In the late 19th century Elena Guerra founded a religious congregation, the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit. Over a period of 7 years she had a series of mystical experiences. These prompted her to promote more publicly the person, the life and the work of the Holy Spirit. It seemed that at this time in the Church, the Holy Spirit was almost the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity.
Elena wrote a series of 12 confidential letters to Pope Leo XIII, between 1895 and 1903. She urged the Holy Father to call for a renewed preaching on the Holy Spirit and at this time she began to form prayer groups which she called ‘permanent cenacles.’ In response, Pope Leo XIII in 1895 published a letter calling for the Church to celebrate a solemn novena (nine days of prayer) to the Holy Spirit between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost. This was followed in1897 by the first encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the recent history of the Catholic Church came at the turn of the 20th century, when Pope Leo XIII heralded in the new century by singing the hymn, ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ (Come Holy Spirit) in front of the Holy Spirit window in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
He prayed in the name of the whole Church and consecrated the entire 20th century to the Holy Spirit.
It is interesting to note that at the same in Topeka, Kansas at the Bethel College and Bible School, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred which paved the way for the beginning of Pentecostalism.
In an extra-ordinary move of the Holy Spirit in Oct 1958 a little known, elderly Italian Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII. The press at the time immediately dubbed him a ‘caretaker Pope’ someone who would just hold things until the Lord raised up a more natural successor.
However, he believed that a new Pentecost could blow through the Church and in a short pontificate, which has been described as a ‘surprise of the Holy Spirit’, Pope John XXIII moved with extra ordinary speed and vision. By January 1959 he had sprung the idea of the second Vatican Council upon the cardinals in the Curia, where apparently his idea was greeted with little enthusiasm and much hindrance. However, undeterred and continuing to trust in the Holy Spirit, Pope John XXIII pressed on.
Just before the Council opened, Pope John XXIII prayed the prayer of invocation; ‘Lord renew your wonders in this our day as by a new Pentecost’. It was then as if the floodgates were opened and unreservedly the grace of Pentecost was poured out in an unexpected way upon the whole Church.
Many commentators see this time as one when the windows of the Church were opened to the Holy Spirit. Following the Council, renewal began to happen on a number of levels including in the liturgical, biblical and theological spheres. Also emerging were new approaches to mission and to how the Church related to the world in the socio-political arena.