When I first heard of the new “Luminous Mysteries” of the Holy Rosary instituted by the Holy Father in his apostolic letter “ Rosarium Virginis Mariae ” (referred to henceforth as “RVM”), their common theme was not apparent to me for many days. My friend Angela shed more light on the subject at one of our prayer group meetings when she referred to them as the “Mysteries of Light.” That discussion brought to me the understanding that the common theme is “Christ…the Light of the World” (RVM #21). That understanding was confirmed when I read the apostolic letter.
On the evening our prayer group decided to pray these particular mysteries using the scripture references found in the apostolic letter, I discovered a unique and inspiring meditation. Yes, the common theme is “Christ…the Light of the World,” but these mysteries delve deeper into the manner in which Christ reveals Himself to His Church. These mysteries demonstrate the awesome, mystical nature of experiencing Christ in the Sacraments. Though many different meditations can be found within these mysteries, in this article I would like to share some of the thoughts that came to me during that moment of prayerful meditation.
The Luminous Mysteries as given in the apostolic letter (RVM #21):
1. Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River.
2. Christ’s Self-Manifestation at the Wedding Feast of Cana.
3. Christ’s Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with His Call to Conversion.
4. Christ’s Transfiguration.
5. Christ’s Institution of the Eucharist, as the Sacramental Expression of the Paschal Mystery.
The Seven Sacraments:
3. Penance (“Confession”)
4. The Eucharist (“Communion”)
5. Holy Matrimony (“Marriage”)
6. Holy Orders (the Sacerdotal Priesthood)
7. The Anointing of the Sick (formerly known as “Last Rites”)
Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
In this passage, the Lord institutes the Sacrament of Baptism by His own example. It is at His baptism that the Holy Spirit descends upon Him and the Father declares “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” That same mystical reality occurs at our individual baptisms when the heavens become open to us, we receive the Holy Spirit and the Father declares us to be His adopted sons in whom He is well pleased. Though we may not see the Holy Spirit descend with our eyes, nor hear the voice of the Father with our ears, by faith we may know that we have been brought close to both of them in a real way. With Baptism we may truly be found pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1 and 1 John 3:21-22), because through Baptism we become dead to sin and alive in Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-4,11 and Galatians 2:19-20). As a newly lit candle begins to dispel the darkness, Christ’s Light begins its glow within the believer upon reception of this first sacrament.
Christ’s Self-Manifestation at the Wedding Feast of Cana
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. After this, he and his mother, (his) brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there only a few days.
By reading the title of the mystery, I immediately saw a hint of connection with the Sacrament of Matrimony. That connection runs to the deepest levels, though. In Ephesians 5:21-32, St. Paul speaks of Marriage as an earthly manifestation of Christ’s heavenly relationship with His bride, the Church. He explains that spouses must love each other with complete obedience toward one another as Christ loved His bride.
In Revelation 12, St. John describes the Blessed Virgin Mary (the mother of the Heavenly King) as the quintessential symbol for the Church. She is the most appropriate symbol because she was the first to receive the grace bestowed upon the Church in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice. In fact, verse 17 speaks of Mary as the Mother of the Church. Amidst the Twelve Apostles who then began to believe, Mary was present at the Wedding Feast of Cana, thereby making present the Church.
In John 3:28-29, John the Baptist calls Christ “the bride-groom” and himself “the best man.” There he further states that the bridegroom has received the bride. This reception of the bride began one chapter earlier at the Wedding Feast of Cana. At that feast, Christ began His ministry by performing a miracle done in obedience to His mother. In accord with St. Paul’s instructions to married couples, Jesus shows complete obedience and love for His Church through His obedience to His Blessed Mother, the greatest symbol of the Church. Thereby, He begins to receive the Church as His bride. Earlier, Mary manifested her part of obedience on behalf of the Church when she willingly received Christ as her Son at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38).
