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The Groanings of the Holy Spirit

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For, we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings, and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what the Spirit desireth: because he asketh for the saints according to God.
(Romans 8:26-27)


In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes:
“We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.” [1]
Indeed, that same Holy Spirit intercedes for us in the Sacraments which Christ has given to His Church, [2] but preeminently in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the source and summit of all the other Sacraments. And wherever the Holy Mass is offered according to the mind of our Holy Mother the Church, we know that we are worshipping “in spirit and in truth.” [3]

Because God, the Holy Spirit, loves us so intensely, He wants to intercede for us in every moment and in every situation – not just for one hour on Sunday. And if we need a model for this we must turn to Our Lady, for she is truly the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. No one was so well-disposed to intercession of the Holy Spirit as the Blessed Virgin. St. Augustine explains:
“The Blessed Virgin Mary, was the only one who merited to be called the Mother and Spouse of God.” [4]
Mary became the Mother of God (Theotokos) [5] and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, as the Archangel Gabriel said:
“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” [6]
St. Gabriel's words at the Annunciation reveal the mysterious plan of God, as he proclaims the divine manner in which she would become a mother, the Mother of the Son of God.

At that moment, the Holy Spirit, who had already possessed Mary’s soul from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception, [7] came upon her with such exceptional plenitude that He formed within her the sacred Body of Jesus. Justly, therefore, does Mary deserve the name of Spouse of the Holy Spirit: she is His possession, His sanctuary, His temple. The Divine Paraclete [8] may well say to her in the words of the Canticle:
“My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.” [9]
Mary is a garden enclosed because she was never defiled— even for an instant—by the shadow of sin, was never subject to the winds of unruly passions, never taken up with any affection for creatures. St. John of the Cross [10] observed:
“The most glorious Virgin, our Lady never had the form of any creature imprinted on her soul, and was never moved by any creature, but her actions were always inspired by the Holy Spirit.” [11]
Filled with grace from her conception, Mary is always the faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit, attentive and docile to all His impulses and inspirations. Though Mary’s sublime privileges [12] are reserved for her alone, we can, nevertheless, imitate her interior dispositions by keeping our heart, in imitation of hers, always attentive and docile to the action of the Holy Spirit.

If we examine the joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary we can see this intercession of the Holy Spirit realized in the life of Our Lady. Take, for example, the first mystery, the Annunciation of Mary. In this mystery, we must acknowledge that Mary’s consent was one of the most important moments in salvation history. And that grace of Mary’s fiat [13] would not have been possible without the abundant grace and loving intercession of the Holy Spirit.

Glancing back at the Garden of Eden to the beginning of salvation history, we see Satan, an angel from hell, approaching Eve. Satan has an evil intention. He intends to lead mankind away from God.

What a contrast to the scene of the Annunciation, where the holy Archangel Gabriel, God’s messenger from heaven, appears to Mary, the New Eve. [14] Gabriel does not come with an evil intention. No! He comes to lead mankind back to God. St. Gabriel brought God’s message of salvation to Mary and said:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” [15]
And at this angelic salutation, all the angels and saints of heaven held their breath. And as they held their breath, the divine breath of the Holy Spirit breathed on Our Lady. Mary gave her ‘Yes’ to God. In Latin, Mary’s words are rendered:
Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (“Be it done unto me according to thy word.”) [16]
Friends, when we say “yes” to God like Mary, we allow God’s grace to be fruitful in us, to break into our history—our personal salvation history. When we say “no,” like Eve, God’s plan is aborted. Eve’s womb bore the fruit of Death. But as the new Eve, Mary’s womb bore the fruit of Life!


Did you know an interesting link exists between Mary’s fiat – Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation — and the Priest’s words of Consecration at Holy Mass? As soon as Mary said, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” Christ became present in her womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

When the ordained priest takes the bread at Mass and says, “This is My Body,” [17] Our Lord becomes present on the Altar by the overshadowing of the same Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, St. John in his Gospel tells us “The Word became flesh.” [18] At the Holy Mass, the Holy Spirit overshadows the Altar, the Priest speaks the words of Christ and once again, “The Word becomes flesh!” The Holy Spirit of God that overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation is the same Spirit of God, the Ruah Hakodesh, [19] that moved over the waters at the genesis of creation.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul says:
“We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.” [20]
As we contemplate the words of St. Paul, it seems that if we are ever to experience the power of the intercession of God the Holy Spirit, then we must follow the example of Mary, the first and the best follower of Jesus Christ, who quietly and gently teaches us to offer our fiat, our “yes,” to God.

Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Your well-beloved spouse.

