"Holy Spirit" vs. "Holy Ghost"


I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household that went to English Masses maybe five times before last year and I was only born in 1994, so I’m not familiar with earlier times.

Did the Church ever use “Holy Ghost” instead of “Holy Spirit” in the Mass? If so, when did that ever change?


I don’t remember the term “Holy Ghost” being used in the OF of the Mass in English. Before that, the Mass was in Latin, and the words were “Spiritus Sanctus” or “Spiritus Sancti”, which translate to “Holy Spirit”. So since the Mass was in Latin, the English terms were not used.

However, I am not sure if the original translation of “Spiritus Sancti” into English for the new Mass (OF) was “Holy Ghost” or “Holy Spirit”, but I only remember hearing Holy Spirit.


This person is putting out bad information. Spiritus Sancti translates to Holy Ghost, not Holy Spirit. Look in any missle or online latin translator.


What’s the difference? Are they not synonyms?


The meaning of the English words “ghost” and “spirit” have basically traded places over the years. Spirits used to imply dead people much more than ghosts. Now ghosts are thought of as dead people, while spirit is a more general term.


Yes! This sums it up well.

Just for a bit of word origin–the word for “spirit” in Latin is spiritus. When the bible was first translated into English, the word spirit had the same meaning as phantasm, so the term “ghost,” which didn’t mean a phantasmal creature was used.

The actual latin word for “ghost” in Latin is umbra. If the term was meant to be “Holy Ghost,” then umbra would have been used instead.


Here is the English Mass of 1965, using Holy Spirit:



The information not bad, it is correct. In the TLM,“Holy Ghost” was used, however “spiritus” is translated as “spirit” according to every Latin dictionary I found on line. Do some further research, please.


Ghost comes from the Proto-Germanic gaistaz. Spirit comes from the Latin spiritus.

Ghost has negative connotations, therefore, it makes sense to say spirit. :slight_smile:


Only in the modern world. “Ghost” didn’t have such negative connotations 100 years ago, for example. Just goes to show the ever-changing meanings of words. Even the word “spirit” has taken on some new meanings since Vatican II. :slight_smile:


Okay, but know that dictionaries aren’t books of truths.

My own preference is to stay with the Latin, no cognates, no modern interpretations.


The Anglican church used Holy Ghost until I think the 80s. I’m young enough to remember the new prayer books coming in and it was before my confirmation.


In the United States, when the Mass was celebrated in English the translation used was “Holy Spirit”. However outside of liturgical usage Catholics had been accustomed to say “Holy Ghost”. When people engaged in devotional prayer, it would have been usual to say “Holy Ghost”. That was how I learned to make the Sign of Cross and to pray the “Glory Be”. When the priest gave his homily he would have said “Holy Ghost”.

Once Mass was celebrated in English, Catholics started to use “Holy Spirit” outside of Mass too.


Your memory is pretty sharp. “Holy Ghost” was used in the 1981 Charles-Diana wedding.


(FF to 8:28)


Heh, I’m young enough that I don’t remember when they married. I do remember Andrew and Sarah though, which was I think 1986? I’m going to guess it was 1987 when the new prayer books came in …my confirmation classes were in 1989 or 1990 (although I wasn’t confirmed until 1995). I used to have a copy of it, but I loaned it to a friend who was a new Christian and haven’t seen it again.


Could you please explain this to me? I don’t want to derail the thread, but I really just don’t get it. I think I understand the desire to keep the liturgy of the Latin Rite in the Latin language, though I don’t agree. But what about prayers and everyday discussions about the truths of the faith in Latin?

In Church Slavonic, it is святой дух, which translates to either Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, but the word призрак would be used to specifically mean a specter or ghost (in Russian). I’m not familiar with Greek, but a quick check on Google translate seems to indicate that the situation is the same in Greek as well. Basically, if you put in “Holy Spirit” you get one translation, you get a particular word. If you put in “Holy Ghost”, you get the same translation. If you put in “spirit” it gives you the same word as in the previous examples. If you put in “ghost”, it gives you an entirely different word.

As previous posters have mentioned, the English language has changed, so what might have previously been a good translation is no longer. That is one reason why the King James version of the Bible is problematic. The very nature of a dynamic language necessitates periodic new translations. Should we only stick to the original languages in all things, never offering a translation and thus only making them available to those well educated in the original language? I’m glad that St. Jerome did not feel that way about the scriptures, instead translating them into the vernacular of his time, Latin. Translation is always going to problematic. The addition of the filioque (in Latin) to the Greek creed was an attempt to clarify a translation when the Greek word used simply could not come across completely in the Latin. It is an art to faithfully transmit the literal meaning, figurative, meaning, literary flow and numerous other considerations.

Finally, how is Holy Ghost more the truth than Holy Spirit? Is there a theological distinction that I’m not getting?


A Spirit and a Ghost are one and the same. A Spirit is a Ghost and a Ghost is a Spirit.


:thumbsup: Great first post!


I think it’s interesting that even in the Latin Mass “Sabaoth” and “Kyrie eleison” were left untranslated (though I heard the Kyrie was actually going back to Greek.) Perhaps for the fear it would be misinterpreted or considered profane if translated? I could be wrong, though.

My reasoning is that proper names aren’t often translated. My mother’s maiden name means “scarf” but she wouldn’t change it to that when she became a U.S. citizen. Some involve transliterations but at least the pronunciations are left intact. So why are the three Persons of the Trinity changed to suit the Anglophones? Not trying to change the world here but just sayin.

In Church Slavonic, it is святой дух, which translates to either Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, but the word призрак would be used to specifically mean a specter or ghost (in Russian).

FWIW, in Polish it’s “Duch” (dooh) which could be either spirit or ghost, though I still remember my mother watching a lot of ghost movies with us when I was an infant and calling them that.

Should we only stick to the original languages in all things, never offering a translation and thus only making them available to those well educated in the original language?

We could do it the way it’s done in physics. For example, keep the four Maxwell equations in their Greek symbols, and work with them using universal math symbols but explain them in the vernacular. :wink:


How are Father, Son and Holy Spirit proper names? Wouldn’t Jesus (or Yeshua, if you will) be the proper name for the son? And why should we change them to suit those Greeks or Latins? What is wrong with the original Hebrew or Aramaic?

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