St. Paul also details the sanctifying relationship that exists between a Christian husband and wife which parallels Christ’s saving relationship with the Church:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her, to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the two spouses become advocates of grace, personal ministers given for each other’s spiritual benefit, commissioned to bring forth Christ’s blessings and mercies to their spouses with complete devotion, helping them to receive Christ’s holiness into their lives. This ministry parallels Christ's devition to His Church though His life, death and resurrection. So through the great examples of Christ and the Blessed Mother, Christ’s Light is further enkindled and fueled between Christian spouses through mutual obedience and devotion in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Christ’s Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with His Call to Conversion
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, pick up your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth"-- he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus heard this and said to them (that), "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
The thoughts that came to me while meditating on this mystery were the most elaborate in that they hinted to the mystical elements of three sacraments: The Anointing of the Sick, Penance, and Holy Orders.
In Christ’s Proclamation of the Kingdom, the foremost message is the forgiveness of sins and the call for conversion. Christ tells us He has come to be a physician to the spiritually ill (Mark 2:17), to reconcile sinners to God. When he forgives the sins of the paralytic, the Jews require a sign to demonstrate Christ’s authority, since they believe that no man may forgive sins. To demonstrate the Father’s approval of His authority to forgive sins, the Lord cures the paralytic to the amazement of all. No one can honestly doubt the authority of the Lord to forgive sins with such miracles.
Curing the sick is an amazing mercy of God, but ultimately it is only a symbol of a greater work. It testifies to the spiritual healing one’s soul undergoes through the Sacrament of Confession. Though one may sicken their relationship with the Lord with venial sin, or worse yet, mortally wound that same relationship with mortal sin, a miraculous renewal occurs when faith receives the words of absolution from the lips of one of Christ’s priests, a father in the Family of God receiving back the prodigal son (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15 & Luke 15:11-32). When Christ speaks of physical death, He refers to it as merely “sleeping” (John 11:11-14 and Luke 8:52-53). In the eyes of the Lord and those who see with faith, true death is spiritual death in sin (Romans 6:16,23a, Matthew 10:28, and Luke 9:60) and true life is life found in God’s grace (Mark 12:26-27 and Romans 8:13). So those who fall before the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession may once again receive His precious light and start again with renewed hope.
Christ further offers both mercies of physical and spiritual healing in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In Mark Chapter 6 Jesus gives the Twelve Apostles great authority. He sends them out to Proclaim the Gospel and call sinners to repentance. Amidst the great works they wrought “they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (verse 13). James further demonstrates the importance of this Sacrament in his epistle (Chapter 5, verses 14-16). He says that those faithful brethren who are sick should call upon their priests (the presbyters) so that they may confess their sins to them and receive a healing anointing in the name of the Lord. He also shows that this Sacrament is intimately united to the sick person’s final perseverance and salvation stating “and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (verse 15-16). To those who are ill, who allow the Divine Physician to aid them at their bedside through this Sacrament, they too may receive that renewed light, but also an extra supply of heavenly oil so that Christ’s light may burn steadily within them through the darkness of the night until the rising of the new Day.
As demonstrated in Mark Chapter 6, Christ did not Proclaim the Kingdom of God alone. He intentionally commissioned the Twelve Apostles as an essential element of His ministry. He commanded them to proclaim the Coming of the Kingdom, heal the sick and raise the dead (cf. Matthew 9:35-10:15). He gave them the power to forgive or retain sins (cf. John 20:21-23) which they did in the person of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:10) with divine authority (cf. Matthew 9:8) as His ambassadors of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). They were sent to tend and feed His sheep (cf. John 21:15-17). He gave to them the full authority of His Divine Office: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, our bishops, priests (presbyters) and deacons receive this same Holy Office by apostolic succession as Matthias received the office left vacant by Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:20-26). Truly, they are the caretakers of Christ’s Lampstands, sent forth in His Name to guard and impart His Light to the nations through His Sacraments (cf. Matthew 28:19). By their administration of Christ’s Divine Light, they too receive an increased share in that Light. Though this Sacrament became apparent to me in my consideration of this particular mystery, I later realized that all five mysteries demonstrated the ministry of Holy Orders. In each case our priests, deacons and bishops participate in imparting all of the Sacraments to the Church in the person of Christ.
About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
Knowing that the fifth mystery would demonstrate the mystical realities found in the Sacrament of Communion, I realized that the Sacrament of Confirmation remained to be considered. Though the Fourth Luminous Mystery applies in greater length to revealing the glory we are to share with Christ in heaven, the Church teaches that all of the Sacraments contribute to our reception of that glory, including the Sacrament of Confirmation.
