What Does It Mean to Be Baptized With the Holy Spirit?

In the final lines of yesterday’s Gospel, John the Baptist says,

I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8).

Matthew and Luke add: and with fire.

We ought to consider, What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (and with fire)? In the first place we must be careful to indicate, right from the beginning, that Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not distinct, different, or later than our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Rather it is the unfolding and deepening experience of what the Sacrament of Baptism (and Confirmation) have effected in us.

In a strictly theological sense,  John the Baptist is distinguishing his Baptism, which was merely a washing that signified repentance, from the Baptism of Christ, which actually brings forgiveness and the bestows the very life of God, and all the graces of this new life to the believer. We are not merely washed of our sins in the Sacrament of Baptism, we are made new, and the seed of God’s very own life, love and grace are sown in us, to grow. We are actually sanctified and made new.

Some of the Fathers of the Church have this to say:

Theophylus – The baptism of John had not remissions of sins, but only brought men to penitence. He preached therefore the baptism of repentance, that is, he preached that to which the baptism of penitence led, namely, remission of sins, that they who in penitence received Christ, might receive Him to the remission of their sins.

Jerome – For what is the difference between water and the Holy Ghost, who was borne over the face of the waters? Water is the ministry of man; but the Spirit is ministered by God.

Bede – Now we are baptized by the Lord in the Holy Ghost, not only when in the day of our baptism, we are washed in the fount of life, to the remission of our sins, but also daily by the grace of the same Spirit we are inflamed, to do those things which please God

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

According to the Apostle Paul, the believer enters through Baptism into communion with Christ’s death, is buried with him, and rises with him: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4) The baptized have “put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27) Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies (1 Cor 6:11). Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect. (CCC 1227-1228)

This quote from the Catechism then moves us beyond the merely Theological answer to the question, “What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?”  and opens also, the “experiential” question: What is it “like” to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Experientially, It means knowing what we have received in Baptism and Confirmation. But here, “knowing” does not mean mere intellectual knowing (οἴδα – odia in the Greek New Testament). Rather it means experiential knowing (γινώσκo – ginosko in the Greek New Testament). It is one thing to “know about” God and to be able to pass a religion test. But to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit is to “know” the Lord, personally, deeply, intimately. It is to be in a life changing, transformative relationship with the Lord. It is experiential faith.

Too many people are satisfied with with living their faith by inference, rather than by experience. In other words, they are content to go along saying what they heard some one else say. “Jesus is Lord and risen from the dead” because my mother says so, or my preacher says so, (or even), the Bible says so. All of this is fine, for faith first comes by hearing. But there comes a point when YOU have to say so, because you personally know it to be true.

And this is what it means to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is to be able to say, “In the laboratory of my own life I have tested the Word of God and found it to be true. I have personally met and know the Lord, I know Him for myself.”

In other words, it is having faith come alive! Faith that is real, tested and certain. It is knowledge that is personal. It is to be a first hand witness to the power of Jesus Christ to change my life, for I am experiencing it in the laboratory of my very own life. He is changing and transforming me. I am seeing sins put to death and wonderful graces come alive. I am more serene, confident, loving, generous and chaste. I am more forgiving, patient, trusting and patient. I love the poor more, and I am less attached to this world. My prayer is becoming deeper as I sense his presence and power in my life. Yes, God is working in my life and He is real. This is my testimony. What is yours?

But this is what it means, experientially, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (and with fire).

And this is also at the heart of evangelization. How are you going to convert anybody if you’re not convinced yourself? Parents, you want your kids to go to Church? Great, and proper. But why do you go? Because it’s Church law? Alright, fine, but shouldn’t there be a deeper reason? To be Baptized with the Holy Spirit is to go to Mass and make the Christian walk because you know and love Jesus Christ yourself, and you want to bring your children into that living, powerful and life transforming experience of the Lord in prayer, the Mass, the Liturgy, and the Sacraments. That’s what you’re after. And that’s what it means to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Pay attention to these word of St. John the Baptist. He, through the Holy Spirit, is teaching us about the “normal Christian life,” which is to be alive, joyful, confident, serene and thrilled at what God is doing in my life, at to know (not just know about) the Lord. “I baptize you with water, BUT HE, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” And he will light a fire in your life, a fire that never dies away, but that grows in intensity as it transforms your very self.

