Catholic Charismatic Renewal is a spiritual movement within the Catholic Church that incorporates aspects of both Catholic and charismatic practice. It places an emphasis on having a personal relationship with Jesus and expressing the gifts of the Spirit.
Parishes that practice charismatic worship usually hold prayer meetings outside of Mass and feature such gifts as prophecy, faith healing, and glossolalia. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Catholic church describes charismatic worship as uplifted hands during songs and audible praying in tongues. They go on to say that what distinguishes a charismatic Catholic church from a traditional one is their surrender to Jesus in all parts of life, obedience to both the Gospel and the Catholic teachings, and friendships centered on Jesus.
There are mixed reactions about the Renewal. Proponents of the Renewal put forth the belief that certain "charismata" (a Greek word for "gifts") are still bestowed by the Holy Spirit today as they were in the early Church as described in the Bible. Critics of the Renewal accuse charismatic Catholics of misinterpreting, or in some cases violating, church teaching on worship and liturgy. Traditional Catholics argue that charismatic practices take the focus of worship away from communion with Christ in the Eucharist, focusing instead on emotions and non-liturgical experiences as a substitute.
Theological foundations of renewal
Renewal advocates believe that the charisms identified in Saint Paul's writings, especially in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4:11-12, continue to exist and to build up the Church (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2003). The nine charismatic gifts considered extraordinary in character include: faith, expression of knowledge and wisdom, miracles, the gift of tongues and their interpretation, prophecy, discernment of spirits and healing.(1 Corinthians 12:8-10) These gifts are related to the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit described in Isaiah 11:1-2 (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, as listed in Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1831). The nine charismatic gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are also related to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Other references to charisms in the Catechism of the Catholic Church include §§688, 768, 799-801, 890, 951, 1508 (charism of healing) and 2035. The belief that spiritual gifts exist in the present age is called Continuationism.
Origins of the Renewal Movement
In search of a Spiritual experience, professors from Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, attended the Congress of the Cursillo movement in August 1966. While visiting, they were introduced to the book entitled The Cross and the Switchblade, which emphasized the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s charisms. This book became the focus of their studies and further led them to pursue the Holy Spirit.
In January 1967, professors Ralph Keifer and Patrick Bourgeois attended a prayer meeting where they ultimately received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The following week, Keifer laid hands on other Duquesne professors, and they also had an experience with the Spirit. Then, in February, during a gathering at Duquesne University, more people asked Keifer to pray over them. This led to the event at the chapel where they too received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, as well as many other students who were present in the chapel. Keifer sent the news of this event to the University of Notre Dame, where a similar event later occurred, and the Renewal began to spread.
Expansion of the Renewal Movement
Devotees of the Renewal formed prayer groups called covenant communities. In these communities, members practiced a stronger commitment to spiritual ideals and created documents, or covenants, that set up rules of life. One of the first structured covenant communities was the Word of God Community. It affiliated with the International Communications Office in the 1980s, and its continued growth resulted in a larger overall community called The Sword of the Spirit. The original Word of God Community eventually split from The Sword of the Spirit, however, due to the supposed authoritarian and apocalyptic nature of The Sword of the Spirit. Of the two original founders of the communities, one stayed with the Word of God and founded an international ministry that reached Eastern Europe and Africa, while the other remained president of the Sword of the Spirit, which as of 2007, had 47 member communities and 16 affiliated communities around the world.
In addition to the covenant institutions, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal also experienced international development due to missionary priests who experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit while visiting the United States and implemented their own such services when they returned home. The International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services had a significant role in the guidance of this form of expansion.
Catholic Charismatic Renewal today
As of 2013, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal exists in over 230 countries in the world, with over 160 million members. Participants in the Renewal also cooperate with non-Catholic ecclesiastical communities and other Catholics for ecumenism, as encouraged by the Catholic Church.
The Charismatic element of the Church is seen as being evident today as it was in the early days of Christianity. Some Catholic Charismatic communities conduct healing services, gospel power services, outreaches and evangelizations where the presence of the Holy Spirit is believed to be felt, and healings and miracles are said to take place. The mission of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is to educate believers into the totality of the declaration of the gospels. This is done by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; a one-to-one relationship with Jesus is seen as a possibility by the Charismatic. He is encouraged to talk to Jesus directly and search for what The Lord is saying so that his life will be one with Him; to walk in the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, this is what the Charismatic understands by giving his life to Jesus. Conscience is seen as an alternative voice of Jesus Christ.
Reaction from the Church hierarchy
The initial reaction to the movement by the Church hierarchy was cautiously supportive. Some initially supported it as being a harbinger of ecumenism (greater unity of Gospel witness among the different Christian traditions). It was thought that these practices would draw the Catholic Church and Protestant communities closer together in a truly spiritual ecumenism. Today, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal enjoys support from most of the Church's hierarchy, from the Pope to bishops of dioceses around the world, as a recognized ecclesial movement.
Four popes have acknowledged the movement: Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. Pope Paul VI acknowledged the movement in 1971 and reaffirmed it in 1975. He went on to say that the movement brought vitality and joy to the Church but also mentioned for people to be discerning of the spirits. Pope John Paul II was also supportive of the Renewal and was in favor of its conservative politics. He (as well as then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) acknowledged good aspects of the movement while urging caution, pointing out that members must maintain their Catholic identity and communion with the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II, in particular, made a number of statements on the movement. On November 30, 1990, The Pontifical Council for the Laity promulgated the decree which inaugurated the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships. Brian Smith of Brisbane, elected President of the Executive of the Fraternity, called the declaration the most significant event in the history of the charismatic renewal since the 1975 Holy Year international conference and the acknowledgment it received from Pope Paul VI at that time, saying: "It is the first time that the Renewal has had formal, canonical recognition by the Vatican."
In March 1992, Pope John Paul II stated
At this moment in the Church's history, the Charismatic Renewal can play a significant role in promoting the much-needed defense of Christian life in societies where secularism and materialism have weakened many people's ability to respond to the Spirit and to discern God's loving call. Your contribution to the re-evangelization of society will be made in the first place by personal witness to the indwelling Spirit and by showing forth His presence through works of holiness and solidarity.
Moreover, during Pentecost 1998, the Pope recognized the essential nature of the charismatic dimension:
"The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church’s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God’s People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church’s charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities."
Charismatic Catholics and their practices have been criticized for distracting Catholics from authentic Church teachings and traditions, especially by making the worship experience more akin to Pentecostal Protestantism. According to Samuel Rodriguez, Charismatic services in America simply help in increasing the number of Catholics converting to Pentecostal and evangelical denominations: “If you are involved in a Charismatic service today, in ten years’ time—inevitably—you are going to end up in one of my churches.”
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christ is actually present on the altar in the sacrifice of the Mass, when a priest consecrates bread and wine to become the body and blood of Jesus. Critics of the charismatic movement argue that such practices as faith healing draw attention away from the Mass and the communion with Christ that takes place therein.
Others criticize the charismatic movement for removing, or obscuring, traditional Catholic symbols (such as the crucifix and Sacred Heart) in favor of contemporary expressions of faith. The belief that spiritual gifts no longer operate is called Cessationism.
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- Renewal Ministries, founded by Ralph Martin
- "A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues," New York Times, Nov. 7, 2006
- A 10-Country Survey of the Charisms
- LaVergne, Colin "Why Did God Start the Catholic Charismatic Renewal?" March, 2009
- Seminary Rector Fr. William Baer on the Charismatic Renewal, April, 2008, audio file
- Catholic Charismatic Renewal at DMOZ
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