HomeQuestions & AnswersWho is the Holy Spirit?
Questions & Answers

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Tags: Holy Spirit, Prayer, Blessed Trinity
On the feast of Pentecost, the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Who is the Holy Spirit? What was the descent of the Holy Spirit like? How does He act in the lives of Christians? What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

1. What was the descent of the Holy Spirit like?
St Luke narrates the descent of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1 and 2. Before his Ascension Jesus commanded the disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit. (…) When the holy Spirit comes upon you, (…) you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Some days later, St Luke continues, “they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues.”

That day, the Blessed Trinity was fully revealed, and from then on the Kingdom announced by Christ has been open to all who believe in Him.

Contemplating the mystery
The Holy Spirit descends in the form of tongues of fire upon Mary and the Apostles. El Greco, <i>Pentecost</i>, El Prado Museum (detail).
The Holy Spirit descends in the form of tongues of fire upon Mary and the Apostles. El Greco, Pentecost, El Prado Museum (detail).
St Luke tells us that after St Peter had spoken and proclaimed Christ’s resurrection, many of those present came up to him and asked: “Brethren, what shall we do?” The Apostle answered: “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.” And on that day, the sacred text tells us, about three thousand were added to the Church.
Having just read in the Acts of the Apostles about Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came down on the Lord’s disciples, we are conscious of being present at the great display of God’s power with which the Church’s life began to spread among all nations. The victory Christ achieved through his obedience, his offering of himself on the Cross and his Resurrection – his triumph over death and sin – is revealed here in all its divine splendour. Christ is Passing By, no. 127

A sure way to be humble is to contemplate how, even without talents, fame or fortune, we can be effective instruments if we go to the Holy Spirit so that He may grant us his gifts. The apostles, though they had been taught by Jesus for three years, fled in terror from the enemies of Christ. But after Pentecost they let themselves be flogged and imprisoned, and ended up giving their lives in witness to their faith.
Furrow, no. 283

Help me to pray for a new Pentecost, which will once again set the world on fire.
Furrow, no. 213

2. Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. He is God with the Father and the Son, and “with the Father and the Son [he] is adored and glorified”, as the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed has proclaimed from of old. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church’s faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 687-689

Contemplating the mystery
Our heart now needs to distinguish and adore each one of the divine Persons. The soul is, as it were, making a discovery in the supernatural life, like a little child opening his eyes to the world about him. The soul spends time lovingly with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and readily submits to the work of the life-giving Paraclete, who gives himself to us with no merit on our part, bestowing his gifts and the supernatural virtues!
Friends of God, no. 306

The disciples, witnesses of the glory of the risen Christ, were filled with the strength of the Holy Spirit. Their minds and hearts were opened to a new light. They had followed Christ and accepted his teachings with faith, but they were not always able to fathom the full meaning of his words. The Spirit of truth, who was to teach them all things, had not yet come. They knew that Jesus alone could give them words of eternal life, and they were ready to follow him and to give their lives for him. But they were weak, and in the time of trial, they fled and left him alone. On Pentecost all that is a thing of the past. The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of strength, has made them firm, strong, daring. The word of the Apostles resounds forcefully through the streets of Jerusalem.
Christ is Passing By, no. 127

Los discípulos, que ya eran testigos de la gloria del Resucitado, experimentaron en sí la fuerza del Espíritu Santo: sus inteligencias y sus corazones se abrieron a una luz nueva
3. What is the proper name for the Holy Spirit and what are his titles?
The term “Spirit” translates the Hebrew word ruah, which, in its primary sense, means breath, air, wind. On the other hand, “Spirit” and “Holy” are divine attributes common to the three divine Persons. By joining the two terms, Scripture, liturgy, and theological language designate the inexpressible Person of the Holy Spirit, without any possible equivocation with other uses of the terms “spirit” and “holy.”

The titles of the Holy Spirit
When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” advocatus or advocate. “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler. The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.” Besides the proper name of “Holy Spirit,” which is most frequently used in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, we also find in St. Paul the titles: the Spirit of the promise, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Lord, and the Spirit of God – and, in St. Peter, the Spirit of glory.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 691-693

Contemplating the mystery
Get to know the Holy Spirit, the great Stranger, on whom depends your sanctification. Don’t forget that you are God’s temple. The Advocate is in the centre of your soul: listen to him and be docile to his inspirations.
The Way, no. 57

4. What symbols of the Holy Spirit are there in Sacred Scripture?
Water: the water of Baptism signifies the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul. Fire, because in the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself. Spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit's actions. The dove, because when Christ comes up from the water of his baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes down upon him and remains with him. This image is the one that is most used in art to represent the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 694-701

Contemplating the mystery
As a bookmark for whatever book he happened to be reading, he always used a strip of paper with this motto written on it in a bold and energetic hand: Ure igne Sancti Spiritus! You could almost say that, rather than writing the words, he had engraved them: “Inflame with the fire of the Holy Spirit!” O Christian, I would like to leave that divine fire engraved on your soul and burning on your lips and blazing in your works.
The Forge, no. 923
El Greco, <i>The Baptism of Christ</i>, El Prado Museum (detail).
El Greco, The Baptism of Christ, El Prado Museum (detail).

