Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1830-1831) says that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit “sustain” a Christian’s “moral life.”

Moral life has to do with the good or evil acts that form the character and eternal destiny of a person.

These seven gifts of the Holy Spirit—that is, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord—help us do morally good acts.

Further, the CCC says these seven gifts are “permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.” If they are permanent, once baptized, we always have them. By them, when the Holy Spirit moves us, we are willing to do what the Holy Spirit is asking of us. (CCC 1830).

The CCC says these gifts “belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.” I take this to mean that Christ possessed them perfectly in his human nature.

In addition, they “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them.” Perhaps an example will illustrate what the CCC means by this. The natural virtue of fortitude helps any human being do what he or she thinks good despite fear or pain. Under the influence of grace, a person can exercise the supernatural virtue of fortitude and do what God wants despite fear or pain. The gift of the Holy Spirit of fortitude makes it easy to do the right thing in trying circumstances.

This background knowledge might help us understand the definition of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Fr. John Hardon, S.J., provides in his Catholic Dictionary. He writes that they are:

The seven forms of supernatural initiative conferred with the reception of sanctifying grace. They are in the nature of supernatural reflexes, or reactive instincts, that spontaneously answer to the divine impulses of grace almost without reflection but always with full consent.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may be divided according to whether they pertain to our intellect or our will. He says Sacred Scripture enumerates them generally according to their intrinsic excellence beginning with the highest.

In future weeks, I will try to reflect on each of these seven gifts so you and I can understand them better. But I’ll start with the lowest and easiest to understand.

For a Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year A, click here.

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