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Holy Spirit and Mary

Holy Spirit and Mary

– Sister M. Jean Frisk

The Year of the Holy Spirit, 1998
Sacred Scripture Concerning the Holy Spirit and Mary
Mary as Image of the Holy Spirit
Marialis Cultus: The Holy Spirit and Marian Devotion
Recent Magisterial Teachings on the Holy Spirit and Mary
The Holy Spirit and Mary in Iconography

Image: Annunciation Maitre de Jativa Barcelona, Spain

The Year of the Holy Spirit, 1998

The Catholic Church was in its final stage of preparation for the Great Jubilee 2000. The year 1998 was dedicated to the Holy Spirit and concentrated its catechesis on the Church's teachings about the Holy Spirit. It was also a time of renewal of sound Marian catechesis, since Christianity's third millennium was a celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus, who, as the Creed professes,

"was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary."

As an article in the Marian Library Newsletter states:

A greater awareness of the Holy Spirit has been growing within the Catholic Church in this century. Leo XIII's encyclical on the Holy Spirit (1897) began this recovery of the Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as the "forgotten God." Vatican II, as Paul VI frequently pointed out, made 258 references to the Holy Spirit. All the Eucharistic Prayers after Vatican II restored the ancient custom of invoking the Holy Spirit to "convert" and "transform" the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and, in addition, to form all who participate in the Eucharist into "one body, one spirit."

Pope John Paul II's encyclical "The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World" (1986), which began preparing the Church for the Great Jubilee, points out that the upcoming celebration will be centered on Christ and the Holy Spirit. The focus of the millennium celebration will be the remembrance of the "conception and birth of Jesus Christ" made possible "by the power of the Holy Spirit" and "the cooperation of the Virgin Mary."

The Holy Spirit is the guardian of hope in the human heart, so it is appropriate that hope be given special attention in 1998, especially "a better appreciation of the signs of hope present in the last part of this century." Mary was the woman docile to the voice of the Spirit, the woman who was "hoping against hope." In Mary, the Church sees a "sign of certain hope." (LG 68) Vatican II speaks of Mary as "molded, so to speak, by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature." (LG 56)

The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary makes many references to the Holy Spirit and Mary. At the Annunciation, Mary received "the angel's message in faith and conceived by the power of the Spirit" (2); she was formed by the Holy Spirit "to be a new creation." (3) Attentive to the voice of the Spirit (20), her heart was the "home of the Eternal Word, the sanctuary of the Spirit." (28) The Holy Spirit continues the mission of giving birth to Christ in believers through the Virgin Mary. St. Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort wrote, "Mary is the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a man who is God by the hypostatic union, and through grace to make persons who are like to God." (The Secret of Mary, 18)

[Source for Intro: ML Newsletter, Winter-Spring 1998]


Sacred Scripture on the Holy Spirit and Mary

The Sacred Scriptures treat of the Holy Spirit and Mary directly in Matthew 1:18-20 and Luke 1:35.

Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Mary is the God-bearer, the Mother of all. Vatican II Contemporary prayer card Artist Unknown

The Annunciation

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 1:18-20 RSV)

And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." (Luke 1:35 RSV)

[From the context of the Scriptures, the texts deal indirectly with Mary and Holy Spirit in Luke 1:41-47; 2:25ff.; in the Acts of the Apostles 1:5-8 in connection with 1:14; 2:1ff; and possibly also Galatians 4:4 and 6; and John 19:25-27 in connection with 19:30.]


The History of Pentecost

Altar of a Cologne master ca. 1350 Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum

Pope John Paul II gave a series of teachings on the Holy Spirit between 1989 and 1991. [See source reference below.] Among the teachings, the Holy Father stated:

The Son assumed human nature and became like us, so that the disciples, during his mortal life, could see him and "touch him with (their) hands," him, the Word of life. (cf. I Jn 1:1)

On the other hand, the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, based on faith in Christ's revelation, is not supported by the vision of a divine Person living among us in human form, but only by the observation of the effects of his presence and operation in us and in the world. The key point of this knowledge is the Pentecost event.

In the religious tradition of Israel, Pentecost was originally the feast of the first fruits of the harvest. "Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel." (Ex 34:23) The first time was for the Feast of the Pasch; the second for the Harvest Festival; the third for the so-called Feast of Tabernacles.


