Liturgy Matters: The Power of Prayerful Listening to the Spirit

By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies

Scripture tells us that ahead of his Ascension, Jesus instructed his disciples not to depart Jerusalem until they had been baptised in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4,5). They did this, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus”, in the upper room (Acts 1, 14). These nine days of prayer are the origin of what is today an age-old spiritual practice called the ‘novena’ from the Latin for ‘nine’.

The Acts of the Apostles records that on Pentecost the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, emerge from the seclusion of the Upper Room with such gifts and graces that, proclaiming the Risen Christ, they baptised some three thousand people to the Faith. In other places the Acts of the Apostles references several occasions where the Holy Spirit is said to have actually “spoken” to the apostles in those first years of the Church, when focused on its evangelising mission thousands were converted. 

Recently, between the 5th Plenary Council of Australia and the forthcoming Synod of Bishops, Catholics around the world have been invited to participate in listening and dialogue processes directed to hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. In the legends of the Church, a scribe is said to have observed the dove of the Holy Spirit whispering the prayers of the Mass in St Gregory the Great’s ear as he dictated them. Indeed, listening to the Spirit comes with the responsibility of ensuring a faithful rendering of His voice. And it takes a proper disposition to hear His voice and abandon oneself unreservedly to Him and to His guidance.

Christ said, “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matt 12:32).  Teaching on this passage, Pope St Pius X ascribes six elements to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Among these are presuming our salvation, asserting our personal understanding of truth to be greater than that of the Church and the teaching of the Holy Spirit that assists the holy Magisterium; obstinacy in that sin, and what he describes as a complete revolt against the Divine Will that comes with envying the grace that God gives to our neighbour.

In the context of the Holy Father’s desire that we become a synodal Church in which the main protagonist is the Holy Spirit, let us join with the apostles in observing the Pentecost novena and like them might we hear and honour His truth with evangelising zeal.

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