Bishop Michael Houghton, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet continues our series of twelve meditations in preparation for the Millennium Celebration ‘Christ Our Future’ at the London Arena, Docklands on June 10, 2000.
CONCEIVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
… Because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20)
The Annunciation Icon in my Oratory depicts the light of the Holy Spirit shining upon the head of Our Lady. Mary had been invited to conceive the one in whom the ‘whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.’ (Col 2:9) She is staggered by this and wonders how it could be possible: ‘How can this be, since I have no husband?’ (Luke 1:34) The answer comes immediately through the mouth of the Archangel: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you.’ (Luke 1:35)
The initiative is entirely God’s. That is his way with us. Perhaps we have not always had a strong enough sense of the power of the working of the Holy Spirit in the world and the initiatives He takes with mankind. Perhaps the Christian Church has not always given due emphasis to the work of the Holy Spirit. Odd, because, after all, it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.’ (John 1: 14)
‘Conceived by the Holy Spirit’ means that the Incarnation was a totally new beginning in the world’s story, in which the initiative lay solely with God.
In our daily lives as Christians, we need to be open to the promptings of the Spirit and seek his guidance. Each time we come together as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Holy Eucharist we should first spend time asking the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Liturgy, through the celebration of the Word and the Sacrament. The Liturgy is ever old and yet ever new and the Spirit speaks to us powerfully, if we will only have ears to hear and eyes to see.
At every celebration of the Eucharist, it is the Holy Spirit who initiates the sacramental presence of the living Christ. The Epiclesis (the prayer for the ‘coming down’ of the Holy Spirit) of the ASB’s first Eucharistic Prayer runs:
…. as we follow his example and obey his command, grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these gifts of bread and wine may be to us his body and his blood.
But we must not narrow down the full implications of the Epiclesis. As one of the Rempstone Sisters reminded us recently in one of her pamphlets:
it is not only the bread and the wine but the faithful too who are ‘changed’ by the invocation and descent of the Spirit.
The first eucharistic prayer we have quoted earlier concludes, just before the final doxology and Amen, with a prayer for the Spirit’s blessing on the worshippers. May this be our prayer as we prepare for the Millennium and for the ‘Christ Our Future’ celebrations:
… … as we eat and drink these holy gifts in the presence of your divine majesty, renew us by your Spirit, inspire us with your love, and unite us in the body of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord … ….