Today is the day of "Pentecost," literally "fifty days" after the Jewish Passover or the Christian feast of Easter. You may have noticed that the reading today starts out "When the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close...."1 To the Jews, Pentecost had been an agricultural festival, the end of the Passover season, and a commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses. To Christians it is, of course, the celebration of the visible and tangible coming-down of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, upon the Mother of God, and upon the others who had been with them in prayer in the Upper Room since our Lord's Ascension into heaven.
This descent of the Holy Ghost is a completion of the Redemption. It is a reception of the Law-giver, God the Holy Ghost, who comes to dwell in the hearts of the faithful. It is the inception of the public work of the Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter. It is, perhaps, more so than any other day in the Christian calendar, a feast of God's grace.
In the broadest sense, we can say that grace is any gift given by God to a rational creature -- to men and women for our purposes -- to make that person more fit for eternal life. In fact, we can speak of our time hear on earth as our "life of grace" -- for, God willing, we ought to be able to trace a nearly continuous state of existence in grace from around the time of our Baptism until our last day on earth. God always extends His graces to us -- it is only when we fail to cooperate with Him that we may lose those graces.
For those who come to the Faith some time after infancy, we can speak of "prevenient grace" -- "prevenient" is simply the Latin word for "coming before," and this is the grace that God gives to a person's heart and mind, filling him with desire for salvation, and enlightening his intellect to help him understand and accept the truths of the Faith. The person who cooperates with prevenient grace will seek to know more about the Faith, and will desire to receive Baptism.
In Baptism, the soul will receive "sanctifying grace." Literally, it will receive grace to sanctify it, or make it holy. This grace is a creation of God that makes the person a friend of God, an adopted son or daughter, a "co-heir" with Jesus Christ, and in some way a partaker of God's divinity. Sanctifying grace is also called habitual grace since, in the absence of mortal sin, it will permanently decorate the soul. Perhaps we would better say: it will "permeate" the soul or "transform" the soul, for it is much more than a mere covering or disguise for man's sinfulness -- much more than a decoration. If we think of sin as being equivalent to "spiritual dirt," the sanctifying grace of Baptism washes away that dirt and cleanses the soul.
This day of Pentecost is one of the Church's chief baptismal feasts -- a day on which adults who have been studying the Faith receive the Sacrament. The Church considers this so important, and so much a part of the character of this feast, that She even makes a small modification in the almost unchanging Canon of the Mass to pray for those brought to "a new birth by water and the Holy Ghost, giving them a remission of their sins."3 This prayer will, in fact, continue throughout the entire octave of Pentecost, as we pray for all those baptized throughout the Universal Church.
Sanctifying grace is, of course, restored by the Sacrament of Penance if we are unfortunate as to fall from the state of grace. And sanctifying grace is increased by each of the other Sacraments -- those Sacraments that we call the "Sacraments of the Living," for they are appropriately received only by those who have already been baptized and who are in the state of sanctifying grace.
While we are talking about the Sacraments, we should also recall that when we receive them, God gives us an increase of the "actual graces" that we call "sacramental graces." "Actual graces" can be thought of as the aid which God gives us to act in a holy manner -- to deport ourselves in a way befitting Christians, to cope with the difficulties and temptations of life in the material world, and to do good for those around us. The "sacramental graces" are those actual graces God gives us to carry out the duties associated with the Sacraments we have received. (E.g. to be a soldier of Christ after Confirmation, to be faithful husband or wife, to be a good priest, and so on.)
Since today is Pentecost, it is appropriate to remember that in the Sacrament of Confirmation we too receive the Holy Ghost, and in doing so, our faith is strengthened, and we receive His "seven gifts."
The Apostles seem to have received some more "exterior" gifts than we receive in the Sacrament -- the ability to be understood in the tongues of many nations, the ability to heal the sick -- and certainly much more obvious signs of the Holy Ghost when they received or conferred the Sacrament (the tongues of fire, the sound of wind, etc.) -- but those seven gifts were the ones that enabled them to persevere. They are the same seven gifts of the Holy Ghost which enabled the Church to grow in the centuries after the Apostles -- and the same seven gifts which make us capable of living the Faith and communicating it to others in our century.
But let us not so quickly pass over the idea that we "receive the Holy Ghost." All of the other graces that I have mentioned have been God's creations. To be sure they are important and they are of great holiness, but yet they are still mere creations. But when we speak of the Apostles receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, or when we speak of receiving the Holy Ghost ourselves, we are speaking of "uncreated grace" -- the grace of God Himself, the Holy GGhost dwelling personally in our human souls. "Uncreated," because it is He Himself, and not His creation. Saint Paul tells us: "The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Whom we have received."5 And Paul is even more explicit in his letter to the Corinthians: "Do you not understand that you are God's temple, and that God's Spirit has His dwelling in you?"6
And, perhaps that remark of Saint Paul is a good one with which to close. There probably can be no better lesson to be learned from the feast of Pentecost than that. In various ways, God has given us His graces to make us holy. Some of those graces are his creations. But this indwelling of the Holy Ghost is His very Substance! What greater way to holiness could there possibly be than to look down into our own souls and see that God is within us? What better motivation could there be than to recognize that we are already in possession of our eternal Gift, and to recognize that we must strive with all our efforts that we may never lose It.
"Do you not understand that you are God's temple,