Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
This question has arisen in many countries where the Life in the Spirit Seminar is not only a means of spiritual awakening for baptized Catholics but also an evangelistic outreach to people who have never been baptized. To answer this question, we should look at what Scripture and Tradition tell us about the Holy Spirit in relation to the sacraments of initiation.
Acts 2 tells us how Jesus’ promise to his disciples, “you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5), was fulfilled at Pentecost. When a crowd gathered, Peter proclaimed the good news of Jesus, then explained how they too can receive the same gift: “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This very important statement establishes a link between sacramental baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the supreme gift of God, is received not simply through individual prayer but by being incorporated into the Church through baptism.
The same link reappears in the story of the new converts in Samaria. Here there is the additional element of the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:12–17), which the Church recognises as the origin of the sacrament of confirmation (CCC 1288). In Ephesus too, the Holy Spirit, with his accompanying charismatic manifestations, was given through baptism and the laying on of hands (Acts 19:5–6). Other New Testament passages likewise confirm that baptism is the normal means by which the gift of the Spirit is imparted (see Jn 3:5; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Tit 3:5).
There is one instance, the conversion of Cornelius and his household, when the Holy Spirit was poured out prior to baptism (Acts 10:44–48). However, Luke makes clear that this was a unique event, a turning point in salvation history. In this instance, God acted sovereignly to demonstrate beyond any doubt that he offered salvation in Christ to gentiles as well as to Jews. Peter did not pray for the new believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit—God just did it, even before Peter had finished speaking. It is significant that even though Cornelius and his friends had obviously been baptized in the Spirit, Peter considered it essential that they should also be sacramentally baptised (Acts 10:48).
The Cornelius event reminds us that God is free to pour out his Holy Spirit whenever and however he wills. This does not mean that God’s people are free to dispense from the ordinary channels of grace that he has established, the sacraments. In baptism we are totally freed from sin, reconciled to God, and reborn as children of God (CCC 1262–70), and only in this way can God’s own Spirit come to dwell in us.
The early Church took for granted the link between the sacraments of initiation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When new believers were baptised and anointed, they experienced being filled with the Spirit, receiving life-transforming power, overflowing joy, and the manifestation of charisms. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not simply a doctrine to be believed but a fact of experience.
In later centuries, it became increasingly common for people to receive the sacraments of initiation without the subjective experience of being baptised in the Spirit. Nowadays, when people receive baptism in the Spirit later in life, the gift of God that they had already received in baptism and confirmation is awakened and rekindled in them.
Thus, it is essential for the Charismatic Renewal to uphold the connection between baptism in the Spirit and the sacraments of initiation. Jesus established his Church as the ordinary means by which he gives his own divine life to us. Life in the Spirit is impossible apart from life in the body of Christ, which we enter into through the sacraments.
What then should we do for non-baptised people who come to a Life in the Spirit Seminar? We should welcome and embrace them, and from the beginning we should explain to them that the hope is that they be born into new life through sacramental baptism and become disciples of the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ. We should not pray over them for baptism in the Spirit, which would give the misleading impression that the Holy Spirit is given independent of incorporation into Christ and his Church.
This does not mean they cannot be prayed over at all. They can receive prayer that the Holy Spirit would enlighten, bless, guide, heal, and speed them on their journey to the fullness of life in Christ. The Seminar team should also have a plan for bringing such people into a good RCIA program as soon as possible after the Seminar ends.
Here is an example of a beautiful prayer that prayer ministers can pray for non-baptised persons (based on Eph 1:18–19; 3:19–21):
Father, we pray for (name). God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we beg you to give (name) a spirit of wisdom and revelation to truly come to know JESUS! Open his/her heart to understand the hope to which you have called us, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of your power in us who believe. Let (name) experience the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge and enter into all the fullness of the Lord. Father, whose power at work in (name) is able to do far more abundantly than all that (name) could ask or think, to you be glory, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, for all ages of ages! Amen.