In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 8, Peter and John are sent to the newly baptized Samaritans so “that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14b-17) We find here that the laying-on of hands from a bishop is the normal manner in which one may receive the Holy Spirit after Baptism. We find a similar situation with the Ephesians who received the Holy Spirit after St. Paul laid his hands upon them in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 19:1-6. This gift of receiving the Holy Spirit is the Sacrament of Confirmation.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul describes some of the gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. He says “in him [Christ Jesus] you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony of Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus” (Chapter 1 verses 5-8) [my emphasis]. In having received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, St. Paul tells us that we have received the fullness of the Spirit’s gifts. We have been prepared to receive all knowledge and teaching necessary for our salvation. We have been made firm in the Lord by this reception of the Holy Spirit so that His grace may remain within us. Later in Chapter 6, St. Paul tells us that our bodies have been made Temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. verse 19). He speaks of other manifestations of the Spirit’s power in Chapters 12 and 14, telling us that these are given for “building up” the Church (cf. Chapter 14, verse 26c).
St. Paul speaks of a great mystery in Colossians 2:9-10: “For in him [Christ Jesus] dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him.” He further details this sharing in the deity of Christ in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, eluding to images that were present at Christ’s Transfiguration. He speaks of the glory of Moses that shined from his face after he received the Ten Commandments (cf. v. 7 & Exodus 34:29). He also speaks of the glory of the Lord Jesus, a greater glory that we also share as we gaze upon His face (cf. v. 18). Moses, Elijah and Christ all appeared in glory at the Transfiguration. With these passages in mind, though, we discover that Christ is the source of this glorious light. St. Paul says this glory comes through “the ministry of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:8), showing that it is from our union with the Holy Spirit that we participate in this glory of Christ (cf. v. 18). And once again, we receive the fullness of this union with the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation as did the Samaritans (Acts 8) and the Ephesians (Acts 19).
At the Transfiguration, I believe this mystical reality within Confirmation is revealed. Christ demonstrated the fullness of His deity as His face and clothes shined forth His glory. We see though Moses and Elijah have passed-on, they now share in that same glory. We see the Holy Spirit descend upon them in the form of the “Shekina Glory Cloud,” the same cloud that descended upon the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16:2 ) and Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10-12). Even St. Peter felt the presence of the Holy Spirit when he offered to set up three tents (tabernacles) for Moses, Elijah and Christ. And when the Shekina Glory Cloud appeared, the Father’s Voice reiterated the same words spoken at Christ’s baptism: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5; cf. Luke 9:35 and Matthew 3:17). We see the descent of the Holy Spirit in a way different from Christ’s baptism, but one that is united to Baptism by the same testimony of divine son-ship. This corresponds with the union demonstrated between Baptism and Confirmation found with the Samaritans (Acts 8) and the Ephesians (Acts 19).
Similarly, when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, I believe we participate in all these mystical realities. As the bishop lays hands upon us and seals us with the Holy Spirit, the Shekina Glory Cloud descends upon us, we begin our own personal Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and the Father again declares us to be His beloved sons. We become tabernacles and temples of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s Light within us is fortified into a lamp, protecting it from external elements that would extinguish it, but also magnifying its outward radiance to help light the way for others. We become firmly rooted—confirmed—into Christ. Through this union we become the Light of the World as He is the Light of the World (cf. John 8:12a and Matthew 5:14a). We see our mission as prophets as the presence of Moses and Elijah testified. Through the Sacraments we begin to share in the glory of Christ’s Light, which will become fully revealed upon our entering Heaven.
Christ’s Institution of the Eucharist, as the Sacramental Expression of the Paschal Mystery.