Sending of the Spirit, detail Heidelberg Bible of the Poor, ca. 1430 University Library, Heidelberg

The "feast of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field," (Ex 23:16) was called "Pentecost" in Greek, because it was celebrated fifty days after the feast of the Pasch. It was also called the feast of weeks, because it fell true seven weeks after the Pasch. The feast of ingathering was celebrated separately, toward the end of the year (cf. Ex 23:16; 34:22). The books of the law contained detailed instructions for the celebration of Pentecost (cf. Lev 23:15ff.; Num 28:26-31), which later also became the feast of the renewal of the covenant (cf. 2 Chr 15:10-13).
The descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and on the first community of Christ's disciples who, in the upper room of Jerusalem, "devoted themselves with one accord to prayer," together with Mary the mother of Jesus (cf. Acts 1: 14), is linked with the Old Testament meaning of Pentecost. The feast of harvest becomes the feast of the new "harvest" for which the Holy Spirit is responsible: the harvest in the Spirit. This harvest is the fruit of the seed sown by Christ. (p.47) Pentecost is the moment of the apostolic kerygma: "Out of his [the Spirit's] heart shall flow rivers of living water." (Jn 7:37-39)

The Pentecost Event

We know the story of Pentecost. We often see images of the twelve apostles gathered with tongues of fire, filled with the joy of the Spirit. This image is incomplete when it stands alone. A close reading of Acts tells us that there were men and women with Mary at the gathering. The Church was founded on community. The moment of Pentecost represented only by the twelve alone or by the twelve and Mary omits an important teaching about the manifestation of the Spirit in the Church.

Sending Out the Spirit Contemporary enamel Egino Weinert Cologne
Pentecost Is a Powerful Manifestation of God, a Theophany

In the Pentecost event the Holy Spirit remains the mysterious God (cf. Is 45:15), and such he will remain throughout the entire history of the Church and of the world. It could be said that he is hidden in the shadow of Christ, the Son-Word, one in being with the Father, who in visible form "became flesh and dwelt among us." (Jn 1:14) He is the hidden God, who works in silence and the interior.

Mary, too, was enveloped in the mystery, as the quiet hour of the Annunciation indicates! But, Pentecost was different. It was a theophany, a powerful manifestation of God. It is by God's design that Mary was present in the Upper Room. Pope John Paul II teaches in his Holy Spirit Catechesis:

The apostolic community needed her presence and that devotedness to prayer together with her, the mother of the Lord. It may be said that in the prayer with Mary, one perceives her special mediation deriving from the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As his mystical spouse, Mary implores his coming upon the Church born from the pierced side of Christ on the cross, and now about to be revealed to the world. (p.44). ... The [Vatican] Council ... adds that she herself cooperated "in the regeneration and formation" of these "brethren" of Christ, with her motherly love. ... The Church's looking to Mary began in the upper room. (p.45)

[Source: John Paul II, The Spirit Giver of Life and Love: A Catechesis on The Creed, Pauline Books & Media, 1998.]


Mary as Image of the Holy Spirit

Karl Barth, the renowned Swiss Protestant theologian, wrote in 1927:

"World history is the story of men! However, in order to give God alone all the honor in the greatest work of world history, here God excluded the man and his doing." [Christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf, 1927, p. 278.]

Contemporary devotional image Carmel of Rochefort, Belgium

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the love of the Father and of the Son. After the sacred humanity of Jesus, Mary is the most graced creature to come from divine love, she is totally a work of love. Further, the Holy Spirit is love in person, "the personified capability for surrender and the actual loving surrender/devotion to the Godhead." [M. Müller, Gotteskinder vor dem Vater, 1938, p. 78] Mary most faithfully mirrors the Holy Spirit's personal uniqueness in this regard. No one is so devoted to God as she is. The connection of the Word (Logos) to the Holy Spirit is similar to the connection of the Word to Mary: in his love the Word gives the Spirit his presence, he gives the Virgin his person. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from love, is the representative of love and its sweetness and enlivening warmth and fruitfulness. In a similar way Mary does the same (but so-to-say, on a lower level), she sweetens our life [Source: Scheeben].

