those elements of the media that ridicule the sanctity of marriage and virginity before marriage.[2]

Although often not respected in our contemporary age, virginity and our appreciation for it remain an indicator of how we value the human body and our perspective on physical expressions of love. Women who embrace their virginity as good and wholesome provide a welcome corrective to the prevailing mindset. And those who parted with their virginity due to sin can recover that spiritual virginity which is a hallmark of the Virgin.


Much has already been penned about the collapse of marriage before our eyes. The marriage between Mary and St. Joseph was valid. It pleased God because of the love, permanence, and receptivity to human life found therein. Women who are faithful in marriage are jewels so wanting today. They take a page from Our Lady’s life by their adherence to all that is beautiful and virtuous.

The Evaluation of the Infant

Fr. Farrell probably did not know fully how trenchant this fourth “test” would become as the twentieth century wore on. Then again, he likely was aware of the frightening calls for a “pure race” that emanated from Nazi Germany during World War II and the disturbing demands even, and perhaps especially, in the United States that can only be labeled as eugenic.

We have heard repeatedly from Venerable John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI that a society is judged on how it treats the most vulnerable. Preborn children are first on that list.

Our Lady opened her virginal womb to the God-Man even though she had not planned for such. Her hospitality to Jesus was unblemished. Women who welcome children image Mary. They recognize the splendor of human life. Such women are heroines in a hostile world.

Model for All Women

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the model and the exemplar for all women. Her concern for sanctity, virginity, marriage, and the place of the infant translates into a relevant, useful template for women (and for men). We pray to Our Lady, the most womanly and the freest of her gender, and beg light and courage for our sisters.

Prayer for Women

O Mary, Mother of God and Our Spiritual Mother, the Mediatrix of All Graces and the Mother of the Church, you love us with your Immaculate Heart, and we love you with our fragile hearts. Hear our prayer for all women.

We pray for devout and lax women, for strong and weak women, for married and single women, for mothers and virgins, for consecrated women, for housewives and women who work outside the home, for women who are students, for women in the military, for women who are Catholics and women who are nonpracticing Catholics, for women who are not Catholics, for women who have abandoned the Catholic Church, for virtuous and sinful women, for women who are particularly tempted, for faithful and unfaithful women, for generous and ungenerous women, for women who have accepted the gift of life, for women who have aborted and women who have prevented conception, for women who dress modestly and those who do not, for wealthy and poor women, for young and old women, for women who are addicted, for healthy, sick and dying women, and for the souls of all women in purgatory.

O Woman, you who are the model of women, keep all women close to your Immaculate Heart, and present them to the Most Sacred Heart of your divine Son Jesus Christ, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is always our Hope and the Source of our strength forever. Amen.

(Imprimatur: Most Rev. Paul Joseph Swain, D.D., Bishop of Sioux Falls)

Msgr. Charles M. Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls and a member of CUF’s advisory council. He is the director of the Office of the Marian Apostolate in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, the vicar for consecrated life, and the canonical adviser to Bishop Paul J. Swain. Msgr. Mangan gives talks and retreats, and he writes on a variety of subjects.

[1] Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P., A Companion to the Summa: Volume IVThe Way of Life (New York: Sheed & Ward, revised 1953), pp. 138–139.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily of the Canonization Mass for Fr. Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao (1739–1822), 11 May 2007, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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