Because today is the day after Pentecost, we celebrate the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, a feast established by Pope Francis in 2018. It is a moveable feast, which means its date is determined each year by the date of Easter. Every year, moveable feasts displace a number of fixed-date feasts, such as when March 25 lands in Holy Week and the feast of the Annunciation is pushed to May. Optional memorials, such St. Pius V’s feast day on April 30, was skipped this year because it landed on a Sunday.

Today is also such a day. Most years, May 29 is the optional memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, but we’ll have to wait until next year to celebrate it because it was pre-empted by the Marian feast. Somehow I don’t think Pope St. Paul would mind, however, because he was the pope who popularized the title of “Mother of the Church.” He called on all the faithful to honor the Blessed Mother with this title during his address at the closing of the Third Session of Vatican II, in which he promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium:

“Therefore, for the glory of the Virgin Mary and for Our own consolation, We proclaim the Most Blessed Mary Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the Pastors, who call her the most loving Mother. And We wish that the Mother of God should be still more honored and invoked by the entire Christian people by this most sweet title” (no. 30).

As I wrote in 2020, Paul VI put even more emphasis on the title “Mother of the Church” in his apostolic exhortation Signum Magnum, using definitive language and saying that it “is a most consoling truth which, by the free consent of God the All-Wise, is an integrating part of the mystery of human salvation; therefore it must be held as faith by all Christians.”

Missing Addresses

The main reason why I bring up Paul VI today, however, is that he was cited twice yesterday in Pope Francis’s Pentecost homily, and unfortunately I couldn’t track down the original documents — his Address to the Sacred College of June 21, 1976 and his General Audience address of November 29, 1972 — in full in English translation anywhere on the internet that I can see.

Pope Francis recalled his predecessor’s words in his description of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and how we as a Church are called to be docile to the breath of the Spirit:

And the Synod now taking place is – and should be – a journey in accordance with the Spirit, not a Parliament for demanding rights and claiming needs in accordance with the agenda of the world, nor an occasion for following wherever the wind is blowing, but the opportunity to be docile to the breath of the Spirit. For on the sea of history, the Church sets sail only with him, for he is “the soul of the Church” (SAINT PAUL VI, Address to the Sacred College, 21 June 1976), the heart of synodality, the driving force of evangelization. Without him, the Church is lifeless, faith is mere doctrine, morality mere duty, pastoral work mere toil. Sometimes we hear so-called thinkers or theologians, who suggest seemingly mathematical theories that leave us cold because they lack the Spirit within. With the Spirit, on the other hand, faith is life, the love of the Lord convinces us, and hope is reborn. Let us put the Holy Spirit back at the centre of the Church; otherwise, our hearts will not be consumed by love for Jesus, but by love for ourselves. Let us put the Spirit at the start and heart of the Synod’s work. For “it is he above all whom the Church needs today! Let us say to him each day: Come!” (cf. ID., General Audience, 29 November 1972).

Although it seems that an official English translation of the address was produced and even published in L’Osservatore Romano, Like many Church documents from the pre-internet era, it appears not to have made the leap to the web. Fortunately, I was able to track down most of the November 1972 audience in a book called Pope Paul in The Spirit (full citation: O’Connor, Edward D. Pope Paul And The Spirit: Charisms And Church Renewal In The Teaching Of Paul VI. Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1978. 183-185.).

As a service to English-speaking readers due to the unavailability of the text on the Vatican Website, I transcribe the address here.

Saint Paul VI, General Audience Address, November 29, 1972

The Church’s Greatest Need[*]

On several occasions we have asked about the greatest needs of the Church …[1] What do we feel is the first and last need of this blessed and beloved Church of ours?

We must say it, almost trembling and praying, because as you know well, this is the Church’s mystery and life: the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He it is who animates and sanctifies the Church. He is her divine breath, the wind in her sails, the principle of her unity, the inner source of her light and strength. He is her support and consoler, her source of charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her pledge and prelude to blessed and eternal life.[2]

The Church needs her perennial Pentecost; she needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her outlook. She needs to be the temple of the Holy Spirit,[3] that is, of complete purity and interior life. In the empty silence of modem men, totally extroverted as we are under the spell of exterior life, so charming, fascinating and corrupting with its delusions of false happiness, the Church needs to feel rising from the depths of her inmost personality, almost a weeping, a poem, a prayer, a hymn—the praying voice of the Spirit, who, as St. Paul teaches us, takes our place praying in us and for us “with sighs too deep for words.” He interprets the words that we would not be able to address to God by ourselves (Rom 8:26-27). The Church needs to rediscover the eagerness, the taste and the certainty of the truth that is hers.[4] She needs to listen with inviolate silence and in an attitude of total availability, to the voice, or rather the conversation, of the Spirit who speaking in the absorption of contemplation, teaches “every truth” (ib.). And then the Church needs to feel flowing through all her human faculties a wave of love, of that love which is called forth and poured into our hearts “by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). Finally, permeated with faith, the Church needs to experience a new stimulus to “activism”—an activism that will be the expression in works of this love[5] which creates the pressure, the zeal and the urging behind it.[6] This is apostolic witnessing.[7]

Living men, you young people, you consecrated souls, and you brothers in the priesthood—are you listening to us? This is what the Church needs, she needs the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit in us, in each of us and in all of us together, in us who are the Church.


