BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (75) – What does the fire of Pentecost mean?

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

“The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery,’ the age of the Church” (CCC 1076). When the Spirit comes, the Church is born. The Holy Spirit, who comes in the appearance of fire, transforms the apostles from slow-witted and fearful followers to intelligent and brave preachers of the Good News – Jesus Christ.  “Fire transforms what it touches” (CCCC 139). To see this transformation, it  suffices to read the rest of Chapter 2 of the Acts, where we witness Peter talking with authority and boldness.

One of the symbols of the Holy Spirit is fire. This is a very meaningful symbol. It explains the multiple roles that the Holy Spirit plays in the Church and in each follower of Christ.

As we have seen above, contact with the fire of the Holy Spirit is transformative, it is life-changing.

(1) It transforms us, first by cleansing and purifying us, like “gold refined by fire” (I Peter 1:7). This cleansing and purifying is often painful. The Holy Spirit brings the Cross!

(2) Fire brings light. So it transforms us also by enlightening our intellect. It does this especially through the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and counsel (cf Isaiah 11:2).

(3) Furthermore, fire brings heat, energy, strength for our will. It does this through the gifts of fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (cf Isaiah 11:2).

The Holy Spirit gives light to our understanding and strength to our will. When our minds are clear, and our wills are strong, our ability to make informed and intelligent choices (i.e., our freedom) grows. This is why the presence of the Holy Spirit in our souls makes us more free. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Romans (8:15,21): “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. … because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”


The CCCC (no 145) teaches us: “The Spirit builds, animates and sanctifies the Church. As the Spirit of Love, he restores to the baptized the divine likeness that was lost through sin and causes them to live in Christ the very life of the Holy Trinity. He sends them forth to bear witness to the Truth of Christ and he organizes them in their respective functions so that all might bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22).”


The CCCC (146) explains that “Christ communicates his Spirit and the grace of God through the sacraments to all the members of the Church, who thus bear the fruits of the new life of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also the Master of prayer.”

This is why a person who wants to be completely filled with the Spirit has to live an intense sacramental and prayer life. He needs to receive the sacraments, especially those of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist regularly, and has to strive to pray at all times.