Charismatics in Context

“Certain signs point to a weakening in the sense of mystery in those very liturgical celebrations that should be fostering that sense. It is, therefore, urgent that the authentic sense of the liturgy be revived in the Church. The liturgy…is a means of sanctification; it is a celebration of the Church’s faith, and a means of transmitting the faith.” – Ecclesia in Europa

To be forthright, I have always found the “Charismatic” style, whether Protestant or Catholic, repugnant. The first time I witnessed it, I instinctively recoiled: I thought, “How is this pleasing to God?”

Praise is great (CCC #2639), but the gestures, the dancing, the circuses – they disturb me. In my view, Charismatics tend to, unwittingly or not, demote to the Mass to a kind of “religious entertainment,” which Pope Benedict XVI warned against. In response to this charge, proponents of these things almost always turn to 2 Samuel 6:14. Yes, King David danced to celebrate God. But did God commend him for this behavior? No. Did this even take place in the Temple, the formal place of worship? No. The writer surely did not mean to set some kind of liturgical precedent. He, instead, meant for us to better understand the importance of thankfulness and humility. But context be damned!

Perhaps I am so bothered because I am an American. I recognize that the individualistic culture of America, which is being exported to the rest of the world, has caused the rise of excessive indulgence and a disinterest in any sort of solemnity or sacrifice. Caput is the cilice and forgotten is Friday fasting. This mentality does not bode well for evangelization efforts.

There has been little upside to the Charismatic movement. While, in and of itself, it has been supported by popes for its purported ecumenical benefits, it has caused problems.

In South America, this has all been imported. These abuses were certainly not encouraged by the Spanish settlers. These foreign additions were only incorporated to appease the masses. Do they even help the Church? I think that that question is answered by the rapid and continuing rise of Pentecostalism. The new culture of the region promotes using the Church for self-gratification, though “[t]he purpose of the liturgy of the Church is not to placate people’s desires or fears” (Ecclesia in Europa). After they get their highest high, parishioners leave and look for a new dealer. As one of my Mexican friends bluntly put it, “Hispanics like to use the Church as a crutch.” Take into account the gross negligence of area bishops, and you have a recipe for spiritual disaster. When Pope Alexander VI spread the Faith to the continent, I doubt that this is what he had in mind.

In Africa, meanwhile, dancing and jubilation are historically ingrained in cultural events, so it has a different set of circumstances that make them more acceptable. On top of that, Africans deserve a lot more leeway because of their demonstrated perseverance. But even there, cardinals have had to set up barriers in response to the movement.

Liturgical relativism leads to doctrinal relativism. That is the reality. Once barely-restrained liturgy is allowed, the practitioners of said liturgy usually like to see what else they can get away with. “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.”

There is a place for Charismatics in the Church – I’m not a bloodhound, just mindful of liturgy – but instead of shouting the equivalent of, “Throw your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you just don’t care!”, perhaps the clergy and the leaders of the movement should restore a deeper respect for our Lord.

“Liturgical celebrations need once more to put Jesus at the [center], so that we can be enlightened and guided by him” (Ecclesia in Europa).

Make sure to join me for a on Thursday, January 30 (Tonight!) @ 8 PM Eastern time / 7 PM Central time. It should be interesting.

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