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.
Pentecostals, and some other Protestants, believe that there are nine spiritual gifts:
- The Word of Knowledge
- The Word of Wisdom
- The Gift of Prophecy
- The Gift of Faith
- The Gifts of Healings
- The Working of Miracles
- The Discerning of Spirits
- Different Kinds of Tongues
- 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  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.
In contrast, Catholics believe that there are seven spiritual gifts (CCC 1831):
- 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.
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 adorationYou receive from the angels and saints.I give You my heartand I offer my ardent thanksgivingfor 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 graceand Your love and to grant me the gift of holy fear,so that it may act on me as a check to prevent mefrom 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 thesalvation of my soul.Grant me the gift of counsel,so that I may choose what is more conducive to my spiritual advancementand may discover the wiles and snares of the tempter.Grant me the gift of understanding,so that I may apprehend the divine mysteriesand by contemplation of heavenly things detach my thoughtsand 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.Amen.