The term Baptism with the Holy Spirit has its basis in the Bible, specifically in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and in Acts. These sections of The New Testament say that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Mark 1:8 and John 1:33 both state, “I have baptized you with water; but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 both say, “He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Acts 1:4-5 says, “On one occasion, while he [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
Biblical scholars Fr. Kilian McDonnell and Fr. George T. Montague believed that Baptism with the Holy Spirit is synonymous with the Sacrament of Christian initiation. In the early Church, Baptism and Confirmation were connected. It took many years for Baptism and Confirmation to become two separate sacraments. Today, we understand the Sacrament of Christian initiation to be three separate sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. And these three sacraments were most often separated by many years. Because most people in the early Church entered the Church as adults, these sacraments were given together. But even today, many people receive all three sacraments at the Easter Vigil, because the Easter Vigil mirrors how people were brought into the Church at its beginning.
Many Church Fathers believed that when we receive the Sacrament of Christian initiation, especially Baptism, we are supposed to experience the Holy Spirit. One theologian puts it this way: Before the Holy Spirit was a doctrine to be believed, He was a person to be experienced. I think we need to do a better job in telling our young people who are going to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation that they are meant to experience the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. They are meant to have a life-changing experience of the Holy Spirit.
St. Hilary of Poitiers, a great Father of the Western Church, explains in the Catholic Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, “We who have been reborn through the Sacrament of Baptism experience intense joy when we feel within us the first stirring of the Holy Spirit.” St. Symeon the New Theologian, one of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church, writes, “The believers can feel the Holy Spirit move within them in the same way that a mother can feel the baby in her womb.”
We get a sense that in the early Church when people were baptized they expected to experience the Holy Spirit. This begs the question, “Why is it that today when we are baptized, we do not associate Baptism with an experience of the Holy Spirit? In the early Church, adults (not babies) were the ones being baptized, so their act of faith corresponded with their Baptism. As the centuries went by, however, it became the norm for babies to be baptized. This means that parents’ faith stands in place for their babies. The Catechism explains that Baptism is the Sacrament of faith, so faith always goes with Baptism. People don’t come to faith by themselves; they are given the faith by others.
At some point, children need to affirm their own baptismal vows. This is normally done when people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. They “confirm” their own faith by saying, “I believe and accept what was done for me at my Baptism.” Ideally, this confirmation of belief works in a culture of faith, but our world today is no longer predominantly a culture of faith. For many, Baptism and Confirmation are simply rituals devoid of faith.
We can receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation but none of the graces that flow from these sacraments. When we are baptized, original sin is washed away, and we become children of God. However, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, “A sacrament can be blocked.” This means that we can receive a sacrament but none of its graces, particularly, if we are not in a state of grace when receiving the sacrament. For instance, it is common for a priest to ask couples who are getting married to receive the Sacrament of Confession the night before they marry. The reason is that in order to draw on the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony, couples need to be in a state of grace when they receive the sacrament. If couples marry when they are in a state of sin, they receive the sacrament, but none of the graces.
Personally, I think that many couples divorce because they are not drawing on the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage. I like to use this image: At Baptism, we are given a billion dollars in grace. Throughout our lives, however, we draw only about five or ten dollars of that grace. When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, there is a fuller release of the graces received at Baptism and Confirmation. The graces are released on a deeper and deeper level. In the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, all the graces that Jesus gave us at our Baptism are released. Graces may be released years after our Baptism, but this release is associated with our Baptism.
In discussing the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in his book Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa writes, “This outpouring is not a sacrament, but its name implies a connection to a sacrament and even more than one: the sacrament of Christian initiation. The fundamental connection, however, is with the Sacrament of Baptism. The term Baptism in the Spirit indicates that there is something here that is basic to Baptism. We can say that the outpouring of the Spirit actualizes and revives our Baptism.”