The Jews murmured about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: 'They shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
The Paschal Sacrifice is the annual Jewish ritual of sacrificing an unblemished lamb in commemoration of the Exodus, when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery. The final plague that softened Pharaoh’s heart and urged him to let the Hebrews free was that of the Passover. In this plague, the Angel of Death visited all the households of Egypt, killing all firstborn males. Those who wished to be spared by the Angel of Death had to participate in the Paschal Sacrifice of the lamb and the subsequent Passover Meal. Exodus Chapter 12 tells us that the lamb had to be slaughtered “with the whole assembly of Israel present” (v. 6). Its blood then must be applied to “the two doorposts and the lintel of every house” (v. 7) and its flesh must be eaten that same night “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (v. 8). The Angel of Death would only “pass over” the doors of those homes where the blood of the lamb was seen on the lintel and the doorposts.
Throughout his epistles, St. Paul teaches a concept we today call “Old Testament Typology.” “Old Testament types” are those people, places and things from the Old Testament that prefigured what would come in the New Testament (cf. Romans 5:14, Hebrews 8:5, Hebrews 9:8-9 & 23-24, Hebrews 10:1, Colossians 2:16-17). The greatest of these types was the Paschal Sacrifice of the Lamb. The Old Testament Paschal Lamb was slain every year by the Jewish priests in commemoration of the Passover, but also for the symbolic forgiveness of the sins of God’s people. It was only a symbol, though, because the sacrifice never actually took away sins. Only when the One True Paschal Lamb would be sacrificed would sins truly be forgiven. Christ is this True Lamb who was sacrificed on the Cross, for John the Baptist testified of Him: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
St. Paul tells us that the Old Testament types “are shadows of things to come ” (Colossians 2:17a) “and not the very image of them” (Hebrews 10:1). A shadow can never be greater than its image. Therefore, the fulfillment of an Old Testament type must be greater than the type itself. If Christ is the fulfillment of the Paschal Lamb, then all the purposes of the Paschal Lamb must apply in greater scale to Christ. Those who were to be spared by the Angel of Death at the original Passover were required to place the blood of the lamb around the door of their house and eat of the flesh of the lamb. It was necessary to use the actual flesh and blood of the Old Testament lamb to be saved from the Angel of Death. To use a symbol of the lamb that night would have been catastrophic. It is even more important that the actual flesh and blood of the True Lamb be used in the New Testament fulfillment of the Passover. An Old Testament shadow cannot point to another shadow; it must point to the very image. To merely use a symbol of the True Lamb’s flesh and blood would be even more catastrophic.
So in the New Testament Passover, we must eat of the Lamb’s flesh. We must also place His blood around the entrance to our home. In John 6:51-58 Christ tells us that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood so that we may have eternal life. He not only repeats this commandment five times, but later allows a number of His disciples to leave Him with the understanding that He was speaking of His actual flesh and blood (cf. v, 52, 60, 66). At the Last Supper—the Passover Meal for which Christ “eagerly desired” (Luke 22:15)—He gave His disciples bread and said “this is my body;” and a cup of wine and said “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20). As the Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah, “my word. . .shall not return to me void” (Isaiah 55:10-11), the bread and wine were changed into His very flesh and blood. As one disciple ate of the bread, he ate of the flesh of the New Paschal Lamb. As he drank of the cup of wine, he spread the Blood of the Lamb across the doorway of his bodily home (cf. Genesis 29:2, Job 41:6 [41:14], Psalm 141:3, 1 Corinthians 6:19). In this manner, Christ fulfilled the Passover Meal in a necessarily more glorious way.
As all of Israel were required to give witness to the sacrifice of the Old Testament Lamb, all of Christ’s disciples must give witness to the Sacrifice of Christ through the Mass. Christ gave this power of feeding His flock to His Apostles and their successors (cf. John 21:15, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Even today, those successors continue this Perpetual Passover Sacrifice at every Mass on a daily basis (cf. Exodus 12:24, Acts 2:42,46). When we, His disciples, receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, we participate in this greater Passover Meal, and Satan, the True Angel of Death, passes over us at our judgement day, so that Christ’s Light may shine within our homes for all eternity. Amen.
Appendix on the First and Fourth Luminous Mysteries
These notes are included to clarify some common misunderstandings that exist on the subject of Baptism and Confirmation.
Peter also demonstrates the joint reception of Baptism and Confirmation when speaking to the crowd after the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost:
“Peter [said] to the them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).We see the command is to be baptized and also to receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit”—a term for the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Early Church.
