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Pentecost and the Seven Gifts

19 May 2024

Pentecost and the Seven Gifts of the Spirit

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

In many churches on Pentecost, Catholics will hear sung the Veni Sancte Spiritus, a short poetic text which was one of the four sequences retained in the Roman Rite by Saint Pius V, and whose usage continues today. Addressing the Holy Spirit directly, the penultimate stanza of this text reads:

Da tuis fidelibus
in te confidentibus
sacrum septenarium.

Grant to your faithful ones
who confide in you
the sacred sevenfold gift.

This is a reference to the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have been acknowledged from ancient times in the Church, but whose specific enumeration actually derives from the Old Testament.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him:
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of fortitude,
the Spirit of the knowledge and of piety, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord

(Isaiah 11:1-2)

As the above text shows, these gifts are first bestowed from all eternity upon the Root of Jesse, who is the prefigured Messiah of Israel. Christ therefore has these gifts in their fulness, as the eternal Second Person of the Trinity. How has the Catholic tradition come to understand these gifts in relation to us?

The gift of understanding empowers us to cognize the truths of the Christian faith not simply as abstract propositions, but to believe them as intuitively and firmly as we know the first principles of natural reason, like the principle of non-contradiction, or the fact that 1 + 1 = 2.

The gift of wisdom empowers us, following the truths given in understanding, to judge correctly the application of the faith in concrete circumstances.

The gift of knowledge empowers us to truly act in real, specific situations according to that right cognition and right judgment given in the previous two gifts.

The gift of counsel builds on the previous three gifts, allowing us to pass on what we have learned through understanding, wisdom, and knowledge for the sake of other persons

The gift of fortitude empowers us to act well whenever attaining a good or avoiding evil becomes difficult.

The gift of piety makes us disposed to honour those from whom we derive the principles of our being, and is thus related to the Fourth Commandment. We not only honour our parents, from whom we proximately receive life, but we also honour our families and our country, insofar as it they are realities beyond ourselves which sustain our common life.

Finally, the gift of fear of the Lord is related to the First and Second Commandments: we honour and worship God as the source and creator of all things. This fear is not a fear of danger, but a respectful and humble recognition of our status as creatures before God. It is also the most fundamental of the gifts, for example as Proverbs 9 reminds us: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

During this great Solemnity of Pentecost and in the days following, let us again beg the Holy Spirit for these sevenfold gifts, that they might be invigorated in us as when they were first given on the day of our Confirmation. By remaining in these gifts, may we more closely conform ourselves to Christ, the Root of Jesse who binds us to the Father, and thereby we might enter ever deeper into the mystery of the Triune God, which we celebrate next week on Trinity Sunday.