Why has this inner fullness weakened in so many, though they say they belong to the Church? Why have the ranks of faithful, soldiering in the name of the Church and under its guidance, so often become lethargic or depleted? Why have so many become apostles of contention, laicization and secularization, as if thinking thereby to give freer course to the expression of the Spirit? Why do they sometimes trust more in the spirit of the world than in that of Christ? Again, why have some people loosened or even denounced as troublesome chains, the bonds of ecclesial obedience and of zealous, faithful communion with the Church ministry? This they do under pretext of living according to the Spirit, freed from the forms and norms characteristic of canonical institutions; but the visible body of the pilgrim Church, being historical and human as well as mystical, has to be composed of institutions. Is recourse to the Holy Spirit and his charisms a pretext, not too sincere, perhaps, for living or thinking to live the Christian religion authentically, whereas those who employ this pretext actually live according to their own spirit, their own private judgment, and their own arbitrary and often ephemeral interpretation?

The Church’s Attitude

Oh! If this were the true Spirit, we would not think of suppressing it![8] We are well aware that “the Spirit breathes where he wills” (Jn 3:8). It is true that the Church is very demanding toward the real faithful in regard to her established observances, and is often cautious and diffident regarding the possible spiritual illusions of those who claim extraordinary phenomena. Nevertheless she is and intends to be extremely respectful of the supernatural experiences granted to some souls, and of the marvelous facts that God sometimes deigns to weave miraculously into the pattern of natural events.

But we wish once more to avail ourself of the authority of tradition, expressed, as you know, by St. Augustine, who reminds us that “the Christian has nothing so much to fear as separation from the Body of Christ. If in fact, he is separated from the Body of Christ, he is no longer his member; and if no longer his member, he is not nourished by his Spirit’’;[9] “only the Body of Christ lives by the Spirit of Christ.’’[10] The reason is that humble and faithful adherence to the Church not only does not deprive us of the Holy Spirit, but rather puts us in the best and, in a sense, indispensable, condition to profit personally and collectively from his life-giving bloodstream.

Each of us can put this into practice, first of all by invoking him. Our primary devotion should be to the Holy Spirit (to which devotion to the Blessed Virgin leads us, as it leads us to Christ!). Secondly, by cultivating the state of grace, as you know well. Thirdly, by having one’s whole life imbued with charity and in its service; for charity is nothing but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It is he, then, that the Church needs today above all! And so may all of you always say to him: “Come!”


(Notes taken from the O’Connor text.)

[1] [Ed Note: The missing text from the first paragraph coincides with this ellipsis –ML]

In several of his public audiences during 1972, Pope Paul dealt with the question, “What is the greatest need of the Church today?” On Sept. 27, he declared, “An increase of faith seems to us the first and great need of the Church today.” He repeated this answer on Oct. 4 and 11. On Oct. 18, he said that the apostolate, which he described as the spreading of the faith, “is one of the essential and primary needs of the Church.” On Oct. 25, he declared that “the needs of the Church are numberless and measureless.” Then, after repeating that the first need is faith (entailing the need of the Church to define itself), he added that “Since the Council, the Church needs interior life…” and farther on, “This is what the Church needs: to understand more and more that she is loved, that an infinitely personal outpouring of Love is focused upon her.” On Nov. 15, he said that one of the Church’s greatest needs was to be defended against the devil (OR, Nov. 16, 1972; ORe, Nov. 23, 1972). On Nov. 22, a week before the present talk, he said that “the Church needs holy people” (OR, Nov. 23, 1972; ORe, Dec. 7, 1972). He returns to the theme of the present talk on Oct. 16, 1974.

[2] Vatican II, The Church, #5.

[3] Cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16.

[4] Cf. Jn 16:13: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’’

[5] Cf. Gal .5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.’’

[6] Cf. 2 Cor 5:14: “The love of Christ impels us, for we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.”

[7] The last two sentences correspond to a clause in the Italian original which could not be translated except with considerable interpretation: “la Chiesa ha bisogno di sperimentare un nuovo stimolo di attivismo, T espressione nelle opere di questa carita, anzi la sua pressione, il suo zelo, la sua urgenza: la testimonianza, /’ apostolato.”

[8] Cf. 1 Thes 5:19: “Do not quench the Spirit.”

[9] Augustine, Tracts on the Gospel According to John, tr. 27, 6 (PL 35:1618; omitted from the NPNF translation).

[10] Ibid. tr. 26, 13 (NPNF, first series, vol. 7, p. 172).

[*] From an address at a General Audience (OR, Nov. 30, 1972; ORe, Dec. 7, 1972).

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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