The Holy Ghost and the meaning of divinely given peace

A short talk on the Holy Ghost. An astounding moment in the temple and the gift of the Holy Ghost – who is a person and not a force. What peace really means in the texts of the Mass. The refreshing peace, and “refrigerium”. Our presence at the Mass is essential.

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Here is the text if you prefer just to read it:


[Text] The Holy Ghost and the meaning of divinely given peace

The feast of Tabernacles was a popular feast in Jerusalem. People came from all over the country. They built elaborate tents to stay in, to remind them of the journey of their forefathers through the desert. It was a joyful feast of thanksgiving for the harvest, but also of all the good things that God had given.

Each day, the priests went round the altar and sang “O Lord, save me: O Lord, give good success.” (Ps 177.25) One of the priests came from the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher of water and poured its contents at the base of the altar as the prophecy of Isaiah was sung “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Is 12:3). On the last day, they went round the altar seven times, in memory of the siege of Jericho. The Hallel was sung and the priests blew three blasts from the silver trumpets.

At that point, in the midst of the people waving their branches towards the altar, a voice rang out from a man that many of the priests had come to hate and fear. He cried out, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” (Jn 7:37)

Our Lord went on to promise that living waters would flow from the heart of those who believed in Him. St John explains that He was speaking of the Holy Ghost. During the Octave of Pentecost, we celebrated this new gift which Our Lord promised to the apostles before He died, the gift of the third person of the Holy Trinity who would transform their lives and offer salvation to all who believe in the name of Jesus.

The Holy Ghost, a person

It is important that we always keep firmly in our minds that this gift of Jesus Christ is a person, not an impersonal “force.” In English, we speak either of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost. Although the latter fell out of fashion in the early 1970s, it remains part of our tradition. To my knowledge, we have not yet abandoned the English version of the Veni Creator which begins “Come Holy Ghost”, and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham retains the expression “Holy Ghost” as part of its English patrimony.

Sometimes, the expression “the spirit” used on its own, can lead to a way of speaking which neglects to retain firmly in our minds that we are speaking of someone, not something. Speaking of the Holy Ghost can remind us that he is a person, not just a force or an influence.

Seven gifts of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost’s action upon us is manifold, as illustrated by the list of the “Seven gifts of the Holy Ghost”, of wisdom, understanding, counsel fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

The Holy Ghost enlightens our minds to know and love the truth. He is present in our soul to sanctify us and strengthen us in the virtues. He is present in the Church to lead the apostles and their successors to the fullness of the truth. He is poured out upon us for the forgiveness of sins.

We pray to the Holy Ghost to fill our hearts and to enkindle in us the fire of His love. He wishes us to be on fire with love, not simply observant. The fire of love for God which the Holy Ghost promises, can inspire us to do great things even in our everyday lives.

The gift of Peace

When Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in the upper room after His resurrection, He said “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” In the Holy Mass, peace is spoken of several times.

In the Gloria, we ask for there to be peace among men of good will; at the Hanc igitur, we ask that the Father will dispose our days in His peace; at the Memento of the dead, we pray for those who rest in the sleep of peace and we ask that they be granted a place of refreshment, light and peace; after the Pater Noster, we ask that the Lord might mercifully give us peace in our days; before Holy Communion, the priest prays that the peace of the Lord will be with the people; we ask for peace at the Agnus Dei; and just before receiving Holy Communion, the priest quotes the words of Our Lord Himself to the apostles, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,” (Jn 14:27) asking that He will not look upon His sins but on the faith of the Church.

This persistent prayer for peace is much more than a petition for conflict to cease. It applies at all times and refers to the proper ordering of all things, restored by the sacrifice of Christ. It refers to what is whole, sound, restored and made good, the restoration of creation according to the original plan of God from the beginning, a plan that was disrupted by original sin and repaired by the atoning sacrifice of Calvary.

When we speak of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of peace, it is not the psychological restfulness of lying on the beach and chilling out over a cold beer: it is what Our Lord referred to as the fulfilment of all righteousness when He insisted that His ministry begin publicly with the Baptism of St John the Baptist, the fulfilment of the eternal will of the Father, received through the Son in the unity of the Holy Ghost.

The repeated prayer for peace at the daily offering of the sacrifice of the Mass warns us not to compromise in our own lives the eternal divine will which is restored by Christ and which we have the privilege to participate in by grace. Peace in this Catholic sense goes hand in hand with the fear of the Lord. It does not just happen to us, it requires metanoia or conversion, the changing of our mind and heart to accord with the mind and heart of Christ.

Dulce refrigerium

We also pray for the Holy Ghost to bring refreshment to our souls. The sequence for every day of the Octave of Pentecost, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, speaks of this effect of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost:
Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.
Which is rendered in the popular metrical translation:
Thou of all consolers blest
Thou the soul’s delightful guest
dost refreshing peace bestow.
“Refreshing peace” is a translation of the Latin dulce refrigerium. The word refrigerium did not refer exclusively to refrigeration as in cooling, but also to consolation, and by extension it was used by the pagan Romans to refer to their custom taking food to the graves of the dead, to have a commemorative meal on the day of burial, on the ninth day after the funeral and on the anniversary of death.

The Christians continued this custom by taking food to the catacombs and other sites of burial. This was accompanied also by the offering, the Mass for the dead, especially on the anniversary of death, which we continue to do today. This is not a medieval custom, but one witnessed to by Tertullian and St Cyprian, and therefore going back to the earliest years of the Church.

The refrigerium came to be used for the refreshing peace of the dead in heaven. The word is found in this sense in the Roman canon in the memento for the dead where we pray
Ipsis, Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis, ut indulgeas, deprecamur

(To these, Lord and to all who have fallen asleep in Christ, we beg you to grant the indulgence of a place of refreshment, light, and peace.)
Therefore, when we ask for refrigerium in this life, we are asking for that foretaste of heavenly refreshment which brings peace of our soul. It was an important hope for our early Christian saints who struggled in this life under persecution. Their pagan contemporaries sought peace in various forms of wisdom just as people do today in self-help schemes and the search for healthy lifestyle choices.

When He taught the apostles about the Holy Ghost, Our Lord promised a peace that the world cannot give. (Jn 14.27) This peace is lost by sin and by lukewarmness towards the things of God. It is discovered again in devoted and attentive prayer. It is a great treasure because it is not simply the absence of turmoil, but the presence of our “delightful guest,” the Holy Ghost.

Drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity

This way of understanding the peace which we insistently pray for at Mass, draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. Many of the prayers of the Mass are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. It is the Father to whom the priest prays in the sacred and solemn pleading of the Canon. From time to time we also focus on the person of Jesus Christ in earnest supplication, especially as we draw nearer to the point when we are able to receive Him in Holy Communion. Underpinning the whole action is the Holy Ghost, the soul of the Church in whom we are united both throughout the whole Church, but also particularly in that place and at that time when we congregate to offer ourselves in union with the sacrifice which is offered at the altar. As Catholics, we know that a purely “spiritual” presence is not sufficient. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and he demands that we should be with Him in the flesh, be united to one another in person, and receive His grace by means of visible rites which we call the sacraments.

Of course, if we are not able to be present at Mass or receive the sacraments, God will give us the graces that we need: provided that we desire earnestly to be at Mass and receive the sacraments. Apart from the grave necessity of a serious reason, we must never accept that anything less is sufficient.

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