Similarly demonstrated in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 10, Peter was compelled to baptize Cornelius and his Gentile family because “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 45) had been poured out upon them “as it had upon us at the beginning” [at Pentecost] (Acts 11:15). Since Cornelius had already been confirmed by the Holy Spirit, Peter had no choice but to further confer Baptism upon him. This special occurrence convinced the Apostles that the Gentiles were also meant to be baptized and confirmed, not just the Israelites (the Jews, the Samaritans and the Galileans).
Some claim that Cornelius’ case demonstrates that the Holy Spirit can be received without Baptism, simply by faith alone. This situation was a special case, though, and not the norm. We know this because Peter relates Cornelius’ reception of the Holy Spirit to that of the Apostles’ experience at Pentecost, which was also a special case (cf. Acts 11:15). The norm is demonstrated by the Ephesians who receive Confirmation from Paul after Baptism. Notice that both Cornelius and the Ephesians begin to speak in tongues and prophesy after receiving the Spirit, indicating that both are receiving the same gift, just in different ways, a special way in the case of Cornelius (cf. Acts 10:46 and Acts 19:6). This link between Cornelius and the Ephesians also bridges a tie between the Confirmation of the Ephesians/Samaritans and the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost since Peter testified to the link between Pentecost and Cornelius. Thus we know that all four cases are linked to the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Some also become confused when the Church teaches that we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, yet Acts 8:16 states that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of” the Samaritans because “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In the Scriptures, Baptism is a gentle Sacrament when compared to Confirmation. When Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in Matthew Chapter 3, the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a Dove. The appearance of the Spirit as a Dove demonstrates a gentle falling upon the one being baptized. The Greek prefix “kata-“ is also used in the context to describe this event. “Kata-” usually does not imply an intensity unless it applies to destruction or reduction, which is not the case at Christ’s baptism. So the Greek grammar further demonstrates a gentle motion in the Spirit at Baptism.
The phrase “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16) is better translated from the Greek as “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” The latter translation demonstrates how Baptism unites one to Christ as a brother, a sharer in His family name. The Scriptures also tend to focus on Baptism as a reception of the Holy Spirit through our reception of Christ. Paul refers to Baptism in Romans 6:3 as being “baptized into Christ Jesus.” The gentle nature of Baptism is further demonstrated by its focus upon receiving Christ because He is the humble and gentle Lamb of God . It is still appropriate to state that a reception of Christ at Baptism is also a reception of the Holy Spirit because Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:17 that “the Lord [Christ] is the Spirit.” In receiving Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, we also receive the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of our One God, the Holy Trinity. The falling of the Spirit upon Christ at His baptism demonstrates His union with the Holy Spirit, which we also share when we receive Him in our individual baptisms.
In contrast, the falling of the Holy Spirit in the case of Confirmation is one of greater intensity. In the contexts of Acts Chapter 2 at Pentecost, Acts Chapter 8 with the Samaritans, Acts Chapter 10 with Cornelius, Acts Chapter 19 with the Samaritans and Luke Chapter 9 at Christ’s Transfiguration, the Greek words “epi” and “eph” and their associated prefix “ep-“ are used, which often denote an intense nature. Each passage further demonstrates intensity. In Acts Chapter 2 at Pentecost a “violent” wind is heard coming from the heavens. In Luke Chapter 9 at Christ’s Transfiguration, the Apostles “became frightened when they entered the cloud” (v. 34) [my emphasis]. And in Acts Chapter 10, Acts Chapter 19 and likely Acts Chapter 8 (which impressed Simon Magus, a former magician), the Holy Spirit manifests His power through prophecy and speaking in tongues, which are amazing gifts to witness according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:22-25. At Confirmation, the Holy Spirit is received in a more striking and direct manner than at Baptism.
So with this contrast of intensity between Baptism and Confirmation, we can better understand the Acts of the Apostles 8:16. When it says the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of them,” we understand that the Scriptures are speaking of an intense falling of the Spirit as opposed to the gentle motion found in Baptism. Further, when it says “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” we understand that the Samaritans had not completed the joint reception of the Sacraments because they had only received Christ (and the Holy Spirit) through Baptism and had not yet been Confirmed.
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