Let he who has ears to hear, heed what the Spirit is saying. Baptism is not a tedious ritual, it is a transformative reality.

Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh, 1962, The Books These are the Sacraments (By Bishop Fulton J Sheen).

Here is Father Francis Martin on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

26 Replies to “What Does It Mean to Be Baptized With the Holy Spirit?”

  1. I love this — how God is continually working in our lives. We are truly no longer the same people as when we started this journey three years ago. It’s not been easy — in fact, it’s been downright difficult with Satan losing four souls, but our faith and trust grows deeper in the Lord. He provides what we need. I see that every day, Praise God for all His gifts! Alleluia!

  2. Pentecostals/Charismatics say that being baptized with the Holy Spirit is “evidenced by speaking in tongues”. Like in Acts 2:4 and Acts 19:6. Is this a correct interpretation of being baptized in the Holy Spirit?

    1. If one reads beyond what is often quoted, to insure we’re not out of context, then we see that, in Acts 2:8, observers who speak other languages understand the apostles who speak in these languages. These people are not special interpreters, just bystanders from elsewhere who are familiar enough with well known languages to verify that those who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit are speaking in a variety of established human languages – thereby showing the presence of God (Ruach Hodesh) as given by a large group of witnesses whose testimony is not only about numerous languages but also, is well able to stand up to scrutiny.
      Acts 19 doesn’t seem to go there but, it seems to be well covered in Acts 2.

  3. Hi Ed, I hope Father doesn’t mind if I chime in on this one. No, that would not be a correct interpretation. I’m going to quote a small section from an appendix of my book, “The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center,” where I tackle this precise question. I could not dispute the validity of the charism of tongues, as both Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2003) affirm it. This idea of tongues being mandatory in the life of a Christian is patently false though:

    “I do not see the gift of tongues always accompanying the “release” of the Spirit in Acts of the Apostles. We are told in Acts 10:45-47 and 19:6 that tongues accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on new Christians; in the second example this occurred when the Apostle Paul laid hands on the newly baptized. In Acts 8:14-17 however, we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon the newly-baptized Samaritans through the laying on of Peter and John’s hands – but without a mention of tongues. An oversight on the author Luke’s part? Well, consider also that there is no mention of the three thousand who were baptized on the day of Pentecost receiving tongues either. In fact, if you went through all the other conversion stories in Acts you wouldn’t find another mention of the charism.

    St. Paul is clear that tongues is not an integral part of everyone’s Christian experience. In The First Epistle to the Corinthians he wrote:
    Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it . . . Do all possess the gift of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol” (1 Corinthians 12:27-13:1).

    At this point some “charismatic” believers will object to my citation of the above passage. They interpret Paul as saying that not all Christians should expect to speak a prophetic message in tongues, one in need of interpretation; but every Christian should expect to pray in tongues. I acknowledge that the gift of tongues has two different manifestation – but I see no justification for dividing it up into two different gifts. In the list of gifts given in First Corinthians 12 Paul listed tongues – just tongues; he did not speak of a gift of praying in tongues and a separate gift of speaking in tongues. He then went on in Chapter 14 of the same letter to discuss different manifestations of this one gift – primarily a gift of prayer, but sometimes a gift of prophecy when combined with the gift of interpretation. Notice how Paul goes back and forth between the terms “speaking” and “praying” in 14:26-28.”

    1. Shane, real tongues is speaking in a real language that you never learned, like St. Francis Xavier and other saints, it is not the charismatic stuff of “ola baba shoodata iko baba shandai.” That is not the extraordinary gift spoken of in the CCC 2003. It might be Augustine’s “jubilation” but even that I doubt very much.

  4. Ed, Charismatics believe much more than that. What we teach in our Life of Spirit Seminars is that you received the Holy Spirit and His gifts at the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. We explain that during the sacramental of our Baptism in the Holy Spirit what can happen is like making chocolate milk. We hope the spirit in the bottom of glass will be stirred up to make the chocolate milk called true Life in the Spirit. We also suggest to people that they ask for any gifts that the Holy Spirit has not previously manifested in the them, especially the gifts in 1 Cor 12 that we call the Charismatic gifts such as praying in tongues.

