Charismatics in Context

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“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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Matthew Olson

Matthew Olson

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21 thoughts on “Charismatics in Context”

  1. Avatar

    You are rather negative, Matthew, and I wonder if you are carrying over attitudes from your Protestant days? But you make fair points about what is appropriate where, and I’m pleased to read at the end that you acknowledge that there’s a place for Charismatics in the Church.

    Virtually all my prior spiritual formation has been in Pentecostal churches, and it was Catholics in the CCR who drew me to convert, less than a year ago. But this I did under the tutelage of a priest steeped in the Tradition, and so I have been grounded in the Church as she was before the fads of the post -Vatican 2 era scythed their way through her.

    But I treasure both what is for me old (Pentecostal) and new (Tradition) – an ironic inversion! I have discovered that the Catholic Church is the most natural home for charismatic spirituality, for I see it as actually long embedded in her Tradition but not so named. For me, Catholic devotion, passion and expressiveness is deeply charismatic.

    We need to look behind the rather idiosyncratic ways that any group of people can collect, and be open to respond personally to the Spirit. He will show you the good fruit that the CCR is bearing, and give you some perspective and affection for its inevitable weaknesses.

    Ultimately, wait and see, like Gamaliel counseled. If it is of God, make sure you’re on the right side!

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    I fully agree with this.

    Interestingly, here in England, the heart of our hardcore Traditionalists are doing a very strange thing…

    Wearing Mantillas and speaking Latin at any other time, yet doing this (video starts part way in where the really problematic stuff begins):

    To me, it’s more occult that Cult.

    Very creepy indeed. Doesn’t it just smell of Baal, and more repulsive that Pentecostalism?

    To me, Pentecostalism is ‘intransitive’: it has no physical object. This kind of thing, which is transitive (has an object of devotion), now being done by Traditionalist Catholics, looks far more like idolatry – and the Pentecostalist is right in accusing us of ‘statue worship’, because the body language is completely wrong for what Catholics know the Eucharist to be.

    One minute they are quoting Pope Benedict and Sacrosanctum Concilium against guitars in the sanctuary, and then they do this!

    To me, it seems that the correct posture of true Eucharistic adoration isn’t hand waving, but prostration, and that seems to have always been the ‘Traditional’ response. Being British, the Monarchy, in a way, represents how one should conduct oneself in front of the King of Kings. If you haven’t got that, you go all Biblical and point to people like Miriam and David as proof or your need for ‘ecstasy’, but abandon Tradition, abandon Intellect, abandon Will, or some combination of the three. If you read the Bible as a Presbyterian reads it, the ‘Charismatic’ – Primitivist Biblical Restorationism, mimicking the past (AKA ‘the bible’) – is a natural result.

    To me, what appears to be this Baal-like ‘worship’ (idolatry) of the Eucharist goes from Liturgical abuse to a far worse Eucharistic abuse. Worshiping their feelings, just like the Clown-Mass ‘attendee’. How could something that feels so right, be so wrong?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against altered mental states, Speaking in Tongues, Locutions, or whatever else. It’s just that, within the Tradition, it seems to me these have only been given to those in an advanced state of sanctity or a few chosen (like Bernadette), and not everyone indiscriminately, ten minutes after they’ve been ‘born again’ at some Traddie Conference with ‘Dynamic’ Traddie priest speakers and hypnotic muzak. It seems to me, these days, it’s more cult of personality rather than Cult, driving the show, whatever ‘flavour’ of Christian.

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      It’s sad to hear Christians judging and condemning each other. This isn’t edifying. People are diverse, and the wonderful thing for me now is to be in the One Church with immense diversity. I don’t want to see Her infected by Protestant rancour and back-biting. We don’t have the insecurities which cause that – or do we?

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        Deeply influenced, yes, and inspired by Pentecostal testimony. If you just tot up numbers, Catholics probably now form the majority of Pentecostals (or ‘charismatics’) worldwide! God is sure mixing things up …

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        You should note that my focus is on the appropriateness of of this behaviour considering how much they revile guitars during Mass. Is the Blessed Eucharist something – someone – different outside Benediction? Would they do all this hand waving stuff during Benediction? No! In fact, they’d be the first to condemn it at Protestant!

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        Oh my goodness: do some people want to ban particular musical instruments? Is there guidance from the Magisterium? So a guitar is wicked – what about a harp? : -)

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        “The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like. It is strictly forbidden to have bands play in church, and only in special cases with the consent of the Ordinary will it be permissible to admit wind instruments, limited in number, judiciously used, and proportioned to the size of the place, provided the composition and accompaniment be written in grave and suitable style, and conform in all respects to that proper to the organ.” – Pope St. Pius X, in his motu proprio, “Tra le Sollecitudini” (22 November 1903)

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      I’m a bit confused- maybe I watched the wrong video because it wouldn’t open inside the link (I had to copy & paste the URL). Does the right video have at the end?- but I don’t see what you mean by “Baal like worship” in the video. What specifically do you have a problem with in the video? I see young people – who don’t even seem extremely traditional (only a handful of them are wearing mantillas, & the music isn’t traditional) – kneeling in front of the Eucharist at what seems to be a youth conference. Are you thinking that they shouldn’t be kneeling or spending much time in the presence of the Eucharist? Or Did I watch the wrong video?