Notes:

[1] Romans 8:26.
[2] The seven Sacraments are mystical channels of God’s grace, which have been instituted by Jesus Christ. Each is celebrated with a visible rite, which reflects the invisible, spiritual essence of the Sacrament. The seven sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance (Confession), Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders.
[3] John 4:24.
[4] St. Augustine, Sermo 208.
[5] From antiquity, Mary has been called Theotokos, or “God-Bearer” (Mother of God). The word in Greek is Theotokos. The term was used as part of the popular piety of the early first millennium church. It is used throughout the Eastern Church’s Liturgy, both Orthodox and Catholic. It lies at the heart of the Latin Rite’s deep Marian piety and devotion. This title was a response to early threats to ‘orthodoxy’, the preservation of authentic Christian teaching. A pronouncement of an early Church Council, The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., insisted “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the Theotokos (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema.” (The Council of Ephesus, 431 AD). The Council’s insistence on the use of the title reflected an effort to preserve the teaching of the Church that Jesus was both Divine and human, that the two natures were united in His One Person. Not only was that teaching under an assault then, it is under an assault now, and failing to “get it right” has extraordinary implications. The reason that the early Church Council pronounced this doctrine was “Christological”, meaning that it had to do with Jesus Christ. One of the threats was from an interpretation of the teachings of a Bishop of Constantinople named Nestorius. Some of his followers insisted on calling Mary only the “Mother of ‘the Christ.’” The Council insisted on the use of the title (in the Greek) Theotokos, (“Mother of God” or “God-bearer”) to reaffirm the central truth of what occurred in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
[6] Luke 1:35.
[7] “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus). The Immaculate Conception is not a virgin birth. Catholics believe Mary was conceived the normal way, but God made her immune from imputed or inherited sin. For as long as she’s been in existence, Mary has been free of sin. This allowed her to be the “second Eve” to give birth to the “second Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15:45). Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), Mary was a pure and holy “ark,” fit to carry the Son of God. As the ark of the Lord in Moses’ day carried the elements of the Old Covenant within it, so Mary carried the Author of the New Covenant within her.
[8] The Greek word Parakletos is translated “Comforter” or “Counselor” (as found in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; and 16:7). The Paraclete properly means “one called to the side of another”; the Counselor, or Paraclete, is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity who has been “called to our side.” He indwells in our hearts by virtue of our Baptism.
[9] Song of Songs 4:12.
[10] St. John of the Cross (1542–1591), Carmelite friar and priest, is a major figure of the Spanish Counter-Reformation, a mystic and Roman Catholic saint. He is one of thirty-six Doctors of the Church. St. John of the Cross is known especially for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Ávila. Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and among the greatest works of all Spanish literature. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.
[11] Ascent of Mount Carmel, III, 2:10.
[12] St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) writes in his book, Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the seven privileges of Mary:
(1) The first privilege of Mary was that she was, above all men, free from sin and most pure. For she was so abundantly sanctified by grace in her mother’s womb that it is believed she was never in the least degree inclined to the slightest venial sin. Therefore St. Bernard saith: “It behoved the Queen of Virgins, by a singular privilege of sanctity, to lead a life free from every sin, so that, while she brought forth the slayer of sin and death, she should obtain for all the gift of life and justice.”
(2) The second privilege of Mary is that, above all men, she was full of grace. St. Jerome saith: “On others grace was bestowed in measure; but the whole fullness of grace was poured into Mary.” And, therefore, well doth this same Blessed Doctor, comparing the grace of Mary with that of the angels and preferring it, say: “It is to be believed that the glorious Virgin Mary merited greater privileges of virtue, and received grace praised by the angels.”
(3) The third privilege of Mary was that she alone was a mother and at the same time an inviolate virgin. St. Bernard, praising this privilege, says: “Mary chose for herself the better part. Clearly the better, because conjugal fecundity is good, but virginal chastity is better, but the best is virginal fecundity, or fecund virginity. The privilege of Mary will not be given to another, because it will not be taken away from her.”
(4) The fourth privilege of Mary is that she alone is the ineffable Mother of the Son, the Mother of that Son of whom alone God is the Father; wonderful above measure that so great a privilege should be granted to a creature. Of this privilege St. Bernard saith: “This is the singular glory of our Virgin, and the excellent prerogative of Mary, that she merited to have her Son in common with God the Father.”
(5) The fifth privilege of Mary is that she alone above all creatures was in the body most familiar with God. For, what was never granted to any other creature, nor will ever be granted again in eternity --she bore God for nine months in her womb, she nourished God from her breasts full of heaven, for many years she sweetly brought up our Lord, she had God subject to her, she handled and embraced her God in pure embraces and kisses with tender familiarity, as St. Augustine says: “No wonder, Mary, that God reigning in Heaven deigns to rejoice with thee, whom, when He was a little child born of thee, thou didst so often kiss on earth.” (Serm. de Sanct., XXV, CCVIII, n. II, appendix.)