  5. Each of the four Gospel accounts records John the Baptist making this statement about Jesus (that He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit). In Acts 1, Jesus himself foretells the Pentecost event by advising the Apostles that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is a personal Pentecost for each of us. Through it, we allow the power (dynamis) of the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to work through us for the building up of the Church. In Acts, there are significant changes, visible and observable, that occur in those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit, much like what happened to the Apostles at Pentecost. Since the Holy Spirit is God’s love poured into our hearts, this baptism in the Holy Spirit is power-filled love. It produces a strong, heartfelt desire and deep longing for God, a desire to see His face, a longing to have a heart like His, a desire to avoid everything that would offend Him. It is a tremendous gift of God, which we should never minimize or take for granted. It should be much more widely spoken about and taught about than it currently is, especially in RCIA programs.

    1. The Pentecostal blessing is received at Confirmation or Chrismation, not at some life in Spirit Seminar which teaches protestant false spirituality. Walt, I am afraid you are deluded and perhaps fallen into heresy.

  6. As a Catholic charismatic myself – and one who strives to be 100% faithful with the Magisterium – I do _not_ believe that tongues- or any other charism – is the criteria for Spirit baptism. The way I view Spirit baptism is coming to a personal knowledge of the workings of the Spirit in our lives. For many people, tongues never manifests itself while other charisms do.

    As a charismatic, I understand that often times the charismatic Renewal is very controversial, and we have not been perfect. However, the Renewal also has produced many faithful Catholics, as Pope Benedict stated in The Ratzinger Report. I personally know several – including myself- in whom the charismatic Renewal has positively affected. An example of this is Raneiro Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household.

    In Christ,
    Peter Rowe

  7. Msgr.,

    I thank you for writing this piece on John’s baptism with water and Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit.

    I had the erroneous notion that in order to experience the latter I had to doff my pre-Vatican II Catholic roots and find a charismatic Church which probably would have tossed me out in a couple of seconds, realizing that with my mindset (traditional) I had no business being there.

    Msgr, I don’t always read your articles simply because the type is so small and I at that time am too lazy to enlarge the copy. But whenever I do read you, I must say that I come away mightily impressed. I was also impressed by your nationally televised 30-minute Sunday Novus Ordo Mass not long ago. In that short time, you managed to make it more reverent than many of the Novus Ordo Masses I have attended at a few churches in my area. And your homily, like your copy, could easily be understood.

    If they don’t name you a bishop soon, something is wrong. We need priests deep enough in Catholicism and capable of teaching it in simple language more than ever these days. Because as great as the need is for evangelization, I find the need to catechize those already in the pews a far greater need. I say this as someone who spent 19 consecutive years in RC schools without ever being tempted by the priesthood. And I spent these years in RC schools prior to the Council, back when the Jesuits were kosher.

    God continue to bless you; and you, please, continue to bless us with your insights.

  8. Msgr.,

    Thank you so much for this piece. I have seen charismatics wreak absolute havoc in Protestant churches because of their conviction that baptism of the Spirit is subsequent to, and in some ways greater than, water baptism. This is very much how it is viewed in Pentecostal and Protestant charismatic circles. There is quite a bit of judgment that goes along with this toward anyone who does not manifest the sign gifts such as glossalalia. This is why Scripture + tradition (Fathers) + Magisterium + catechism all work together to clarify meaning. Tremendously helpful! Thanks!

    1. Magister Christianus is spot on with the “Scripture + tradition (Fathers) + Magisterium + catechism” schema. Glossalalia and about 90% of the other business that goes on in Charismatic/Pentecostal groups–e.g., slaying in the spirit, sleeping in the spirit, etc.– can be can be reproduced by any night club hypnotist or new age charlatan. And with all due respect to Fr. Martin, just because I raise my hand in the air at a football game does not mean I need to do it in prayer–especially not during the Our Father at Mass and the preface dialogue before the Eucharistic Prayer. The “Charismatic Renewal” is Protestant Pentecostalism from start to finish and has no grounding in authentic Catholic tradition. I wish to heaven a stop would be put to it.

      1. This just in: US government begins hiring freeze of linguistic analysts who falsely claim to interpret tongues.

        Okay, my intent is not to rebuke anyone but point out that there is the difference between the charisms pronounced in the New Testament and an imitation of the true gift.

