Holy Mother Church rejoices in the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In our Diocese of Allentown, she rejoices in four newly ordained priests: Father James M. Harper, III, assigned to Notre Dame of Bethlehem; Father Daniel E. Kravatz, Jr., assigned to our parish; Father Kevin M. Lonergan, assigned to St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton; and Father Mark R. Searles, assigned to Sacred Heart, Allentown. The same Spirit who hovered over the primordial deep, the same Spirit who led Moses and the Israelites through the parted waters of the Red Sea, the same Spirit who breathed life into a field of dry bones, the Spirit who filled the womb of the Virgin Mother: this Holy Spirit enlivens the Church in her doctrine, liturgy, morality, and prayer from one generation to the next. Jesus conveyed the Spirit upon the Apostles, St. John says, by breathing upon them on the night of His Resurrection; by contrast, the Book of Acts offers the traditional account of the Apostles and Mary gathered in the Upper Room in expectant prayer. In either case, the Spirit descends upon them to set them afire with missionary charity and clarity.
The Holy Spirit is the Prime Agent in the Church’s Sacramental life. In the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass notice how the priest extends his hands over the Gifts, meanwhile invoking the Holy Spirit to transform them into Christ’s Body and Blood. This action is called epiclesis, “calling upon” in the sense of “over top of.” Then there is the ancient action of “Laying on of Hands,” which is a constitutive or at least optional component of most of the sacraments. In Confession it is optional for the priest to lay his hand on the penitent’s head if there is no grate separating them; at the very least, he extends his right hand as he grants absolution. In Anointing of the Sick, the priest first lays his hands upon the person’s head before anointing his head and palms. There are the three sacraments that confer the Holy Spirit upon a person in a game-changing, identity-forming way: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. While Baptism does not involve the direct imposition of hands, the minister’s hand may touch the candidate in the imposition of Sacred Chrism. In Confirmation, the minister extends hands over (toward) the candidates, and touches the Chrism to the person’s forehead. The Bishop ordains candidates by imposing his hands upon their heads; once again, Chrism is used upon a priest’s palms, and upon a bishop’s head.
All this is to note how the divine Mysteries convey the Holy Spirit’s vital power upon the recipient who by repentance and gratitude strives to be worthy of such magnificent gifts. Confirmation, in particular, “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC 1288). The Bishop, in his very person and in his sacramental actions, re-presents the Spirit-breathing Christ by breathing upon the Chrism he consecrates in anticipation of the Paschal Feasts. The Baptized is rightly called a “Christian,” that is to say, one who is anointed as Jesus Himself was anointed Prophet to speak the Word of God, Priest to offer both Himself and mankind in sacrifice, and King to care for and lead people into the true Freedom of the Spirit.
Just as the Spirit descended at Pentecost to unite the confused tongues of the human race, so the Christian is anointed and commissioned by God to be a force for unity, clarity, and enthusiasm. If you have been baptized and confirmed, and you strive to live in communion with God and neighbor in the state of sanctifying grace, then you are duly empowered to be that force for unity, clarity, and enthusiasm into a world that surely needs it!