(6) The sixth privilege of Mary was that she alone, above all creatures, is most powerful with God. St. Augustine says: “She merited to be the mother of the Redeemer.” He also says: “Beg for what we ask, excuse what we fear, because we shall never find one more powerful in merit than thee, who hast merited to be the Mother of the Redeemer and of the Judge. It is a great privilege that she is more powerful with God than all the Saints, as St. Augustine declares: “There is no doubt that she who brought forth the price by which all were freed, can above all others pay the suffrage of holy liberty.” But what would it avail us for Mary to have such great power if she cared nothing for us? Therefore, brethren, we must hold it for certain, and incessantly give thanks for this, that, as she has more power with God than all the Saints, so is she also more solicitous for us before God than all the Saints. It is the same Augustine who teaches us this, saying: “We know, O Mary, that thou above all the saints art solicitous for the holy Church—thou who obtainest for sinners time to repent, that they may renounce their errors.”
(7) The seventh privilege of Mary is that she, above all the Saints, is most excellent in glory. St. Jerome says: “Everywhere the holy Church of God sings, what it is unlawful to believe of any other of the saints, that the merits (of Mary) transcend those of all angels and archangels. This privilege not, as it were, of nature, but of grace--belongs to the Virgin Mary.” Behold how glorious is the privilege of Mary’s glory that she, after God, is most exalted in glory. The glorious privilege of the glory of Mary is, that whatever after God is most beautiful, whatever is sweetest, whatever is pleasanter in glory, that is Mary’s, that is in Mary, that is by Mary. It is entirely the glorious privilege of Mary, that, after God, our greatest glory and our greatest joy is because of her. St. Bernard says: “After God, it is our greatest glory, O Mary, to behold thee, to adhere to thee, to abide in the defense of thy protection.” These, therefore, are the seven privileges of Mary by which we obtain the life of grace. And therefore, we may implore Mary, as Abraham implored Sara: “Say, I beseech thee, that thou art my sister, that it may be well with me because of thee, and that my soul may live by thy grace” (Gen. 12:13.) O Mary, our Sara, say that thou art our sister, that because of thee it may be well for us with God, and that our souls may live in God because of thy grace. Say, O our most beloved Sara, that thou art our sister, that, for the sake of such a sister, the Egyptians, that is, the evil spirits, may reverence us, that, because of such a sister, the angels may fight for us, and that above all, for the sake of such a sister, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost may have mercy on us.
[13] In Luke 1:28, Mary says: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (“Be it done unto me according to thy word.”)
[14] St. Irenaeus wrote: “As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve” (Against Heresies, Lib. 5, 19, 1; 20, 2; 21,1: SC 153, 248-250. 260-264).
[15] Luke 1:28.
[16] Luke 1:38.
[17] Luke 22:19.
[18] John 1:14.
[19] The term “holy spirit” appears in the Hebrew Scriptures in Psalm 50 (51), where we find reference to “thy holy spirit” (ruach kodshecha) [Psalm 50:11 (51:11)], and in Isaiah, where we twice locate a reference to “His holy spirit” (ruach kodsho) [Isaiah 63:10–11]. Psalm 50 (51) contains a triple parallelism between different types of “spirit”: “Fashion a pure heart for me, O God; create in me a steadfast spirit (ַוןֹ כָנ ַ וחּר). Do not cast me out of Your presence or take Your holy spirit (ַךְ שְ דָק ַ וחּר) away from me. Let me again rejoice in Your help; let a vigorous spirit (הָ יבִ דְ נ ַ וחּר) sustain me.” Variations of a similar term, “spirit of God”, also appear in various places in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew noun ruacḥ (רוח (can refer to “breath”, “wind”, or some invisible moving force (“spirit”). The following are some examples of the word ruacḥ (in reference to God’s “spirit”) in the Hebrew scriptures:
(1) Genesis 1:2 describes “a wind from God sweeping over the water”;
(2) 1 Samuel 16:13 says “the spirit of the Lord gripped David from that day on”;
(3) Psalm 143:10 teaches us to pray, “Let Thy gracious spirit lead me on level ground”;
(4) Isaiah 44:3 says, “So will I pour My spirit on your offspring, My blessing upon your posterity”;
(5) Joel 2:28 says, “I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; thy sons and daughters shall prophesy”;
(6) “God. . . gives breath [ruach] to all living things” (Numbers 27:16);
(7) When God created Adam, He breathed into Adam’s nostrils and “man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7);
(8) Job mentions the same breath of life as that which keeps him alive, saying “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit [ruach] of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3);
(9) Job’s friend Elihu affirmed the same: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). In the New Testament, it was the same Spirit that came to rest on Jesus Christ in the form of a dove, empowering and anointing Him as the Messiah (Matthew 3:16). This event was prophesied by Isaiah, who said, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). In both passages, the word for “Spirit” and “breath” is the Hebrew word ruach. God’s ruach is often associated with His creative power. Consider a conversation that Jesus had with a Pharisee called Nicodemus, who came to Jesus secretly in the night to ask Him questions. Jesus told Nicodemus that a person can only enter the kingdom of God if he has been “born of the Spirit,” because “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:4-6). Then, He compares the Holy Spirit to the wind, saying: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Both the word “wind” in this passage and the word “Spirit” are the same word: pneuma, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word ruach.
[20] Romans 8:26.
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