        I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, but there are many problems with the Charismatic Renewal that are a source of division in my family, group of Catholic friends, and diocese. St. Paul charitably rebukes the abuses of Corinth for creating division between those who speak in tongues and don’t. St. Paul says that he wishes all could speak in tongues, but don’t. Most scholars interpret this mean that many of the Corinthians had reduced the meaning of speaking in tongues to simple babble and were imitating a charism that they didn’t have. That is what we are repeating today.

        St. Paul gives a very clear test that is blatently ignored: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or three at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church, and let him speak to himself and God.” Please, listen to St. Paul.

        Imitating tongues, falling to the ground and convulsing, and speaking your own “word” from your own mind are very bad, dangerous fruits and are a stumbling block to many. We must test all claims. If they are truly tested, I will submit to truth.

        Please consider reading the 1917 Catholic Encylypedia on speaking in tongues at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14776c.htm.

        1. An excellent post, Father, Thank you very much to your faithfulness to Holy Mother Church.

  9. Through the sacrament of baptism the gifts of the Holy Spirit (the seven: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) are given.

    Fr. Martin, in the video, speaks of the Pope speaking of the necessity of the charismatic ‘baptism in the Spirit’ for those already baptized, yet when I look up the Regina Caeli address at the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, Austria to which Fr. Martin refers, the Pope speaks of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Mary and adds: “Dear young people, we too must remain faithful to the “yes” that we have given to the Lord’s offer of friendship. We know that he will never abandon us. We know that he will always sustain us through the gifts of the Spirit.” By what he says of Mary in the address, I think the Pope is clearly referring to the traditional seven gifts, rather than the charismatic gifts.

    St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of both the seven gifts and the charismatic gifts. He also speaks of the necessity of the working of the seven gifts for salvation. The seven gifts are given with the sacrament of baptism. They are given with the sacrament of baptism, but, as is all too evident, many of the baptized do not live from those gifts, much less do they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit spoken of by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

    While, on account of the witness of the life of many charismatics I have met, I have a sincere and profound respect for the charismatic movement. Nevertheless, I have always found the expression ‘baptism in the Spirit’ to be misleading; as though the Holy Spirit were not given in baptism. It seems to me that Msgr. Pope makes an unwarranted leap from the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism to ‘baptism in the Spirit’.

    I am not denying the reality of the experience, but only questioning the fittingness of the name. The experience seems to speak more of a sort of ‘unsealing’ of something already given in the sacrament of baptism than of a new baptism itself. That ‘unsealing’ produces an experiential faith which I agree is indispensable, but I do not think that such an experiential faith comes only through the means known to the charismatic renewal. We witness such an experiential faith in almost 2,000 years of saints who knew nothing of the charismatic renewal, but certainly knew the manifold and mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit, Lord and LIfe-giver.

    My complaint about the charismatic movement is that sometimes it seems to claim a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is as broad as the whole Church. As St. Irenaeus taught: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace.” (Adversus Haeresis 3,24,1)

    Fr. Joseph Levine

  10. 1. Prior to baptism, what is the relationship between a child and Jesus? Is he not a member of Christ body?

    2.Between Baptism and Confirmation, are people excluded from the works of Holy Spirit?

  11. Can you comment on the difference between tongues and a ‘prayer language’? I have a VERY devout Catholic friend who likes to pray in her prayer language (which sounds like gibberish to me) and I don’t get the reasoning behind it or anything scriptural. Why would/should we pray in a languge that even WE don’t get what we are saying and/or why would the Holy Spirit give us words that WE didn’t even understand. She thinks that everyone should seek this,,,thoughts???

    1. Really I don’t think there is any grounds for this practice. The rosary will help her much more than this practice which by and large is absent from Catholic history for almost 2000 years.
      Also Saint John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, specifically forbids seeking after any supernatural or preternatural manifestations. So to seek it would be wrong.
      She probably doesn’t know her faith very well, I would guess.
      Pray for her, and for all who have been deceived by the non-Catholic quasi-spirituality that has been imported into the Catholic faith from very non-Catholic, and often anti-Catholic sources.

  12. Just recently I had join a Charismatic prayer group in our parish.One night I was told that they needed to book me for Baptism in The Spirit….I was under the impression that once we get Baptized and Confirmed ,we have the Holy Spirit …I need some advice from real true Catholics.My priest says “he is not confortable with receiving Baptism in the Spirit”.Can anyone help me ,please! I do love the Lord with all my heart and soul.Thank you !

