“When Jesus was baptised, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him.” (Matthew 3:16)

“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 holy Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:3-4)

Water, fire, and a dove are among the symbols of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Tradition. From Scripture are derived certain images representing the Holy Spirit and his role in the Christian life.

Water: Throughout Salvation History, water has been a powerful image of cleansing and new life, as at Baptism. (cf. CCC 694)

Anointing and the Seal: At Confirmation, the Sacred Chrism confers the Holy Spirit to strengthen and heal the recipient to live as an adult believer. The believer is sealed in the Spirit: “God the Father set his seal” on Christ and also seals us in Christ (John 6:27; cf 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:3; cf CCC 695, 698)

Fire: At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire, bestowing gifts that enabled the Apostles to proclaim fearlessly the message of Christ (cf Acts 2). Fire is representative of courage and purification (cf CCC 696)

Cloud and Light: The Holy Spirit was in the cloud that led the Israelites in the desert (cf Exodus 40:36-38) and in the cloud of the Transfiguration (cf Luke 9:34-35). The light of the Holy Spirit reveals to us the truths of God. (cf CCC 697)

A Hand: From the early days of Christianity, the Holy Spirit has been conveyed by the laying of hands (cf Mark 6:5; 8:23; 10:16; Mark 16:18; Acts 5:12; 14:3), a gesture used in several sacraments and in the Eucharistic Prayer during Eucharistic Celebrations (cf CCC 699)

Finger of God: Christ expelled demons by the “finger of God”

(cf Luke 11:20); the Law was written on stone tablets “by the finger of God”, and the Word is written “with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (Exodus 31:18; cf 2 Corinthians 3:3) (cf CCC 700)

Dove: A dove is  seen in the story of Noah’s Flood (a symbol of Baptism)

(cf Genesis 8:8-12) and at Christ’s own Baptism (cf Matthew 3:16).

Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church; Didache Bible

By Brian Bartholomew Tan