“And I, if I am lifted up,” Jesus said, “I will draw all men to myself.” — John 12:32

Sunday, May 23 — the feast of Pentecost — marks the end of Eastertide in the Church for 2010.

Christ has already ascended into Heaven but before doing so promised that He would send the Spirit to guide the disciples.  They would be fully equipped for their work of spreading the Good News. 

Pentecost was linked to the Jewish feast of Shavuot, celebrating the spring harvest in Israel.  Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover and commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai.  Pentecost occurs 50 days after Easter and, as it recalls the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, is considered the birthday of the Church.  In Britain, the feast is traditionally referred to as Whitsunday, as the newly baptised wear white robes on this day. In some congregations the main Pentecost service may include one or more baptisms.

The liturgical colour for the day is red to denote the fire of the Holy Spirit. God, who sent His Son to free us from the bondage of death and damnation, has now transitioned the people of His kingdom from a written law to one of the Spirit.  Acts 2:1-4 describes this event.  Jesus had spoken of this whilst He was with his disciples, promising them ‘baptism by the Spirit’ (Luke 24:49, John 14-16 and Acts 1:5).     

What exactly are these gifts of the Holy Spirit?  Where are they referenced in Scripture?  Do all churches consider them special? 

Catholics as well as many Anglicans and Lutherans note that these seven gifts further the believer’s sanctification and help perfect his secular virtues. Catholic confirmands study these gifts prior to receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, at which time they receive them. This is why being confirmed carries so much importance. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are different to the charismatic gifts of the Spirit (e.g. speaking in tongues) described in 1 Corinthians 12:8-13 and the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23.

Isaiah 11:2-3 enumerates these particular gifts, which St Thomas Aquinas discussed at length in his Summa Theologica.  They are as follows:

Wisdom enables us to perfect our faith by seeing God at work in His world. Wisdom is the first and highest of the gifts. It equips us in a temporal way to deal with life on Earth.  In a spiritual way we are able to see God in others and in His creation.  This allows us to perfect the charitable actions we perform.  Through wisdom, the Spirit moves our hearts to charity then acts on our minds to judge situations in a godly way.

Understanding enables us to use our reason in attaining truth.  It helps us to avoid confusion between the spiritual and the secular response in a given situation.  Understanding helps us to overcome the previous limitations of our faith.  Through it the Spirit allows us to penetrate the mysteries of faith.

Counsel helps us to reason through a situation and to avoid sin.  Through it the Holy Spirit may direct us to observing aspects and consequences of that situation (e.g. job offer, house move, pursuing a friendship). We are then able to discern whether pursuing a particular course of action is good or bad for our growth in Christ.  It also helps us to show appropriate mercy towards others.

Fortitude enables us to defend Christ and His Church in the midst of difficulty. Through it we are able to stand up for Christian principles and actions. Fortitude helps us to face and to patiently endure the suffering which accompanies persecution.     

Knowledge gives the ability to implement Wisdom (see above).  Like Counsel (also see), it enables us to handle temporal issues.  Through Knowledge, the Spirit helps us to see things the way God does.  As a result, it helps us to live our life according to God’s purpose, not our own.

Piety imbues us with a deep respect for and recognition of God and the Church.  It also gives us a desire to worship and to serve God in holiness.  We serve Him not out of duty but of true willingness and abiding love.  It enables us to serve Him and His people in a pleasing, not grudging, manner.    

Fear of the Lord enables us to appreciate the sovereignty of God.  Through it the Holy Spirit helps us to recognise the Lord’s omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience.  This fear is not that which is associated with danger but akin to a ‘filial fear’, one which we feel towards a parent whom we love and do not wish to disappoint.

For those of us who were confirmed some time ago, Pentecost affords us an ideal opportunity to re-evaluate the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, to examine how well we are using them in our lives and to pray that we may use them to better effect to the glory of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.    

For further reading see:

Pentecost: the birth of the Church

Truth or Tradition – Bible Study: Is the day of Pentecost the beginning [birthday] of the Church?

‘Gifts of the Holy Spirit’

‘Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit’ (Wikipedia)

‘Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit’ (Word document)