CCC 332 Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples.1 Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.2
CCC 523 St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way.3 “Prophet of the Most High”, John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last.4 He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being “the friend of the bridegroom”, whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.5 Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.6
CCC 696 Fire. While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who “arose like fire” and whose “word burned like a torch,” brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel.7 This event was a “figure” of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”8 Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”9 In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself10 The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.11 “Do not quench the Spirit.”12
CCC 716 The People of the “poor”13 – those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah – are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming. It is this quality of heart, purified and enlightened by the Spirit, which is expressed in the Psalms. In these poor, the Spirit is making ready “a people prepared for the Lord.”14
CCC 717 “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”15 John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb”16 by Christ himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to his people.17
CCC 718 John is “Elijah [who] must come.”18 The fire of the Spirit dwells in him and makes him the forerunner of the coming Lord. In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of “[making] ready a people prepared for the Lord.”19
CCC 724 In Mary, the Holy Spirit manifests the Son of the Father, now become the Son of the Virgin. She is the burning bush of the definitive theophany. Filled with the Holy Spirit she makes the Word visible in the humility of his flesh. It is to the poor and the first representatives of the gentiles that she makes him known.20
1 Cf. Job 38:7 (where angels are called “sons of God”); Gen 3:24; 19; 21: 17; 22:11; Acts 7:53; Ex 23:20-23; Judg 13; 6:11-24; Is 6:6; 1 Kings 19:5.
2 Cf. Lk 1:11, 26.
3 Cf. Acts 13:24; Mt 3:3.
4 Lk 1:76; cf. 7:26; Mt 11:13.
5 Jn 1 29; cf. Acts 1:22; Lk 1:41; 16:16; Jn 3:29.
6 Lk 1:17; cf. Mk 6:17-29.
7 Sir 48:1; cf. 1 Kings 18:38-39.
8 Lk 1:17; 3:16.
9 Lk 12:49.
10 Acts 2:3-4.
11 Cf. St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 577 ff.
12 1 Thess 5:1.
13 Cf. Zeph 2:3; Pss 22:27; 34:3; Isa 49:13; 61:1; etc.
14 Lk 1:17.
15 Jn 1:6.
16 Lk 1:15, 41.
17 Cf. Lk 1:68.
18 Mt 17:10-13; cf. Lk 1:78.
19 Lk 1:17.
20 Cf. Lk 1:15-19; Mt 2:11.