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“Ask a Priest: Should We Pray to the Spirit Rather Than to Jesus?”
Q: Before Jesus ascended to heaven he assured us that he would not leave us comfortless, but would send the Holy Spirit as Comforter. This being the case, why is it that we still pray predominantly to Jesus, and not to the Holy Spirit? Has the Holy Spirit not taken the place of Jesus here on earth, and hence all our prayers should be directed to him only? -M.W.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You raise good questions about the divine Person to whom we direct our prayers.
It is good to remember that each Person of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is God. So, in any case, our prayers are directed to the Almighty.
Maybe a few clarifications would be helpful here. The highest form of prayer is the Mass, and the Mass is always directed toward the God the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. In that sense we can say that we pray predominantly to the Father. But even when we pray consciously to Jesus, we are still praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who helps us to pray.
Even the Sign of the Cross which opens and closes our prayers is itself a prayer — and done through the Spirit. So we pray through the Spirit all the time.
While Jesus promised at the last supper to send us the Spirit, he specifically mentioned that we should pray in his (Christ’s) name. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do” (John 14:13). The Church took that to heart, and that is why we pray in Jesus’ name.
The promised Spirit came in a dramatic way on Pentecost. But the Spirit was already active in the Gospels long before Pentecost. The angel at the Annunciation, for example, said that the Spirit would come over the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:35). And the Spirit prompted Simeon to go the temple at the time of the Presentation (Luke 2:25-27).
But back to Jesus’ sending of the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit isn’t meant to supplant Jesus in our lives but to enrich our relationship with him. The Spirit enables us to live Jesus’ commands, to give witness of our faith, to do our part to build the Church.
And, as mentioned above, the Spirit helps us to pray. “The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groaning” (Romans 8:26).
Now, none of this means that we can’t direct prayers to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Church has long had prayers directed to the Spirit, notably the Veni Creator Spiritus, which dates to the ninth century. Even then, it is the Spirit himself who is helping us to pray.