    1. After you have sincerely and whole heartedly consecrated yourself entirely to the Lord Jesus, to be his servant and obey his commandments all the days of your life, and you vow never to commit a deliberate mortal sin, then
      You don’t need anything other than daily mass and communion, weekly confession, daily rosary, good spiritual reading from Saint Alphonsus di Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, and spiritual direction from a sound and orthodox (not Orthodox) Catholic priest.

      This theology of the Catholic Charismatic movement is not really Catholic at all.

  13. please people, renounce the catholic charismatic movement, it is not Catholic, it is from protestant revivalism, it is destroying the spirit of devout and reverent traditional Cathoic worship around the world. it is why world youth day is full of irreverent, half-naked, teenage pagans who don’t even know who the Lord Jesus Christ is.
    We, Catholics United Against the Charismatic movement, CUACM, call upon the so called leaders of this monstronsity called the Catholic Charismatic Movement to repent, including Fr. Mike Scanlon, Stuebenville University, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (with their Charismatic style Eucharistic Adoration which departs form rubrical obedience), Dr. Ralph Martin, and others. Please, stop this foreign importation from heretical anti-Catholic, Anti-Liturgical protestant revivalism called the Catholic Charismatic movement.

  14. Jesus Christ, the sacraments, Holy Scripture, our Blessed Mother and the possibility for Trinitarian life became real and alive to me after being prayed with for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. At 27 yrs the Holy Spirit Seminar gave me a prayer life, zeal for the Kingdom, daily Eucharist and a desire and willingness to practice the works of mercy. I love my Catholic faith. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit was the pivital event in my Catholic faith life and began the journey to Abba’s heart 33 years ago. I can’t fathom where I’d be without the awareness I gleaned from waking up to the beauty in this Pillar of Truth, my Catholic faith. The Life in the Spirit seminar and excellent teaching brought me to my knees, filled my heart with love for God and His people and put a song of praise on my lips. Jesus Christ is Lord! I encourage everyone everyday to pray to the Father for a fresh outpouring of His Holy Spirit and if one hasn’t asked Jesus to baptize him afresh with His Spirit do so now.
    Do not delay. Jesus Christ is the answer, the solution, the Power! Maranatha Come Lord Jesus take over my
    life and fill it with Your Life Your Kingdom Your Power. I am yours Lord Jesus Christ only Son of the Father. Mother Mary come and bring me all the angels I need today. I know that I know that I know that the Holy Spirit is real and comes in a special way when anyone asks Jesus Christ to set them free in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was this adult committment to Christ and trusting that He wiould baptise me with the HolySpirit and fire that changed my life. Prayer is essential and striving to live a virtuous life a daily work empowered not by self will but self-surrender to the Master. I am rejoicing in the journey even though I fall 70×7 times a day. God is good.

  15. If you carefully read the Acts of the Apostles about the outpouring of the Spirit , you will see that the Apostles didn’t really understand what the outpouring of the Spirit was. Jesus told them to wait and pray for the power from on high. They received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (immersion in the life of the Spirit) through faith in what Jesus promised. The understanding of what happened to them came afterwards. I think that the attitude of all Christians should be if God has some thing, some gift, some blessing, some outpouring of His Spirit that he wants the Church, or me personally to have, I WANT IT!!. I don’t have to understand it now, the understanding will come. We have to pray to the Lord and say that if this is from you please show me the truth, and continue to pray until He gives you an answer. We have to avoid the pitfall of trying to understanding everything before we will surrender to what He wants to do in us. Understanding sometimes can be a form of control, and we have a hard time surrendering control in our lives to the Lord. Faith and trust in His love for us and His desire to give us the fullness of Himself in the Spirit, is the key to a deeper life in the Spirit. Pope John Paul II, who was a great proponent of the Charismatic Renewal, said it best, I think, when He said, ” Do not be afraid”. Don’t be afraid of what the Lord wants to do in your life, or don’t be afraid of the Holy Spirit. Remember that God loves us passionately and wants to share that passion, His Spirit, with us, and He would never do anything to harm us. The only thing that can block the work of the Spirit in us is our NO. Say YES to Him and to His Spirit, and the work that the Spirit wants to do in us, and in the Church. The Charismatic Renewal, by the way, is in the heart of the Church, and is very Catholic.

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