The article is a response to another column on Ignitum Today, “Charismatics in Context,” originally published on January 30th by Matthew Olson. I have to admit, before writing this article I had to take a few deep breaths and step back a little bit. While the writer clearly had a good intention in wanting to protect the Liturgy, he completely and utterly missed the point of the Charismatic Movement. This response I’m writing is necessary because the Charismatic Movement is a way in which the Holy Spirit is actively working in the Church, and to paint it as anything less than that is simply incorrect.
That tweet was one woman’s 140 character example of how the Holy Spirit impacted her and her family, and I found it moving, although not surprising. I know so many people who have similar experiences, but I understand that personal testimony is not everything – although it is a very important thing, as our faith is profoundly personal, with the person being Jesus who wants to relate to each one of us – so I will move from testimony to responding to specific claims in the article. Know this, though: personal testimony is a key part of an active faith, and the amount of testimony I could have found of the Charismatic Movement leading people to faith is nauseating.
The Popes, the author states, have supported the charismatic movements for its “purported ecumenical benefits.” Now I first would like to point out that these aren’t just purported benefits, they’re very real; if you don’t believe me, watch a video of some Protestants getting super excited because the Pope reached out them and showed them that the Catholic Church cared about its people having a deep relationship with Christ: “Pope Francis Message of Christian Unity”. What is more disconcerting, though, than the fact that the author seems to glaze over the real ecumenical benefits, is the fact that he’s completely wrong in stating that the Popes have only okayed the Charismatic movement for ecumenical reasons.
To this point, I would like to present a few statements from the Popes:
“This authentic desire to situate yourselves in the Church is the authentic sign of the action of the Holy Spirit … How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be a chance for the Church and the world? And how, in this case could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so…” Pope Paul VI, 1975
“I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church.” Blessed John Paul II, 1979
“At the heart of a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit suddenly burst forth. And, since then, that experience has assumed a breadth of a worldwide Renewal movement. What the New Testament tells us about the charisms – which were seen as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit – is not just ancient history, over and done with, for it is once again becoming extremely topical.” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), 1983
“As I have been able to affirm in other circumstances, the Ecclesial Movements and New Communities which blossomed after the Second Vatican Council, constitute a unique gift of the Lord and a precious resource for the life of the Church. They should be accepted with trust and valued for the various contributions they place at the service of the common benefit in an ordered and fruitful way.” –Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 2008
As evidenced above, Popes have not stopped praising the Charismatic Movement, and these are not praised based in ecumenism alone, but in the deep and abiding need for the Holy Spirit in the daily Christian life. Since the Popes understand this need, the Popes see the actions and prayers of members of the Catholic Charismatic renewal and they are nothing but excited. As Pastors of their people, The Popes want to guide all people to heaven, and the only way there is through a personal relationship with Christ which they see in the members of the Charismatic Renewal.
Let’s return, though to the issue that this author has with the movement, because I think it is the one that most people have: the Liturgy, which those who dislike this movement often cite as their reason. As they see it, Charismatic Liturgies disregard the necessary solemn nature in favor of a more flamboyant one. To the untrained eye, you can see why the Liturgies sometimes celebrated at a charismatic gathering look like this; there are hands raised, prayers spoken loudly, and sometimes even laughter.
All of this must pose the question: what is the point and proper attitude for Liturgy?
We should start, I think, with the Liturgy of the early Church. I certainly believe, for one, that the early Liturgy would have looked a lot more Charismatic than Tridentine, taking place in homes and including free prophesying, if we are to take Justin Martyr for his word. While the beautiful Liturgies later developed had an important place in the Church, they were not the early Liturgy of the Church.
Instead of taking that as truth, though, since I will admit it is debated, we should look at the heart of Liturgy’s purpose. Liturgy is an act of public worship, gaining its name from the Greek leitourgia. As such, it is an act of showing what one believes to the public. Liturgy (in particular, the Mass) is also an act of following the command of the Lord at the Last Supper and in John 6 to “take and eat,” and as such is profoundly important in the Christian life.
It seems to me that all our Liturgy – and with specific importance the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – is a public worship of the one God flowing from a deep desire of the human heart to unite to Him. How, then, might one say the Charismatic gathering of believers who sing praises loud, lift up their hands, and wholeheartedly reply ‘Amen’ when they are presented with the very Body and Blood of their Lord is anything but worthy of the Church’s Liturgy?
Before I go any further, I must say this: I get it. I understand the importance of Liturgy, and that our desire to stay close the Lord in Liturgy makes us scared of what might seem new or foreign. Remember, though, that the Latin Liturgies performed in Gothic Cathedrals could not possibly have seemed more foreign to Saints Peter or Paul. Our desire for continuity throughout the ages of the Church is admirable beyond measure, and our desire to protect the sacredness of Liturgy is of the utmost importance; these desires, though, must not be misplaced.
When a person says they are a charismatic, if they really understand what that means they will be close to the Lord in their daily life and in their faithful reception of the Sacraments. When a Liturgy is described as charismatic, and it is authentically so, it is a Liturgy of men and women authentically coming before the Lord with their hearts and minds prepared to worship and to receive Him.
Hopefully, this was some context. In all honesty, I was offended that the previously given context was to put all charismatics in a group as if anyone who wanted to expressively praise the Lord (contained throughout the entire book of Psalms, not just with David dancing naked) was a heretic who somehow missed the point. The real point, I think, is summed up beautifully by Christ in John 10:10, and is that we may each live life in abundance. My hope is that we can open conversation here to understand that abundance is not necessarily going to look a certain way, except if that certain way is dynamic relationship of love with the Living God.
I feel that one or two closing notes are necessary. First, I hate labels, and therefore having to call people Charismatics this whole article was difficult, so please forgive me for that. Second, I would like to point you, dear reader, to one of the real benefits of this movement, that of the ecumenism, which I glossed over so briefly, by pointing you to a brilliant article by “The Anchoress” on Patheos: “Charismatic: The Pope and Pentecostals are 45 Minutes of Fascinating.”