Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
Charisms are special graces distributed by the Holy Spirit to enable Christians to be powerful channels of God’s love and presence in the world. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, charisms are to be used in service to build up the body of Christ (CCC, 2003). “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). Unlike sanctifying gifts, charisms are given in different measures to different members of the Church. They are gifts to be given away, ways in which God’s goodness reaches our neighbor through us.
In recent Church history, before the Second Vatican Council, the charisms were often neglected. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa notes that “the charisms disappeared not so much from the life of the Church but from theology.” The Charismatic Renewal has contributed to the rediscovery of the charisms as part of Christian life.
Charisms are especially crucial for evangelization. Jesus himself began his charismatic ministry after he was filled with the Spirit at his baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness,” and overcame the tempter. He then “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:1-14; see Acts 10:38).
Jesus told his apostles that before they began their mission to the ends of the earth, they must wait until they are “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Evangelization is the work of the Holy Spirit, who empowers them and confirms their message with accompanying charisms, signs and wonders (Mark 16:20).
Baptism contains the seed of the charisms
Let us look at what Scripture tells us about receiving charisms. After the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, with the gift of tongues and overflowing praise of God, Peter stood up and explained to the gathered crowd how they too could receive the same Spirit: “Repent, and be baptized 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 means that charisms are ultimately rooted in baptism. Paul likewise points to baptism as the source of charisms: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13).
Later in Acts, when a group of newly baptized did not manifest any charisms, the apostles recognized that something more was needed for the full outpouring of the Spirit. So they came and laid their hands on the newly baptized, who then received the Spirit with a visible manifestation of charisms (Acts 8:17). The Church recognizes this imposition of hands as the origin of the sacrament of confirmation, “which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC 1288).
Thus baptism and confirmation are an authentic “baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire.” These sacraments confer the Holy Spirit and sanctifying grace in Jesus Christ. When candidates are well prepared through the announcement of the kerygma and sound teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, they often quickly express gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues.
In many cases, however, the full effects of sacraments appear only later, when a person receives prayer for baptism in the Holy Spirit. When you put a sugar cube in a bowl of milk, you cannot taste the sweetness until you stir the milk. Prayer for baptism in the Spirit is not a new sacrament but a channel of grace that brings alive what was received in the sacraments. We should not conclude that a baptized person cannot manifest any charisms until they have received prayer for baptism in the Spirit.
By opening oneself to the Holy Spirit with docility, humility and love, the charisms emerge in full measure. Then we find that our works of our service, prayer, evangelization or teaching have new power to touch hearts, enlighten intelligence, lead to conversion, and heal.
Charisms, abilities and false gifts
The charisms of the Holy Spirit are supernatural. They are distinct from natural talents or learned skills. Charisms can, however, be grafted onto an innate gift such as teaching or music and put it to effective use for the kingdom of God.
Paul teaches that discernment is required for the proper exercise of charisms. “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thes 5:19-22). False gifts are dangerous counterfeits of true charisms, which can be manifested by people subject to the influence of Satan. Jesus warned, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’” (Matt 7:22-23).
We must not forget that we do not own the charisms. They can be lost if we fail to act under the grace of the Holy Spirit, building up the Church in humility and love.