Learning About Baptism in the Spirit

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an foundational element in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  It is a significant, personal, religious experience of the Holy Spirit for the individual Catholic and it is a major element in the renewal of the Catholic Church.  References to the Baptism in the Spirit are found in the New Testament, in the early church history and in the modern Charismatic Renewal that is ongoing today.

Baptism in the New Testament

(John the Baptist) I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.”
Matthew 3: 11

(John the Baptist) I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”
Mark 1: 8

Le Tintoret - Le Baptême du Christ

Le Tintoret – Le Baptême du Christ

“John answered them all, saying, ‘I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.'”
Luke 3: 16

“‘I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.’  John testified further, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.  I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.’”
John 1: 31-34

“While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.””
Acts 1: 4-5

“As I (Peter) began to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.’  If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”  When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, ‘God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.’”
Acts 11:15-18

In the Early Church

In the early centuries baptism in the Holy Spirit was named the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation was established.  These were the sacraments of initiation into the Christian life—but an experience of the Holy Spirit was expected to accompany reception of those sacraments.

In the earliest surviving document from around 215 A.D. “On Baptism”, Tertullian described the Sacrament of Baptism in these words:

Therefore, you blessed one, for whom the grace of God is waiting, when you come up from the most sacred bath of the new birth, when you spread out your hands for the first time in your mother’s house with your brethren, ask your Father, ask your Lord, for the special gift of his inheritance, the distributed charisms, which form an additional, underlying feather [of baptism].  Ask, he says, and you shall receive.  In fact, you have sought and you have found: you have knocked, and it has been opened to you.”
McDonnell and Montague, “Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, p. 108.

In 335 A.D. St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote a series of “Catechetical Lectures” and “Mystagogical Catecheses.”  Because of his works, he received the title: “Doctor of the Church.”  He stated:

Those who are about to be baptized even now in the Holy Spirit, should bring with them an expanded expectation.  They need only make large their awareness and he will grant you charisms of every kind.  . . . My final words, beloved brethren, in this instruction, will be word of exhortation, urging all of you to prepare your sons for the reception of the heavenly charisms (plural).”
McDonnell and Montague, “Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, p. 217.


When Christians receive the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, they usually are not helped to become reliant on the Person of the Holy Spirit, on His guidance, on His Power, on His charismatic gifts.  Thus, while they fully received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, in many cases the effects of that anointing were not actualized.

With the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, there was the development of the “Baptism in the Spirit”.  This in no way changed or replaced the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.  Rather it served as the means to release the full potential of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that was received in those sacraments.  McDonnell and Montague stated it this way:

The baptism in the Spirit in this instance is a bringing to awareness and a new actuality the graces of initiation already received.  In no way does this imply that the ‘original act of baptism was deficient or inadeqate.’  Nor is it just a psychological moment.  Rather it is the sovereign act of Christ: Jesus is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.
McDonnell and Montague, “Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, p. 217.

Such an actualization of a previously bestowed grace can already be found in the New Testament.  The author of the 2 Timothy writes: ‘For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”
2 Tim 1: 6-7

What is the Baptism in the Spirit?

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the ‘primary’ grace of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Experiencing this Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a key part of what makes somebody a renewed person or a Charismatic.

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an action of God, invited by an individual through prayer, which brings about a deeper conversion to Christ, and which gives the Holy Spirit permission to work in that individual’s life in a more powerful way.

This powerful action of the Holy Spirit is often accompanied by the ‘charisms’ or ‘gifts’ of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St Paul.

It might help to think of this experience like inviting a good friend to move in with you. You begin to discover more about your friend, and open up some of your own more private thoughts and feelings to them. Being alongside somebody like this brings joy, and having your friend encouraging you, you may grow in the courage to experience new interests and skills you never knew you had! In short, the experience transforms the way you view life.

The Baptism in the Spirit is not a Sacrament, but it does revitalise and stir up the graces received in the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism and Confirmation).

Some people consider that in the Early Christian Community, Baptism was such a powerful event in the individual’s life that there was no need for a new stirring up of the Spirit as we need today. In fact, Baptism was only conferred on adults after a lengthy period of catechesis, and only then if there were clear signs of a transformation and conversion in an individual’s life.

The Baptism in the Spirit doesn’t only re-ignite the graces already given to Christians through the Sacraments – it’s also a new, fresh experience of the Holy Spirit which equips and inspires the individual for service, for mission, for discipleship and for life. Catholic Charismatic Renewal, UK

This process of leading a participant to the baptism in the Spirit is usually done through a seminar titled: “Life in the Spirit.”  It is a series of exercises that prepare the participant to surrender more fully to the Lord and to develop a strong expectation that the Charisms of the Holy Spirit will become active in themselves.

Through the “baptism in the Spirit” we are led through an enlightenment and conversion process that enables us to receive a fuller experience of the Spirit and His power and charisms in their lives.  As we become more reliant on the Spirit, we are led into a charismatic spirituality that is focused on building up others and the Church.