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    Deacon Rich Van Kirk

    Good points, Matthew. I am Charismatic and have dedicated my life to praising God and reaching out to all those who left the Church for the multiple Charismatic/Pentecostal churches in our area. We established a Charismatic Prayer and Praise group that meets once a week to shout and rejoice and experience the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, we celebrate Holy Mass with deep reverence shouting only in our hearts as the Liturgy brings us to a different level in our spirituality. Never draw attention to one’s self in the presence of the Eucharist. Holy Mass is perfect in the Silence and Presence of God. We always respect the Mass and the Liturgy.

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    I would like to hear more specific details about your experiences with charismatic Catholics. Specifically, I would like to know how many Catholic charismatic parishes or prayer groups you have attended. Your post was somewhat vague and the tone was harsh, which rubbed me the wrong way because I have had a completely different experience with charismatic Catholics.

    The charismatic parish that I attended for a few summers was among the most reverent liturgies that I have ever attended. This parish (Christ the King in Ann Arbor, MI, if you are curious) had over 20 men in seminary, which accounted for over half of the seminarians in the Diocese of Lansing. If you’d like to read more about some of the amazing fruits of this parish, read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples.

    Your claim that the charismatic renewal has little upside reveals your ignorance (or bias) on the topic. Of course there are people within this movement who need to adjust their priorities, as there are within any religious group or liturgical preference. I knew someone who insisted on the TLM and never attended Novus Ordo Masses, and that person ended up becoming an atheist. You are right that liturgical celebrations need to put Jesus at the center, but it’s possible for any liturgical style to become more about smells and bells (or tongues and raising of hands) than Jesus. In my experience, charismatic Catholics are generally more reverent and have deeper faith lives than other Catholics. I’m at work right now and don’t have time to dig up the studies, but I wrote a paper on this topic and I believe charismatic Catholics attend Mass more frequently and hold more orthodox views than non-Charismatic Catholics.

    You would do well to read some of the writings of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa on the topic. He was the preacher to the papal household under JPII and his written extensively on the fruits of the charismatic movement. It’s not wrong to lovingly and constructively identify areas of the church that need to be improved, but to do based on limited knowledge and experience is more destructive to the body of Christ than it is helpful.



    1. Avatar

      My experience with the movement is somewhat limited: I have only heard first-hand accounts from Charismatic friends and watched footage of a handful of Charismatic events. The movement isn’t super-big in my area just yet (it does one or two big events per year at each parish in town, though).

      But I stand by what I wrote.

      I will continue to contemplate this topic, I assure you.

      Dominus vobiscum!

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    Matt, I’m a faithful Catholic. I’m comfortable in my parish, although I appreciate a Traditional high Mass and actually prefer it. I also have a number of friends who describe themselves as “pew sitters” before their encounter with The Lord in the charismatic renewal. Fr Cantilamessa, preacher to the papal household, is charismatic and preaches actively at charismatic conferences. Largely thanks to the charismatic renewal in the Church, the Traditionalist movement took root. There is nothing wrong with prayer and praise. It isn’t relativistic. Please don’t paint with such a broad brush what God has done within any part of the Church.

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    I have no experience with charismatics. I have lived in many vibrant
    parishes and none had any of this sort of thing. I’ve never even met one
    in over 50 years. But I know that just the fact that it is related so
    closely to protestantism I could not and would not be a part of it. I don’t think the Church needs to become more ‘protestant’ to attract protestants. The Truth should suffice.

    1. Avatar

      Responding to the Holy Spirit in a like manner to the very first Pentecost is not ‘Protestant’. When it happened in Azusa Street in 1905 or so, it was quite unexpected; and it was I gather an equal surprise for that gathering of Catholics 60 years or so later. When God shows up, noone is likely to be thinking how that looks to others.

      Until the Spirit acted again in multiple parts of the Church – what has since been named the charismatic movement – Pentecostals were marginalized and scorned, and nowhere more so than by Protestants / evangelicals. There remains to this day huge controversy, tension and difficulties in the Protestant scene generally over the charismatic phenomenon. The reason for that is because Pentecostals value the following (to pick three):
      1. Private revelations – ie we can expect to hear God speak to us personally, notably in prophecy, dream and vision
      2. The experience of God’s Presence in a particular place and time
      3. Sacramentals (not that they use that word) such as cloths prayed over and taken to heal the sick

      Because Protestants get so uptight over whether things are exactly biblical or not, all this kind of thing felt dodgy and dangerous and smacking of Catholicism. The long absence of the miraculous among Protestant churches had led to theologies which taught that things like miracles, healings, words of knowledge, speaking in tongues were just for that first few generations, to get the Church off to a flying start, as it were (‘Cessationism’).

      In the unbroken Catholic Tradition, on the other hand, the miraculous and all such wonderful acts of God amongst us have always been believed and hoped for, and the reality of private revelation recognised and honoured, weighed and ordered. As a result, uniquely within Christian circles, the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church was recognised from the outset by the Vatican as an authentic and holy move of God, to be welcomed everywhere.

      I became Catholic last June. I can testify that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the natural home for Pentecostal spirituality, where no theological or doctrinal barriers are erected. My own personal testimony of the Holy Spirit over nearly 40 years is welcomed and affirmed and encouraged. I’ve found that there is a deep history of these things going right back to the beginning of the Church – not just 1905! – and in evidence ever since. It’s wonderful to be brought home.

  7. Pingback: The Real Charismatics - IgnitumToday : IgnitumToday

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