SUMMARY: Baptism in the Spirit is
not a sacrament, but it is related to several sacraments. The Baptism in
the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation.
At the beginning of the Church,
Baptism was administered to adults who converted from paganism and who
made on the occasion of Baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature
choice. Today it is substituted instead by intermediary parents or
godparents. In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person
ever reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit "Jesus is
Lord". And until one reaches this point, everything else in the
Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer
happen and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: "Jesus could not
perform many miracles because of their lack of faith" (Mt.13.58).
The Baptism in the Spirit effectiveness in reactivating baptism
consists in this: finally man contributes his part - namely, he makes a
choice of faith, prepared in repentance that allows the work of God to set
itself free and to emanate all its strength. It is as if the plug is
pulled and the light is switched on. The gift of God is finally
"untied" and the Spirit is allowed to flow like a fragrance in
the Christian life.
Before talking about the Baptism in the Spirit, it is important to try
and understand what the Renewal in the Spirit is all about. After the
Second Vatican Council, many things in the Church's life were renewed -
the liturgy, pastoral care, canon law code, the constitutions of the
religious orders and their dress.
Although all these things are important, they are only external things
and woe to us if we stop there and think the task is finished, because it
is not structures but souls that are important to God. "It is in
men's souls that the Church is beautiful," writes St. Ambrose, and
therefore it is in men's souls that she must make herself beautiful.
God Is Author and Power
The Renewal is a renewal in which God, not man, is the principle
author. "I, not you," says God, "make all things new"
(Rev 21:5); "My Spirit - and He alone - may renew the face of the
earth" (see Psalm 104:30). From the religious point of view, we tend
to view things from a Ptolemaic perspective: at the foundation there are
our efforts - organization, efficiency, reforms, goodwill - with the earth
here as the center which God comes to strengthen and crown, by His grace
and our effort.
We must - at this point the Word of God cries out - "give the
power back to God" (Psalm 68:35) because "the power belongs to
God" (Psalm 62:12). For too long we have usurped this power of His
from God, by managing it as if it were ours, as if it was up to us to
"govern" the power of God. We have to totally change our
perspective. That is, to acknowledge simply that without the Holy Spirit,
we cannot do anything, not even say, Jesus is Lord!" (I Cor 12:3).
Baptism in the Spirit and the Sacrament of
the Baptism in the Spirit is not
a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament, to several sacraments in
fact - to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The Baptism in the
Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation. The primary
relationship is with the Sacrament of Baptism. In fact, this experience is
called the Baptism in the Spirit by English-speaking people.
We believe that the Baptism in the Spirit makes real and revitalizes
our baptism. To understand how a sacrament which was received so many
years ago, usually immediately after our birth could suddenly come back to
life and emanate so much energy, as often happens through the Baptism in
the Spirit, it is important to look at our understanding of sacramental
Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid but tied sacrament.
A sacrament is called tied if the fruit that should accompany it remains
bound because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. An extreme
example of this is the Sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders received in
the state of mortal sin. In such circumstances these sacraments cannot
grant any grace to people until the obstacle of sin is removed through
penance. Once this happens the sacrament is said to live again thanks to
the indelible character and irrevocability of the gift of God: God remains
faithful even if we are unfaithful because He cannot deny Himself (see
In the case of baptism what is it that causes the fruit of the
sacrament to stay tied? The sacraments are not magical rituals that act
mechanically, without the person's knowledge or disregarding any response
on his part. Their effectiveness is the fruit of a synergy or cooperation
between divine omnipotence - in reality the grace of Christ or the Holy
Spirit and human freedom, because as St. Augustine said, "The one who
created you without your cooperation, will not save without your
The opus operatum of baptism, namely, God's part or grace, has
several aspects - forgiveness of sins, the gift of the theological virtues
of faith, hope, and charity (these, however, only as a seed), divine
sonship - all of which are operated through the effective action of the
Holy Spirit. But what does the opus operantis in baptism - namely,
man's part, consist of? It consists of faith! Whoever believes and is
baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). At the side of baptism, therefore,
there is another element: the faith of man. "To all who received Him
He gave the power to become children of God: to those who believe in His
name" (John 1:13).
Baptism is like a divine seal put on the faith of man: having heard the
word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and having believed in it, you
have received (of course, in baptism) the seal of the Holy Spirit (see
Baptism and Confirmation of Faith
At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was such a powerful event and
so rich in grace that there was no need normally of a new effusion of the
Spirit like we have today. Baptism was ministered to adults who converted
from paganism and who, properly instructed, were in the position to make,
on the occasion of baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice.
It is sufficient to read the mystagogic catechesis on baptism attributed
to Cyril of Jerusalem to become aware of the depth of faith to which those
waiting for baptism were led. In substance, they arrived at baptism
through a true and real conversion, and thus for them baptism was a real
washing, a personal renewal, and a rebirth in the Holy Spirit.
The favorable circumstances that allowed baptism, at the origins of the
Church, to operate with so much power was that the grace of God and man's
response met at the same time, and there was a perfect synchronization
Infant Baptism in Non-Christian Environment
But now this synchronization has been broken, as we are baptized as
infants, and little by little this aspect of the free and personal act of
faith no longer happens. It was substituted instead by a decision by
intermediary parents or godparents. When a child grew up in a totally
Christian environment, this faith still could flourish, even though at a
slower rate. Now, however, this is no longer the case and our spiritual
environment is even worse than the one at the time of the Middle Ages. Not
that there is no normal Christian life, but this is now the exception
rather than the rule.
