The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit have been coming up in conversations with my goddaughter, whom I’m sponsoring for Confirmation this spring. She has her eye on a particular gift, even though she’ll receive all seven when she’s confirmed later this month.
As the Holy Spirit bestows the seven gifts on my goddaughter in Confirmation, He will increase and complete her baptismal graces. (I remember her baptism well. I’m excited to see everything come together as she receives the last of her sacraments of initiation!)
Whether you’re involved with Confirmation right now, were confirmed at the Easter Vigil this year (congratulations!), received the sacrament a while ago or you’re just interested in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this sacrament, here is quick explanation of the gifts and a description of each one.
We know about the seven gifts because in scripture Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would have them when the Spirit rested upon Him. (Is. 11:2-3) The first verse lists wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and a fear of the Lord. The Church recognizes seven gifts because while the Hebrew text mentions the fear of the Lord twice, Greek and Latin versions instead list “piety.”
Following the Spirit’s promptings
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are habits that perfect us so we’re able to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. They are supernatural gifts that are present to us as long as we’re in a state of sanctifying grace. They complete and perfect the virtues (faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) of those who receive them and make us docile and ready to obey the Lord’s inspirations. (CCC1831) The gifts are meant to help us share in God’s life and nature—on earth and for eternity.
The gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding and counsel belong to reason, while fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord belong to appetite, according to St. Thomas.
- Wisdom: The ability to find God in all things—in nature, events in the world and generally the ups and downs of life. It keeps us from judging by appearances alone and makes us more mature in how we think and act.
- Knowledge: This gift offers understanding of God and the universe. More than a collection of facts, it helps us know who we are and the true value of things through life events.
- Understanding: This gift helps us know how to live as Christians. It also gives insight into the truths of the faith so we aren’t confused by the conflicting cultural messages on how to live. It is perfected through prayer and reading scripture.
- Counsel (Right Judgment): The knowledge to discern between right and wrong—and the ability to choose what is right and avoid sin. This gift also helps us seek direction in the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation while being open to the advice of others.
- Fortitude (Courage): The ability to overcome fear and stand up for what is right according to God’s law even in the face of rejection, verbal abuse or physical harm. It gives the firmness of mind needed to do good and endure suffering. And it provides the strength to live a good Christian life even when no one seems to notice.
- Piety (Reverence): A deep sense of love and respect for God and the Church. Reverence leads to prayer because in realizing our total reliance on God we come before Him with humility, trust and love. At the Holy Spirit’s instigation, through piety we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote.
- Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe): A gift that helps us recognize God’s majesty and glory, and His great love for us. It helps us avoid anything that would separate us from His love.
As I go through this list, I’m wondering whether I’ve fully unwrapped all these gifts since my own Confirmation. It’s not a bad idea to ask the Holy Spirit to inflame them in our soul. In his article on the Catholic Education Resource Center’s site, Fr. William Saunders quotes Bl. John Paul II on the power of the gifts: “With gifts and qualities such as these, we are equal to any task and capable of overcoming any difficulties.”