On Mary and the Holy Spirit

[The following are a few snippets from my book on Our Lady, as we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.]

After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, as He told them.  “You shall receive power,” He said, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).  Mary was with them, having already been designated by Jesus, with John at the foot of the Cross, as an indispensable member of the “core group” of his Church.  So, the disciples gathered in the upper room, devoting themselves to prayer, “together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus…” (Acts 1:14).

Mary, of course, already enjoyed an intimate union with the Holy Spirit, who had “come upon” her to effect the Incarnation of the Son.  The same Greek word (eperkhomai) is used by St. Luke in the Gospel of the annunciation and in the passage quoted above concerning Pentecost.  The smaller group of apostles who were with Jesus at the Last Supper and to whom He appeared on the evening of his resurrection had also received the Holy Spirit for the specific purpose of their priestly ministry.  At the Last Supper Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” empowering them to offer his sacrifice in a sacramental manner, and after his resurrection He said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven…” (Jn. 20:22-23).  So Mary had received the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Incarnation and all that was required of her during Jesus’ earthly life, and the ordained apostles received the Spirit for the sake of their sacramental ministry and the leadership of the Church.  Finally, the wider group of disciples (120 were present on Pentecost, including Mary and the Twelve) received the Holy Spirit for the sake of evangelization and the exercise of the various charisms that would be needed to build up and sustain the Church.

What must it have been like for the assembly of the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit in the visible manifestation of the wind and fiery tongues?  For most of them the experience was probably a mixture of fear and wonder and exhilaration.  Probably it was something different for Mary, as she surely recognized with joy this new presence of the One who had already so powerfully worked within her from the moment of her conception, through her receiving the Son of God in her womb, miraculously giving birth to Him, and experiencing his presence all her life.  I have this mental image of her seated among the disciples: eyes closed, smiling, her dark hair blown this way and that by the Mighty Wind.  Yes, she knew Him very well and was undoubtedly delighted with the renewed in-filling of his divine love, grace, and power.

Pentecost is often considered the “birth of the Church,” and so the Mother, to whom the Spirit was handed over with the dying Breath of Jesus, not only was necessarily present at this moment, but she also began a new relationship both to the Holy Spirit and to the whole Church.  This was already indicated by Jesus at the Cross when He made her the Mother of all his disciples, represented by John.  Many Eastern icons of Pentecost depict the apostles seated in a semi-circle with Our Lady in a central position that manifests her as the primary recipient of the Spirit and hence as the Spiritual Mother and Mystical Heart of the newborn Church of Christ…

Since the moment of her immaculate conception, Our Lady has been wholly united to the Holy Spirit.  The moment of the Incarnation of the Son of God is the most obvious manifestation of this union.  Once having united Himself to the Virgin Mary, however, the Holy Spirit never left her, and therefore He continued his mission with and through her.  At Pentecost, Mary was set apart as the contemplative Heart of the Church, since it was not her mission to evangelize the world like the apostles who received the same Spirit.  The mission of the Holy Spirit in union with the Mother of God achieved its fullness and universality when she was glorified in Heaven and could thus effectively exercise the motherhood of all mankind that Jesus bequeathed to her from the Cross.  It is the mystery of her assumption into Heaven, body and soul, that inaugurated her mission as Mediatrix for the whole Body of Christ on Earth…

The motherly mission of Mary has its source not only in Jesus’ words from the Cross, but in the grace and the mission of the Holy Spirit.  According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Mother of God is the chief instrument of the Holy Spirit in his work in the world, and she can be considered Mediatrix of Grace because the Holy Spirit can be considered the Mediator of Grace.  It is Christ alone who redeemed the world and reconciled man to God, thus performing the task of the unique Mediator that is his alone.  But Jesus shares with the Holy Spirit the communication of the grace and fruits of his mediation between God and man, and thus the Spirit works through the motherhood of Mary for all the children of God.  This mediation of grace by the Holy Spirit through Mary can be understood as the fulfillment of what Jesus said of the Paraclete in John 16:14—“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and will declare it to you.”  So even though Jesus is the unique Mediator, it is evidently his will that what is his may be taken and communicated to others.

It is clear throughout the Scriptures that God chooses to work through persons, for He is a personal God.  That is why He often communicated his will through angels, in both the Old and New Testaments.  He could have spoken directly to the ears or hearts of those for whom He had some important message, but He wanted the angels to be mediators of his word and will.  God chooses to have other persons involved in his work.  That is simply his way, as the whole of salvation history testifies.  The Son, not surprisingly, is like the Father.  Throughout the history of the Church, but especially in the last several centuries, the Lord Jesus has communicated special messages, warnings, and graces to the world through his Mother.  Sometimes He Himself appears to chosen souls, but in the vast majority of cases, He sends Mary, because this is part of the motherly task He has entrusted her.  She will always be the Mother of the children of God…

We are Mary’s children.  Gifts are given to the Mother to give to her children as needed.  The Lord said that we must become like children if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  If Mary is the Mother of the children of God, this entails for us a certain free and loving dependence upon her to whom is entrusted what we need to live as faithful disciples of Christ.  This is not to be understood as a passive or immature relationship to the Mother of God, but rather one that is based on love, trust, and humility.  We are to be mature Christians, but we need to abandon any sense of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, or self-anything, for that matter, since self-absorption of any kind breeds arrogance and resists the humility that is essential to the spiritual childhood to which Christ calls his disciples.  Why not receive, in all simplicity, what is offered to us?  God’s grace is entrusted to Mary for us, and she will see to it that we receive it as we need it—as the good steward of the Gospel, whom “the Master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time” (Lk. 12:42).  She can rightly say, in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews… “Here I am, with the children God has given me” (2:13).

About Father Joseph

I am a priest and monk currently serving with the Contemplatives of St Joseph in South San Francisco, CA. I am in my 33rd year of monastic life and in my 24th as a priest.

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