She has been called the "dove of God." This symbol wasn't used just to describe her purity and beauty, her gentleness and humility, but according to Scheeben, precisely to indicate her similarity and intimate unity with the Holy Spirit: his symbol became her symbol.

Scheeben also taught that the Holy Spirit animates and in a certain sense "informs" Mary, so that she forms a moral person (one identity) with him and he so-to-say sets the signature upon her personality. Christ cannot be united to his Mother without giving her in a particular way, his Spirit, which he always gives--which is always proceeding from him. If he gives his Spirit to the Church, then how much more to his Mother, who is not only the image (Abbild) of the Church, but also its (Urbild) original unique image.


Marialis Cultus: The Holy Spirit and Marian Devotion

In 1974, Pope Paul VI wrote a document on devotion to Mary, which continues to be the norm for Marian devotion. The following articles dwelt on the topic, The Holy Spirit and Mary (MC 26, 27). The first (article 26) shows the rich symbolism developed by the Father to describe the relation between Mary and the Holy Spirit:

26. It seems to us useful to add to this mention of the Christological orientation of devotion to the Blessed Virgin a reminder of the fittingness of giving prominence in this devotion to one of the essential facts of the Faith: the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. Theological reflection and the liturgy have in fact noted how the sanctifying intervention of the Spirit in the Virgin of Nazareth was a culminating moment of the Spirit's action in the history of salvation. Thus, for example, some Fathers and writers of the Church attributed to the work of the Spirit the original holiness of Mary, who was as it were "fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a kind of new substance and new creature." [LG 56] Reflecting on the Gospel texts--"The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with his shadow" (Lk. 1:35) and "Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.... She has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 1:18, 20)--they saw in the Spirit's intervention an action that consecrated and made fruitful Mary's virginity and transformed her into the "Abode of the King" or "Bridal Chamber of the Word," the "Temple," or "Tabernacle of the Lord," the "Ark of the Covenant" or "the Ark of Holiness," titles rich in biblical echoes. Examining more deeply still the mystery of the incarnation, they saw in the mysterious relationship between the Spirit and Mary an aspect redolent of marriage, poetically portrayed by Prudentius: "The unwed Virgin espoused the Spirit," and they called her the "Temple of the Holy Spirit," an expression that emphasizes the sacred character of the Virgin now the permanent dwelling of the Spirit of God. Delving deeply into the doctrine of the Paraclete, they saw that from Him as from a spring there flowed forth the fullness of grace (cf. Lk. 1:28) and the abundance of gifts that adorned her. Thus they attributed to the Spirit the faith, hope and charity that animated the Virgin's heart, the strength that sustained her acceptance of the will of God, and the vigor that upheld her in her suffering at the foot of the cross. In Mary's prophetic canticle (cf. Lk. 1:46-55) they saw a special working of the Spirit who had spoken through the mouths of the prophets." Considering, finally, the presence of the Mother of Jesus in the Upper Room, where the Spirit came down upon the infant Church (cf Acts 1:12-14; 2:14), they enriched with new developments the ancient theme of Mary and the Church. Above all, they had recourse to the Virgin's intercession in order to obtain from the Spirit the capacity for engendering Christ in their own soul, as is attested to by Saint Ildephonsus in a prayer of supplication, amazing in its doctrine and prayerful power: "I beg you, holy Virgin, that I may have Jesus from the Holy Spirit, by whom you brought Jesus forth. May my soul receive Jesus through the Holy Spirit by whom your flesh conceived Jesus.... May I love Jesus in the Holy Spirit in whom you adore Jesus as Lord and gaze upon Him as your Son."
Note that Pope Paul VI has quoted thirty Fathers of the Church and Church writers by using the above expressions.

27. It is sometimes said that many spiritual writings today do not sufficiently reflect the whole doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. It is the task of specialists to verify and weigh the truth of this assertion, but it is our task to exhort everyone, especially those in the pastoral ministry and also theologians, to meditate more deeply on the working of the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation, and to ensure that Christian spiritual writings give due prominence to His life-giving action. Such a study will bring out in particular the hidden relationship between the Spirit of God and the Virgin of Nazareth, and show the influence they exert on the Church. From a more profound meditation on the truths of the Faith will flow a more vital piety.
There can be no doubt that the Second Vatican Council--when we are speaking of the discussion between Mary and the Holy Spirit--stayed in the framework of traditional Mariology, which has officially taught that dogmatically there can be no doubt that every experience of faith is an experience of the Spirit, and that our relationship to Mary is also possible only through the mediation of Christ's Spirit.