In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person ever
reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit, "Jesus is
Lord." And until one reaches this point, everything else in the
Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer
happen, and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: "Jesus could
not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith." (Mt
Here, then, is what I feel is the significance of the Baptism in the
Spirit. It is God's answer to this malfunctioning that has grown up in the
Christian life in the Sacrament of Baptism.
It is an accepted fact that over the last few years there has been some
concern on the part of the Church, among the bishops, that the Christian
sacraments, especially baptism, are being administered to people who will
not make any use of them in life. As a result, it has even been suggested
that baptism should not be administered unless there are some minimum
guarantees that it will be cultivated and valued by the child in question.
For one should not throw pearls to dogs, as Jesus said, and baptism is a
pearl, because it is the fruit of the blood of Christ.
But it seems that God was concerned about this situation even before
the Church was, and raised up here and there in the Church movements aimed
at renewing Christian initiation in adults. The Charismatic Renewal is one
of these movements and in it the principle grace is, without doubt, linked
to the Baptism of the Spirit and to what comes before it.
Release and Confirmation of Faith
Its effectiveness in reactivating baptism consists in this: finally man
contributes his part - namely, he makes a choice of faith, prepared in
repentance that allows the work of God to set itself free and to emanate
all its strength. It is as if the plug is pulled and the light is switched
on. The gift of God is finally "untied" and the Spirit is
allowed to flow like a fragrance in the Christian life.
In addition to the renewal of the grace of baptism, the Baptism in the
Spirit is also a confirmation of one's own baptism, a deliberate
"yes" to it, to its fruit and its commitments, and as such it is
also similar to Confirmation, too.
Confirmation being the sacrament that develops, confirms, and brings to
completion the work of baptism. From it, too, comes that desire for
greater involvement in the apostolic and missionary dimension of the
Church that is usually noted in those who receive the Baptism in the
Spirit. They feel more inclined to cooperate with the building up of the
Church, to put themselves at her service in various ministries both
clerical and lay, to witness for Christ -to do all those things that
recall the happening of Pentecost and which are actuated in the Sacrament
The Baptism of the Spirit is not the only occasion known within the
Church for this reviving of the sacraments of initiation. There is, for
example, the renewal of the baptismal promises in the Easter vigil, and
there are the spiritual exercises, and the religious professions,
sometimes called a "second baptism," and at the sacrament level
there is Confirmation.
It is also not difficult to discover in the lives of the saints the
presence of a spontaneous effusion, especially on the occasion of their
conversion. The difference with the Baptism in the Spirit, however, is
that it is open to all the people of God, small and great, and not only to
those privileged ones who do the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises or make a
The Will of God in History
Where does this extraordinary force that we experienced when we were
Baptized in the Spirit come from? What we are talking about is not just
some theory, but something that we ourselves have experienced and
therefore can say with John, "What we have heard, what we have seen
with our own eyes, what our hands have touched, this we also announce to
you, so that you too be in communion with us." (see
1 John 1:1-11). The explanation of
this force is in the will of God - because God was pleased to renew the
Church today by this means—and this is enough.
There are certainly some biblical precedents, like the one told in Acts
8:14-17, when Peter and John, having heard that Samaria welcomed the Word
of God, went there, prayed for them, and laid hands on them so that they
could receive the Holy Spirit. But these biblical precedents are not
sufficient to explain the vastness and depth of the contemporary
manifestation of the effusion of the Spirit.
The explanation therefore is in God's plan. We could say, by
paraphrasing a famous saying of the Apostle Paul: Because Christians, with
all their organization, were not able to transmit the power of the Spirit,
God was pleased to renew the believers through the foolishness of the
Baptism in the Spirit. In fact theologians look for an explanation and
responsible people for moderation, but simple souls touch with their hands
the power of Christ in the Baptism of the Spirit" (1Cor
Women, and in particular we men of the Church, tend to limit God in His
freedom: we tend to insist that He follows a compulsory pattern (the
so-called channels of grace) and we forget that God is a torrent
that breaks loose and creates its own path and that the Spirit blows where
and how he wants (notwithstanding the role of the teaching of the Church
to discern what actually comes from the Spirit and what does not come from
.What does the Baptism of the Spirit
consist of and how does it work? In
the Baptism of the Spirit there is a secret, mysterious move of God that
is His way of becoming present, in a way that is different for each one
because only He knows us in our inner part and how to act upon our unique
personality. There is also the external community part which is the same
for everyone and consists mainly of three things: brotherly love, laying
on of hands, and prayer. These are non-sacramental but simply ecclesiastic
Where does the grace we experience
in the Baptism of the Spirit come from? From
those around us? No! From the person who receives it? No! It comes from
God! We can only say that such grace is related to baptism, because God
acts always with coherence and faithfulness and He does not do and undo.
He honors the commitments and institutions of Christ. One thing is certain
—that it is not the brothers who impart the Holy Spirit, but they do
invoke the Holy Spirit on the person.
The Spirit cannot be given by any
man, not even the Pope or a bishop, because no man possesses by himself
the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus may give
the Holy Spirit; all the others do not possess the Holy Spirit, but rather
are possessed by Him. As to the manner of this grace, we may speak of a
new coming of the Holy Spirit, of a new mission by the Father through
Jesus Christ, or a new anointing corresponding to a new degree of grace.
Fr. Cantalamessa has
been the Papal preacher to Pope John Paul II's Pontifical household since
1980. Originally from the ICCRS Newsletter, Vatican City, this article is
apparently based on a talk given to a gathering of religious men and
furnished us courtesy of the Department of Evangelization, Diocese of
Johannesburg, South Africa, Department of Education.