Interior dryness is not lukewarmness. When a person is lukewarm the waters of grace slide over him without being soaked in. In contrast, there are dry lands which seem arid but which, with a few drops of rain at the right time, yield abundant flowers and delicious fruit. That is why I ask: When are we going to be convinced? How important it is to be docile to the divine calls which come at each moment of the day, because it is precisely there that God is awaiting us!
The Forge, no. 224

5. What is the mission of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the history of the Redemption?
Jesus does not reveal the Holy Spirit fully, until he himself has been glorified through his Death and Resurrection. Nevertheless, little by little he alludes to him even in his teaching of the multitudes, as when he reveals that his own flesh will be food for the life of the world. He also alludes to the Spirit in speaking to Nicodemus, to the Samaritan woman, and to those who take part in the feast of Tabernacles. To his disciples he speaks openly of the Spirit in connection with prayer, as St Luke tells us at chapter 11, verse 13 of his Gospel: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And when he explains to them the witness they will have to bear, he says: “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20).
Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 728, 689-690

Contemplating the mystery
This is what Our Lord wants, for we need it if we are to follow him closely. There is no other way. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in each soul – in yours. Be docile and present no obstacles to God, until he makes your poor flesh like that of Jesus on the Cross.
Furrow, no. 978

Like the men and women who came up to Peter on Pentecost, we too have been baptized. In baptism, our Father God has taken possession of our lives, has made us share in the life of Christ, and has given us the Holy Spirit. Holy Scripture tells us that God has saved us “through the baptism of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit; whom he has abundantly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, in order that, justified by his grace, we may be heirs in hope to life everlasting” (Titus 3:5-7).
Christ is Passing By, no. 128

6. How does the Holy Spirit act in Christian’s lives?
“No-one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless the Spirit moves him,” says St Paul in the Letter to the Corinthians. And in the Letter to the Galatians he says, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” Knowledge of the Faith is not possible except in the Holy Spirit. To come in contact with Christ we must first have been drawn to him by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit – the whole of the Blessed Trinity – comes to dwell in our souls through the sacrament of Baptism. The Holy Spirit with his grace is the one who first awakens faith in us and initiates us into the new life that consists of coming to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 737-742

Contemplating the mystery
It is worth while putting our lives on the line, giving ourselves completely, so as to answer to the love and the confidence that God has placed in us. It is worth while, above all, to decide to take our Christian life seriously. When we recite the Creed, we state that we believe in God the Father Almighty, in his Son Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. We affirm that the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We rejoice in the forgiveness of sins and in the hope of the resurrection. But do those words penetrate to the depths of our own hearts? Or do they remain only on our lips? The divine message of victory, the joy and the peace of Pentecost, should be the unshakeable foundation for every Christian’s way of thinking and acting and living.
Christ is Passing By, no. 129

El Espíritu Santo con su gracia es el "primero" que nos despierta en la fe y nos inicia en la vida nueva que supone conocer al único Dios verdadero
A thought which brings peace to the heart and which the Holy Spirit suggests to those who seek the will of God: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” What can worry the soul that sincerely repeats these words?
The Way, no. 760

7. What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
The gifts that the Holy Spirit pours into the souls of Christians complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations in their daily activity. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1830-1831

Contemplating the mystery
The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the soul’s sweet guest, pours out his gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and the fear of the Lord. Then one experiences joy and peace.
Friends of God, no. 92
El Greco, <i>Pentecost</i>, El Prado Museum
El Greco, Pentecost, El Prado Museum

Through the gift of piety, the Holy Spirit helps us to realise with certainty that we are children of God. And, being children of God, how can we be sad? Sadness is the end product of selfishness. If we truly want to live for God, we will never lack cheerfulness, even when we discover our errors and wretchedness. Cheerfulness finds its way into our life of prayer, so much so that we cannot help singing for joy. For we are in love, and singing is a thing that lovers do.
Friends of God, no. 92

Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I would say that there is one which we all need in a special way: the gift of wisdom. It makes us know God and rejoice in his presence, thereby placing us in a perspective from which we can judge accurately the situations and events of this life. (…) Not that the Christian should neglect to see all that is good in humanity, appreciate its healthy joys or participate in its enthusiasm and ideals. On the contrary, a true Christian will vibrate in unison with all the good he finds in the world. And he will live in the midst of it with a special concern, since he knows, better than anyone, the depth and the richness of the human spirit.
Christ is Passing By, no. 133

8. Why do we say that the Holy Spirit prepared Mary with his grace?
The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by his grace. It was fitting that the mother of him in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” should herself be “full of grace.” In Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfills the plan of the Father’s loving goodness. With and through the Holy Spirit, the Virgin conceives and gives birth to the Son of God. By the Holy Spirit’s power and her faith, her virginity became uniquely fruitful. Finally, through Mary, the Holy Spirit begins to bring men, the objects of God’s merciful love, into communion with Christ.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 721-726

Contemplating the mystery
It is indeed just that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit should crown the Blessed Virgin as Queen and Lady of all created things. You have to make use of her power! With the daring of a child, join in this celebration in Heaven. For myself, I crown the Mother of God and my Mother with my purified failings, since I have no precious stones or virtues. Take courage!
The Forge, no. 285

Mary becomes transformed in holiness in the depths of her most pure heart on seeing the humility of God: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you; and therefore the Holy One to be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” The Blessed Virgin’s humility is a consequence of that unfathomable depth of grace which comes into operation with the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in the womb of his ever Immaculate Mother.
Friends of God, no. 96

See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Chapter 3: I Believe in the Holy Spirit, nos. 683-686.