The Gifts of the Holy Spirit: What They Are and How to Use Them

If you ask Catholics and Pentecostals about the number of gifts of the Holy Spirit, and what those gifts are, you’ll likely get two different answers.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit, not to be confused with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23, CCC 1832) are understood differently by the two groups.

I. The Pentecostal View of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Pentecostals, and some other Protestants, believe that there are nine spiritual gifts:

  1. The Word of Knowledge
  2. The Word of Wisdom
  3. The Gift of Prophecy
  4. The Gift of Faith
  5. The Gifts of Healings
  6. The Working of Miracles
  7. The Discerning of Spirits
  8. Different Kinds of Tongues
  9. The Interpretation of Tongues

This teaching is very young. It was in the twentieth century that the Pentecostal preacher Harold Carter “discovered” it:

It was at this time [1916] that he became absorbed in studying the nine gifts of the Holy Ghost. It was during secluded times of prayer and study that God opened to him a beautiful revelation of these nine distinct gifts which he would later teach across the world. In 1918 at the end of the war he returned to Pastor the Church in Birmingham.

The passage used to prove this doctrine is 1 Corinthians 12:8-10,

To one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

But as even this proof-passage makes clear, these gifts are specific to the individual, and don’t go to everyone.  Just as some were given the power to handle snakes and drink deadly poison (Mark 16:17-18), some have these miraculous gifts as well.  And Paul doesn’t describe anyone as having all nine of these extraordinary gifts, either.  In short, while these are gifts of the Holy Spirit, they’re not the gifts of the Spirit we Catholics are talking about when we use that term.  We are referring to the gifts He gives to us all.

II. The Catholic View of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

In contrast, Catholics believe that there are seven spiritual gifts (CCC 1831):

  1. Wisdom,
  2. Understanding,
  3. Counsel, 
  4. Fortitude,
  5. Knowledge,
  6. Piety, 
  7. Fear of the Lord.

These seven gifts are taken from Isaiah 11:1-3a.  Isaiah’s prophesying that the Holy Spirit will come to rest upon Jesus Christ. And this means he has to describe Who the Holy Spirit is.  Here’s what he says:

But a Shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from His roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him: a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and His delight shall be the fear of the LORD. 

So the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of those seven gifts. They’re connected to Him in a specific and unique way. And when He descends upon Christ, He imparts those.

Here’s what the essential difference is.  We believe that those seven gifts come part and parcel with the Holy Spirit.  Because He’s the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, you can’t have the Spirit without having (in some sense) the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding.  It’s like trying to have God without His Goodness — the Two are inseparable. So in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (the latter of which “completes the grace of Baptism”), the individual is blessed with those seven gifts, every time.

That’s very different from gifts like prophesy and tongues, described in 1 Corinthians 12.  Those are gifts which Paul describes as going to specific individuals, not to every believer.  These seven, in contrast, go to everyone.  So folks like Harold Carter and the modern Pentecostals aren’t really wrong: they’re just focusing on the extraordinary gifts which the Holy Spirit gives out at His pleasure.  We Catholics focus on the universal gifts which He has given to every one of us.

III. Making Use of Our Gifts

But what about those baptized believers who don’t seem to have any knowledge, or piety, or faith?  What about those baptized and confirmed folks who don’t seem to possess these gifts at all? The answer is simple. Just because you’re given a gift, it doesn’t mean you’ll use it.  There are plenty of people blessed with high IQs who waste away their days playing video games and never realizing their potential.

I was thinking about this recently while driving on a roadtrip, when one of my friends (finally) showed me how to use cruise control.  The SUV we were in had cruise control the entire time. In that sense, it was quite different from a vehicle without. But until I learned how to use the gift of cruise control, it wasn’t doing me any good. Once we’re Baptized and confirmed, we come “fully loaded,” so to speak.  We have a spiritual capacity beyond what non-Baptized people have.   A gallon jar can hold more than a teaspoon, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of empty gallon jars.  The Holy Spirit expands our spiritual capacity from a teaspoon to a gallon jar in the Sacraments, but we still have to allow the Lord to fill us up. Our task, then, is to go to the Lord and learn how to realize our potential.