What Pope Paul VI explains in various sources is capsuled in the words hidden relationship. What the Church says about the action of the Holy Spirit in, through, and on the Church is what the Church has already said about Mary. In Mary, the Church sees itself fulfilled.


Recent Magisterial Teachings on the Holy Spirit and Mary

On Mary and the Holy Spirit, in general:

Letter to Members of Consecrated Life,
Pope John Paul II,
May 22, 1988

[Mary's motherhood] is to be transferred from her as a "model" to the whole Church, which will be revealed to the world on the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. [21]

On Mary Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit

On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Pope John Paul II, August 15, 1988

  • Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, who "overshadowed" her, was Mary able to accept what is "impossible with men, but not with God." (cf. Mk 10:27) [3]
  • The particular union of the "Theotokos" with God ... is a pure grace and, as such, a gift of the Spirit. [4]
  • Explanation: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you"-- your motherhood will not be the consequence of matrimonial "knowledge," but will be the work of the Holy Spirit: the "power of the Most High" will "overshadow" the mystery of the Son's conception and birth.... 17 [See 20 also]
  • This "prophetic" character of women in their femininity finds its highest expression in the Virgin Mother of God. She emphasizes, in the fullest and most direct way, the intimate linking of the order of love--which enters the world of human persons through a Woman--with the Holy Spirit. At the Annunciation Mary hears the words: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you." (Lk 1:35) [29]

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994

  •  The Apostles' Creed: He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
  •  The Nicene Creed: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
  • 437 ... God called Joseph to "take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit," so that Jesus, "who is called Christ," should be born of Joseph's spouse into the messianic lineage of David. (Mt 1:20 et al)
  • 456 With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
  • 504 Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary's womb because he is the New Adam, who inaugurates the new creation: "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven." (1 Cor 15:45, 47) From his conception, Christ's humanity is filled with the Holy Spirit, for God "gives him the Spirit without measure." (Jn 3:34) From "his fullness" as the head of redeemed humanity "we have all received, grace upon grace." (Jn 1:16; cf. Col 1:18)
  • 695 Anointing. ... But Jesus is God's Anointed in a unique way: the humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit established him as "Christ." (Cf. Lk 4:18-19) The Virgin Mary conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit who, through the angel, proclaimed him the Christ at his birth, and prompted Simeon to come to the temple to see the Christ of the Lord. (cf. Lk 2:11, 26-27)
  • 697 Cloud and light. These two images occur together in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. ... In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills these figures. The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and "overshadows" her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. (Lk 1:35)
  • 723 In Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfills the plan of the Father's loving goodness. With and through the Holy Spirit, the Virgin conceives and gives birth to the Son of God. By the Holy Spirit's power and her faith, her virginity became uniquely fruitful. (cf. Lk 1:26-38)[See also 494]

On Mary's Whole Existence Fashioned by the Holy Spirit:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994

  • 493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God "the All-Holy" (Panagia) and celebrate her as "free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature." (LG 56) By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
  • 722 The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by his grace. It was fitting that the mother of him in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9) should herself be "full of grace." She was, by sheer grace, conceived without sin as the most humble of creatures, the most capable of welcoming the inexpressible gift of the Almighty. It was quite correct for the angel Gabriel to greet her as the "Daughter of Zion": "Rejoice." (cf. Zeph 3:14; Zech 2:14) It is the thanksgiving of the whole People of God, and thus of the Church, which Mary in her canticle (cf. Lk 1:46-55) lifts up to the Father in the Holy Spirit while carrying within her the eternal Son.
  • 744 In the fullness of time the Holy Spirit completes in Mary all the preparations for Christ's coming among the People of God. By the action of the Holy Spirit in her, the Father gives the world Emmanuel, "God-with-us." (Mt 1:23)

On Mary's Fullness of Grace:

