What is the Holy Spirit? Good question. It’s easy to think of the Holy Spirit as a powerful force from God. Or a mysterious aspect of God’s life. It’s confusing to many. So what is the Holy Spirit? The proper question is not “what” but “Who.” “Who is the Holy Spirit” is the right question because the Holy Spirit is a Person. A divine Person. Equal in dignity and majesty with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is one member of the Holy Trinity. As a Person, the Holy Spirit is one we can be in relation with. We can know and love the Holy Spirit just as we know and love the Father and the Son. And the Spirit loves us just as He loves the Father and the Son. Personhood means there is potential for love and union. The Holy Spirit has an intellect and will and with those characteristics freely knows and loves as God.
We say, in philosophical language, that the Holy Spirit is “consubstantial” with the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified. To be “consubstantial” means that God the Holy Spirit is of the same divine substance or the same divine nature as the Father and the Son. “Con” means “with,” and “substantial” means “substance.” Again, this is philosophical terminology that our Church has used to try to vaguely put into language the relationships between these three divine Persons. And they are the only three Persons who share in this one divine nature. It also means that they act in perfect unity. They share the same will and act in unison in fulfilling this will. They share the same power as God and act as one God.
Being of the same substance means that each Person of the Trinity shares in all the same qualities of this nature. And what are these divine qualities that they each share in? They have all-power, are all-knowing, and are all-loving. They are perfection! And this perfect sharing in these attributes unites them and enables them to act as one.
We also learn that the Holy Spirit has spoken to us already through the prophets. This means that the Holy Spirit did not just appear after Jesus ascended into Heaven. The Holy Spirit did not just start to act at that time. Rather, the Holy Spirit has been active with the Father and the Son from all eternity. It’s just that we only came to a fuller understanding of this Person of the Trinity after Jesus’ ascension. The works of the Holy Spirit were revealed to us more fully after this time, helping us to understand Him as a divine Person.
It is the Holy Spirit who is given to us in baptism. At that time, we are made adopted children of the Father, we are made one in Jesus the Son, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit to live out our new Christian calling as sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus.
Through prayer, humility and a deep desire for the things of God one is able to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are to be used to work towards the reign of God in the world today. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are:
- Wisdom: to guide one in discerning God’s will
- Understanding: gives one insight into the teachings of the Christian faith
- Counsel: gives one the ability and knowledge of what to do in a variety of situations
- Fortitude: gives one the strength to obey and to do God’s will at all times
- Knowledge: gives one the ability to discern the will of God in all things
- Piety: helps one to deepen their love for God
- Fear of the Lord: helps one to avoid sin and to dread offending God
Jesus established the Church and bestowed the Spirit upon the Apostles who were His first bishops with Peter being the first pope. This bestowing of the Holy Spirit is seen in John 20:22. In that verse, the resurrected Jesus is appearing to the Apostles in the upper room behind closed doors. After appearing to them, the Scripture says that “He breathed on them and said to them ‘receive the Holy Spirit…’” It was especially with this act that these Apostles were given what they needed to begin their ministry and, in part, to begin to establish what we refer to as “Sacred Tradition.”
Come Holy Spirit Prayer
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.