One great way to do that is to pray Saint Alphonsus Liguori’s Prayer for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Holy Spirit,
Divine Consoler,
I adore You as my true God,
with God the Father and God the Son.
I adore You and unite myself to the adoration
You receive from the angels and saints.

I give You my heart
and I offer my ardent thanksgiving
for all the grace which You never cease to bestow on me.

O Giver of all supernatural gifts,
who filled the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of God, with such immense favors,
I beg You to visit me with Your grace
and Your love and to grant me the gift of holy fear,
so that it may act on me as a check to prevent me
from falling back into my past sins,
for which I beg pardon.

Grant me the gift of piety,
so that I may serve You for the future with increased fervor,
follow with more promptness Your holy inspirations,
and observe your divine precepts with greater fidelity.

Grant me the gift of knowledge,
so that I may know the things of God and,
enlightened by Your holy teaching, may walk,
without deviation, in the path of eternal salvation.

Grant me the gift of fortitude,
so that I may overcome courageously all the assaults of the devil,
and all the dangers of this world which threaten the
salvation of my soul.

Grant me the gift of counsel,
so that I may choose what is more conducive to my spiritual advancement
and may discover the wiles and snares of the tempter.

Grant me the gift of understanding,
so that I may apprehend the divine mysteries
and by contemplation of heavenly things detach my thoughts
and affections from the vain things of this miserable world.

Grant me the gift of wisdom,
so that I may rightly direct all my actions,
referring them to God as my last end;
so that, having loved Him and served Him in this life,
I may have the happiness of possessing Him eternally in the next.



  1. Here’s a basic FAQ on the difference between “sanctifying gifts” (the 9 gifts of Isaiah 11) and the “charisms” which have always been understood to be quite different in the Church’s teaching.

    Also there are alot more “charisms” recognized by the Catholic Church than 9 although there is no definitive number.

    And I’ve never heard of Protestants of any strip who only recognize 9. There are at least 50 Protestant gifts inventories out there and I don’t know of any who only list 9 gifts. (I haven’t read them all but I have read a number.) I don’t know where you found your list but In any case, there is no definite “Pentecostal” position on the topic.

    The Catholic Church has written about charisms for the past 2000 years in Scripture, in the early Church Father, in St. Thomas Aquinas, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and in all the magisterial teaching since. So it is definitely not a 20th century phenomena. Some charisms are named as such in the catechism including healing, miracles, and speaking in tongues.

    We’ve helped 70,000 Catholics all over the world being their discernment process. If you’d like to know more, visit

  2. There is one definitive list for Pentecostals: There is one, and only one, Initial Physical Evidence of Holy Spirit Baptism (note the term Spirit Baptism, as opposed to Gifts of Spirit/Chrisms or Fruit of Spirit) and that is, and has always been Glossolalia. From before the Pentecostal movement began in 1901, the Irvinites in England (aka Catholic Apostolic Church) held that Tongues are the sign of the Spirit (Edward Irvine ironically never recieved this). From the very beginnings of Pentecostalism-Parham in Kansas, Seymour at Azusa or Hebden in Toronto, Tongues was the only ‘Bible evidence’ of recieving the Spirit. Other Protestants have held various lists of charisms (see the work of NT scholar James Dunn), but Pentecostals have always held 1 evidence of Spirit Baptism in their theology (see R. Stronstad’s Charismatic Theology of Saint Luke).

    Pentecostal doctrine holds three truth in this regard:
    1) Initial Physical Evidence is Tongues
    2) Spirit Baptism is subsequent to conversion
    3) Spirit Baptism an enduement of divine power to proclaim the Gospel

  3. Sherry,

    The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations,teaches that “the gifts of the Spirit will never be used to embarrass or put down another person. The goal is to bring wholeness to the entire church through the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.”  The same lesson includes an activity in which students memorize the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, and which of the three categories they belong in (the three categories are the invention of Harold Carter).  Elsewhere, they explain that there are more gifts than these nine, but the focus is still upon these nine gifts.

