Questions and answers

Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services

Year 2018


People today often speak about an “impartation” of the Holy Spirit from one person to another. Is this valid and legitimate for Catholics?

The term “impartation” as it is often used today is a way of speaking about how a grace of the Holy Spirit can be passed on from one person to another. The grace may be a specific charism or manifestation of the Spirit, or a fresh infilling with the Spirit, or baptism in the Spirit. Those who have a particular anointing are often the very people whom God uses as instruments to impart that same anointing to others in the Body of Christ. Impartation in this sense is not to be confused with the full gift of the Holy Spirit that is given through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, nor with the gift of ordained ministry that is conferred through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The fact that the Holy Spirit can overflow from one ordinary believer to another is a sign of the interconnectedness of the body of Christ, in which all the members are joined and knit together in love (Eph 4:16).

There are many examples of impartation of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Sometimes it takes place through the laying on of hands; on other occasions it is simply through prayer or even just by being in the presence of another Spirit-anointed person. In the Old Testament, for example, God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and bestowed it on seventy elders so they could share the burden of leadership with him (Num 11:16-25). Later Joshua was filled with the Holy Spirit so that he could succeed Moses as leader of Israel; in this case it was through Moses’ laying on of hands (Dt 34:9). In a more spontaneous way, a prophetic spirit was imparted to King Saul simply by his coming into the presence of some prophets (1 Sam 10:10-11). The prophetic anointing of the prophet Elijah was transferred to his spiritual son Elisha before Elijah was taken up to heaven (2 Kg 2:9–15). Elisha begged for a “double portion” of his master’s spirit—that is, his anointing for healings, miracles, prophecy, and bringing God’s people to conversion—and he received what he asked for.

In the New Testament, after Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, she visited her cousin Elizabeth, and simply by her presence and her greeting, the Holy Spirit was imparted from Mary to Elizabeth and her unborn child (Lk 1:41-44), with the result that Elizabeth began to overflow with joy and praise of God. In Acts, an ordinary believer named Ananias was sent by Jesus to impart the Holy Spirit to Paul through the laying on of hands (Acts 9:17). Later, Cornelius and his friends were filled with the Holy Spirit simply by hearing Peter’s anointed preaching of the gospel (Acts 10:34–44).

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that he longed to visit the believers at Rome so that he could impart a spiritual gift to them to strengthen them (Rom 1:11). It is not surprising that Paul desired to do so, since he knew well that the source of all his own fruitfulness in ministry was the anointing of the Holy Spirit (see Rom 15:17-19).

All these examples are distinct from the sacramental gift of the Holy Spirit that is given in Baptism (see Acts 2:38), in Confirmation (see Acts 8:14-17), and in Holy Orders (1 Tim 4:14).

Throughout Church history we also see examples of impartation of the Spirit, where spiritual goods are continually shared among the faithful in heaven and on earth. St. Francis Xavier taught little children to heal the sick, passing on to them in some way his gift of healing and evangelization. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, after reflecting on Elisha’s request of Elijah, asked “all the saints in heaven to obtain for her a double portion of their love”; that love then bore great fruit in her own life.

It is evident from all these examples that impartation of the Holy Spirit can occur in a wide variety of ways, but always with for the purpose of God’s grace and power being more fully operative in a person’s life. Impartation is not something human beings can do by their own power. It is an act of God, dependent on his will and his grace. However, it is something we can pray for and seek. Indeed, Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given you…. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:9-13). And Paul continually exhorts believers, “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18) and “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). God loves to release the gifts we are seeking through others in the body of Christ. This keeps us humble and dependent upon one another.

It is important to avoid claiming that one has received an impartation of the Spirit just because one has been prayed for by a particular person. The graces of the Holy Spirit are known by their fruit. The only way to know if you have actually received an impartation is if the Holy Spirit begins to be manifest in your life in a new way according to the gift sought.

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