Pope St. John Paul II, in Dominum et Vivificantem (“Lord and Giver of Life”), his 1986 encyclical on the Holy Spirit, reflected on the relationship between the apostles and the Holy Spirit. He drew upon John 14 and 15, which is the first part of the lengthy Upper Room discourse recorded by the fourth evangelist.
John Paul II noted that the promised spirit of truth is called the Paraclete, from the word “parakletos,” which means “counselor,” as well as “intercessor” or “advocate.” Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “another advocate” or counselor (Jn 14:16), the second one, “since he, Jesus himself, is the first counselor, being the first bearer and giver of the Good News. The Holy Spirit comes after him and because of him, in order to continue in the world, through the Church, the work of the Good News of salvation.”
There is a continuity between the Father sending the Son and then the Son returning to the Father so that the Spirit can be sent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in a section titled, “The Divine Works and the Trinitarian Missions” (Nos. 257-60) explains that this going forth on the part of God is due to the fact that God is love, and he “freely wills to communicate the glory of his blessed life.” This means being conformed to the image of the Son of God through “the spirit of sonship.” The catechism points out that this plan of salvation “unfolds in the work of creation, the whole history of salvation after the fall, and the missions of the Son and the Spirit, which are continued in the mission of the Church.”
That’s a lot to process, but it is key to better understanding today’s readings, for all of them point to how the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the apostles, brings the divine life and grace of God to the world. The Acts of the Apostles is, in so many ways, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and it continually shows how the will of the Father and the work of the Son are carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Church. The Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church, guides and unites the apostles, their successors and the members of Christ’s mystical body (cf., CCC Nos. 797-798). Thus, when the deacon Philip went to Samaria and preached the Gospel, as had been passed on to him by the apostles (Acts 6:5), the crowds listened “with one accord” — just as the apostles and disciples prayed in one accord (Acts 1:14) and made key decisions in one accord (Acts 15:25). The authority of the apostles is shown in the necessity of the presence and action of Peter and John for the reception of the Holy Spirit among the Samaritans.
As the Church spread outward from Jerusalem, the apostles led the way, traveling as far as India (St. Thomas), Egypt (St. Mark) and Rome (St. Peter). Apostolic succession is the belief that the teachings of Christ — located in sacred Scripture and in sacred tradition — are preserved and proclaimed by the bishops through the power of the Holy Spirit (CCC Nos. 1087, 1576). “The Holy Spirit, then,” wrote John Paul II, “will ensure that in the Church there will always continue the same truth which the apostles heard from their master.”
Again, the truth is that the Father is merciful, the Son is the way, and the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete — the Lord and giver of life. “Amen, amen,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5).
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.