    The Assemblies of God also includes children’s material teaching that there are nine gifts of the Spirit.  In fact, in one of their publications, they say of St. Barnabas, the disciple of St. Paul: “There is no doubt that many of the nine gifts of the Spirit were in operation in his life” and feel no need to explain what those gifts are. It’s understood that their young readers know which nine gifts they’re talking about.
    Like Foursquare, AOG technically acknowledges that the Holy Spirit isn’t capped at those nine gifts. So for example, the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, in its 2009 official statement on “Pentecostal Ministry and Ordination” spoke about “the familiar nine gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues,” before noting that other gifts of the Spirit exist, as well. Even here, though, the nine-fold list is the starting point of the discussion.

    Quite strikingly, the head (“superintendent”) of the Assemblies of God, George Wood, admitted in May 2010 that for years he thought these nine were all that there was: “Perhaps if you’ve ever heard a description of the gifts of the Spirit, you have had that description limited to the nine gifts described from 1 Corinthians 12. That was my thinking for many years as I looked at the Scripture — that there are nine gifts of the Spirit. But I think a more serious study of Scripture has to take into account three major “gift passages” in the New Testament — gifts for the glorification of God, the reaching of the lost, the discipling of the found, and the serving of human need.” Even Wood’s corrected understanding doesn’t address the gifts of the Holy Spirit described in Isaiah 11.

    So I think it’s fair to say that if you were to approach a generic Pentecostal, and ask about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, you could expect to hear about the nine gifts described in the original post. Maybe there would be a caveat that there are other gifts as well, but you can almost guarantee that you won’t get the Catholic answer.  And I think it’s because they’re looking at the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit (the charisms), while we’re focused on the sanctifying gifts He imparts to us all in the Sacraments.

    KMS Bean,

    The “Physical Evidence of Holy Spirit Baptism” is something distinct from both “the Gifts of the Spirit” and “the Fruit of the Spirit.”

  4. Joe:

    so by Pentecostal, you mean a member of a classic Pentecostal denomination like AOG. Classic Pentecostals are now the smallest segment of Protestants who focus upon the spiritual gifts.

    I was thinking of it in the broader sense of all Protestants who have incorporated traditionally Pentecostal ideas or practices including charismatics and now, the vastly larger group of Independent Christians, who are now the second largest kind of Christians on the planet (after Catholics).

    Of course, charismatics and independents tend not to regard speaking in tongues as the defining issue either in the way that early Pentecostals did.

  5. Also charisms aren’t extraordinary *as a class* nor does the Church describe them as such. From being talked about as a universal aspect of baptism by the Fathers, there was a big fall-off in awareness of charisms for various historical reasons.

    Eventually, most Catholics believed (it was never formally taught) prior to VII that the charisms were only given to a few extraordinarily holy people who lived very ascetic lives but this very issue was debated at the Council during the discussions of the Apostolate of the Laity and the discernment was that they are given via baptism and very widely.

    So the charisms are not extraordinary or rare because all the baptized receive them. And it gives Catholics quite the wrong picture of the Church’s teaching in the area if we insist on calling something given to all the baptized as extraordinary because ordinary men and women think something that is extraordinary is “rare” and given only to a few.

    Some of the charisms seem (superficially) to be pretty ordinary indeed (administration, hospitality, giving,etc.) But all charisms whether seemingly “extraordinary” (prophecy) or “ordinary” (mercy) are supernaturally empowered and bear fruit for the Kingdom of God above and beyond what we, as mere human beings, are
    capable of.

    The Church does urge all the laity to discern the charisms they have been given and all clergy to help them in their discernment.

  6. so by Pentecostal, you mean a member of a classic Pentecostal denomination like AOG.

    Yes. But I think you can easily find Charismatic Methodists and Baptists, etc., who believe the same thing, although in my experience, these groups are less organized.