On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Pope John Paul II, 1988

  • [the Annunciation] is clearly interpersonal in character: it is a dialogue. We can only understand it fully if we place the whole conversation between the angel and Mary in the context of the words: "full of grace." (cf. RM 7-11)
  • [supernatural event] Grace never casts nature aside or cancels it out, but rather perfects and ennobles it. Therefore the "fullness of grace" that was granted to the Virgin of Nazareth, with a view to the fact that she would become "Theotokos," also signifies the fullness of the perfection of "what is characteristic of woman," of "what is feminine."
  • the culminating point, the archetype, of the personal dignity of women. [5]

Catechism of the Catholic Church,1994

  • 721 Mary, the all-holy ever-virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of time. For the first time in the plan of salvation and because his Spirit had prepared her, the Father found the dwelling place where his Son and his Spirit could dwell among men. In this sense the Church's Tradition has often read the most beautiful texts on wisdom in relation to Mary. (cf. Prov 8:1-9; Sir 24) Mary is acclaimed and represented in the liturgy as the "Seat of Wisdom." In her, the "wonders of God" that the Spirit was to fulfill in Christ and the Church began to be manifested.


The Holy Spirit and Mary in Iconography

Iconography is evidence of the belief of the Church. Iconography of Mary and the Holy Spirit is found relatively late, and it is only just prior to the Renaissance that the themes emerge. Below are some of the images frequently used in the Church to teach of Mary's relationship to the Holy Spirit:


The conception of Ann and Joachim; Ann learns that her child would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. This image was used as an interpretation of the Immaculate Conception, especially in the 1500s.


The Annunciation Juan Correa de Vivar, ca. 1600 Located at the Prado in Madrid
The dove frequently is depicted above the Immaculata, that is, depictions of Mary conceived without sin. Often the Father is seen in the background, giving his blessing.

The Baroque period interpretations of the Annunciation:

A ray of light streams from the dove through a mirror to the heart of the Virgin.

Wedding of Mary and Joseph:

A dove is often depicted above the union.


A dove is frequently depicted above both women.

Nativity, Adoration of the Magi:

Nativity School of Stephan Lochner ca. 1410-1451 Munich, Bavarian state collection
Images often portray a dove hovering above.

Death of Mary:

A dove is often depicted above her bed.


Coronation of Mary, detail Gentile da Fabriano 1370-1450 Vienna Art Academy

The Trinity welcomes Mary on her arrival into heaven. The Holy Spirit usually is depicted hovering between the Father and Son and over the head of Mary.

In portrayals of the Litany of Loreto, the title, Mother of Fair Love, is usually painted with the dove. There is a painting based on a sermon by Petrus Damiani (11C.) where the house of Nazareth rests on seven pillars, which represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which Mary possessed. Another very early eleventh century painting shows Christ on his throne, Mary stands next to him, her breastplate has a dove on it, representing the spirit of wisdom. The image is surrounded by six other shields with the gifts radiating light to Mary and from her.


Sources: Pope John Paul II, "On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World" [Encyclical Letter, Dominum et Vivificantem, Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1986; Pope John Paul II, The Spirit, Giver of Life and Love: A Catechesis on the Creed, Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1996, 459 pp, ISBN 0-8198-6987-2; Pope Paul VI, "For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary" [Encyclical Letter, Marialis Cultus, 1974; Pope Paul VI, "The Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin" [Letter to Cardinal Léon Jozef Suenens], May 13, 1975, TPS 19-20 (1974-75); K. Wittkemper, "Heiliger Geist, II: Dogmatik" und F. Zeilinger, "Heiliger Geist, I Exegese:" Marienlexikon, Band 3.

Images shown:

Annunciation, Maitre de Jativa, Barcelona, Spain Back

Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Mary is the God-bearer, the Mother of all. Vatican II Contemporary prayer card, Artist Unknown Back 

Altar of a Cologne master, ca. 1350, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum Back

Sending of the Spirit (detail), Heidelberg Bible of the Poor, ca. 1430, University Library, Heidelberg Back

Sending Out the Spirit, Contemporary enamel, Egino Weinert, Cologne Back

Contemporary devotional image, Carmel of Rochefort, Belgium Back

The Annunciation, Juan Correa de Vivar, ca. 1600, Located at the Prado in Madrid Back

Nativity, School of Stephan Lochner, ca. 1410-1451, Munich, Bavarian State Collection Back

Coronation of Mary (detail), Gentile da Fabriano, 1370-1450, Vienna Art Academy Back

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