It was through the power of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit that the apostles on the day of Pentecost left the secrecy of their room to confront the world with Christ's message. It is the same for us today: we who are called to be disciples of Christ have a similar calling as we are sent out to confront the secularism of this modern world.
At the beginning of Mass we are greeted with the hope that the 'fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.' It is in the Eucharist that we hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit which are the essential source for the continuation and reinvigoration of the faith of the Church today as it has been since the first Pentecost.
John Paul II, in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, spoke of the Eucharist as 'the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church' (36).
Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, states: 'The Spirit invoked by the celebrant upon the gifts of bread and wine placed on the altar is the same Spirit who gathers the faithful 'into one body' and makes of them a spiritual offering pleasing to the Father' (29).
The Church draws life from the Eucharist since it is the origin of her being and activity. The Holy Father continues: 'It is significant that the Second Eucharistic Prayer, invoking the Paraclete, formulates its prayer for the unity of the Church as follows: 'may all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in the unity of the Holy Spirit'' (35).
When we speak of team spirit or family spirit, this 'spirit' is hard to define. It is something that binds us together in some way, something which prompts us to act in some way or other. The Holy Spirit of God is likewise difficult to define, but it is a Someone who binds us together and inspires us, as the apostles were inspired, to go out and to share the conviction that 'Jesus is Lord' with those around us.
Benedict XVI states also: 'The Spirit would then teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Christ had said (cf. Jn 14:26) since it falls to him, as the Spirit of Truth (cf. Jn 15:26), to guide the Apostles into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13)'.
In other words, it is through the working of the Holy Spirit that Christ himself continues to be present and active in his Church, starting with the Eucharist.
St Paul explained to the people of Corinth that the gifts of the Spirit are at the very heart of the Church, and an expression of the breath of God through different personalities. So even though we are one body, the Spirit works in a special way in each one of us (1 Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13).
As we attend our Sunday Mass, when we hear the Word of God we may be tempted to reflect that our community does not exhibit the gifts of the Spirit as described in Acts (2:1- 11). However, as Benedict XVI states, ''Once risen, bearing in his flesh the signs of the passion, he can pour out the Spirit upon them (cf. Jn 20:22), making them sharers in his own mission' (9 Para: 12). Since each of us is unique the Spirit comes to us in different ways.
We may already have felt the breath of God; it's just that we don't always call it a Pentecost experience. Jesus told us, if anyone loves him, 'my father will love him and we shall come to him and make our home in him.' Here we are assured of the presence of the Spirit by Jesus. The evangelists use images like tongues of fire, or a mighty wind, to try to describe these transforming experiences. But, as we know, some things cannot always be captured by words.
When in the name of Christ, we work for peace and are persons of good will, we are moving in the Spirit. When we hear the language of love spoken to us by someone we may have hurt, the Spirit is working to make the gift of forgiveness a reality. When we make some time for the stranger in our midst, we are reaching out in the Spirit.
It is this unseen breath of God that keeps our community of faith together and alive. He is the same Spirit whom we worship as the love between the Father and the Son. When Christ tells us, then, that he will send us the Holy Spirit, he is promising to give us a share in the fellowship of God himself.
It is through the Eucharist and the gift of the Spirit that we are encouraged to go out and share our faith. Benedict explains further: 'The spiritual life of the faithful can benefit greatly from a better appreciation of the richness of the anaphora: along with the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper, it contains the epiclesis, the petition to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the community as a whole will become ever more the body of Christ' (28).
As members of God's Church on earth it is essential that Sunday Mass be the source and inspiration for all who wish to confront the world with the message of Christ, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit who inspires us to say 'Jesus is Lord'.
Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is the parish priest of All Saints' Church, Kempsey, NSW, in the Lismore Diocese.