    Classic Pentecostals are now the smallest segment of Protestants who focus upon the spiritual gifts.
    What? Assemblies of God alone has something like 60,000,000 members worldwide. By itself, it accounts for roughly half of self-proclaimed Pentecostals, and it’s one of the largest denominations in the world (Wikipedia puts it at 6th largest, for whatever that’s worth). So unless you’re using a really expansive definition of “focus on the spiritual gifts,” I don’t think this is right.

    Eventually, most Catholics believed (it was never formally taught) prior to VII that the charisms were only given to a few extraordinarily holy people who lived very ascetic lives but this very issue was debated at the Council during the discussions of the Apostolate of the Laity and the discernment was that they are given via baptism and very widely.

    What Vatican II document declares this? Are you talking about Apostolicam Actuositatem? If so, where does it say that all believers have the gift of prophesy? Or do you just mean that everyone has some sort of gift?


  7. I’d just like to add that Sherry is correct, there is no definitive list, because there can not be a definitive teaching, because there is no definitive authority, which is why there can be many types of “Pentacostals” or “Baptists” or “Methodists” etc…

    in that line of thinking, can it be held that the Bible or any other theological teaching, such as the gifts of the holy spirit, definitive or necessary to be a Christian? could we eventually rebuke Christ’s resurrection and still consider ourselves “Christian” at some juncture? how do we rectify this?

  8. I don’t understand or don’t care to make such distinctions as “this group does this,” and “that group does that.” But all I know is when I was baptized in the Holy Ghost I ended up babbling like a child. So confusing. I shook I shuddered and I cried even though inside of me i felt no sorrow. Really strange things… hmm.

  9. “The Lord commands us to set our hearts on the charisms, the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. On Judgment Day we will not be responsible to have had all the gifts, but to have sought all the gifts. To seek the gifts of the Spirit we must know what they are. Although the Spirit has poured out thousands of gifts, there are at least thirty which the Bible describes. The Lord commands us to seek these thirty gifts by prayer, Bible study, and use in ministry.” — Father Al Lauer

    The link above offers wonderful info on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit…If you want to learn more about Fr Lauer’s wonderful teachings and his Spirit-filled FREE resources, goto:

    Life in the Spirit seminars (a.k.a. “Baptism in the Spirit”):

    If you’re unable to find a church that offers Life in the Spirit seminars (“Baptism in the Spirit”), here’s another option:
    Pray for a New Pentecost:

    If you want to learn more about Fr Lauer’s personal testimony / wonderful ministry, goto:

    My favorite “videos” on Baptism in the Spirit / Spiritual Gifts:

    Fr Cantalamessa, Papal Preacher to Pope John Paul II, and others:

    Excellent teachings on the Baptism in the Spirit / Benefits of the Gift of Tongues:

    Approx 20 min and worth EVERY minute !

    Approx 1 hr:

    You’ll can find these and so much more wonderful treasures on my YouTube channel “KnowTruth LoveTruth”:

    Enjoy! 🙂

  10. Repent

    The Word means
    Resources of Love
    From the heart, soul
    And goodness of
    Human kind,

    To Bear Witness
    Of the mind of God,
    The Sacred Heart of
    Jesus, the savior of our world
    Who took your sins
    Without waste, suffering
    Or eternal death.

    Believe in the angels
    Of mercy,
    For there is no darkness
    In the Heart of their love for you
    And you will save yourselves
    From the veil of darkness
    That hides from you
    The True Love of our Father
    God who embraces his Children without fear.
    anger or any spiritual regrets.

    Repent of your hate,
    Jealousy and lust for power,
    Turn away from wars,
    Killing and material competition
    And know that Jesus, our True Messiah,
    Will never leave you in times of Trouble
    For His Mercy will save you to keep
    Your immortal soul.

    There is no True Prophecy today except for Revelation 2:17, known as The Urantia Book, free, online, in all international languages, and prepared for You by Arch Angel Michael J. Christ’s Angels, and the voice of God Channeled to you through the voices of True members of the Church of Christ. Blessings to you, Your Families and all the People you Love. In the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

    Giuseppe Antonio Ciano


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