For the introduction to this series of posts, please read “A Long Time Ago, in an Archdiocese Far, Far Away…” For the first chapter in the saga, see “Mass Wars–Episode IV: An Old Hope.” For the second chapter, see “Episode V: The East Strikes Back.” For the third, see “Episode VI: Return of the Anglicans.” For the segue into the prequels, read “He Feared You Might Follow Old John XXIII on Some Damn Fool Idealistic Crusade…” For the first prequel, see “Episode I: The Pauline Menace.“
It had been a while since I had heard someone speaking in tongues. I grew up in Charismatic churches, so the phenomena of glossolalia was nothing new to me. Still, we had just finished praying the Rosary… and that context was indeed a first for me.
An older Boston Irish Catholic woman spoke out in a prayer language, guided in her heart by the Holy Spirit. A minute or two later, the interpretation was given to an African-American woman sitting to her right. It was the words of 1 Peter 1:22-25:
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.[b] 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”[c]
And this is the word that was preached to you.
I sat there in the parish hall of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help–better known in Boston as “the Mission Church”– enjoying the presence of God’s Spirit and giving thanks for how He was bringing together the diverse strands of my faith in Christ. The Mission Church is staffed by the Redemptorists, the religious order founded bySt. Alphonsus de Liguori. Long a place where God has done wonders, the Mission Church has an icon prominently on display of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that has been known to work miracles: in front of the icon are many pairs of crutches, left behind over the years by people who have been healed from infirmities.
The group that had gathered to pray in the Spirit this evening was diverse: Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, South Asians, recent immigrants from Caribbean nations… We were lead by an elderly priest and a red-headed Bostonian as we sang worship choruses, prayed the Litany of Praise to Jesus Christ, heard from God’s word and were edified by the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit. Two hours in the Spirit flew by.
The elderly priest offered to bless me before I left, as a first-time guest. Laying both hands on my head, he asked for God’s grace in my life as my wife and I prepare to welcome our second child into the world. I felt God’s Spirit at work in my heart, renewing my trust in Him, and spurring me on to a greater love of Jesus…
In the years leading up to the Ecumenical Council that Pope John XXIII had announced in January, 1959, there was both nervousness and excitement. The Curia kept asking the Pope to delay the start of the Council so that they had more time to prepare; each time they asked, he moved the start date forward a month. Thus was his sense of the importance of the work that he felt the Holy Spirit wanted to accomplish in the life of the Catholic Church.
In the years leading up to the Council, Pope John asked Catholics to pray the following after Mass as the Church leaders began to prepare to meet in Rome:
“Divine Spirit, renew your wonders in this our age as in a new Pentecost, and grant that your
Church, praying perseveringly and insistently with one heart and mind, together with Mary the
Mother of Jesus, and guided by blessed Peter, may increase
the reign of the Divine Savior, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love
and peace. Amen.”
And indeed, at Vatican II, mention was made of the need for this “new Pentecost” in the official documents:
It is not only through the sacraments and Church ministries that the
same Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God. He distributes
special graces among the faithful of every rank…”The manifestation of
the Spirit is given to everyone for profit.” [1 Cor 12:7] These
charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more
simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and
consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs
of the Church.” [L.G. 12]
Many say that the answer to Pope John’s prayer began to come to full fruition just a few years later, in 1967. At Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, a group of students and professors, praying fervently in front of the Blessed Sacrament, received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. They experienced many of the same Gifts of the Spirit that are associated with the broader Charismatic movement, such as tongues, interpretation, prophecy, etc. Most importantly, they felt a renewed love for Jesus Christ. The renewed life in the Holy Spirit that they discovered quickly moved to Notre Dame University. From there, it spread around the world.
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal received immediate support from Pope Paul VI, John’s successor. The Holy Father invited Catholic Charismatics to hold their 1975 international conference in Rome, and addressed them with this encouragement:
“Nothing is more necessary to this more and more secularized world than the witness of the `spiritual renewal’ that we see the Holy Spirit evoking in the most diverse regions and milieux…How then could this `spiritual renewal’ not be a `chance’ for the Church and for the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so?”
Blessed John Paul II followed in Paul’s footsteps in supporting the Charismatic Renewal. In the early nineties he helped establish an office at the Vatican devoted to encouraging the renewed life in the Holy Spirit.He encouraged Charismatics to “Remain in an attitude of constant and grateful availability for every gift that the Spirit wishes to pour into your hearts.” A few years earlier, the U.S. Bishops had issued the following statement:
” … the charismatic renewal is rooted in the witness of the gospel
tradition: Jesus is Lord by the power of the Spirit to the glory of the
Insofar as the Charismatic Renewal makes its own this primary reality
of the Gospel, it witnesses to elements of the Good News that are
central, not optional: the covenant love of the Father, the Lordship of
Jesus, the power of the Spirit, sacramental and community life, prayer,
charisms and the necessity of evangelization.
Insofar as the renewal makes its own what is central to the enduring
reality of the Gospel, it cannot be dismissed as peripheral to the life of
the Church. Clearly the Charismatic Renewal is in and for the Church,
not alongside the Church.
Because the Charismatic Renewal is at the heart of the Church, it also
has a role in parish renewal.
We wish those in the Charismatic Renewal to know that we make our
own the view of Yves Congar: “The Charismatic Renewal is a grace
for the Church.” We assure those in the Charismatic Renewal of the
support they enjoy from the bishops of the United States, and we
encourage them in their efforts to renew the life of the Church”
Today, some estimate that there are over 100 million Catholics associated with the Charismatic Renewal, all around the world. It has become a permanent fixture on the landscape of devout Catholicism, and continues to inspire renewed love for Christ Jesus, just as it did on college campuses in the wake of Vatican II.
It’s rare for the Charismatic gifts to be used at a Mass. Much more frequently, they appear at the type of prayer group I attended tonight. That isn’t to say, though, that the Charismatic Renewal has not had an effect on the celebration of the Mass.
The Charismatic movement inspired the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene. Charismatics–Catholic and Protestant alike– became famous for simple praise songs, often played on instruments such as the guitar and drums. This practice has made its way into many parishes across the nation, where one can here such popular choruses as “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” played on Sunday morning.
As you might have guessed, the Trooperarum Stormae hate this. And of course, they hate the many assurances and encouragements that Charismatics have received from the Church hierarchy. In fact, they see the Charismatic Renewal as a whole as one of the gross consequences of Vatican II and the move away from the Traditional Latin Mass. If they thought that the new Mass of Paul VI was a betrayal of Catholicism, than Charismatics and their happy-clappy tunes had taken a bad thing and made it downright repugnant. The Gifts of the Spirit are seen as flights of emotionalism–which I find very odd for any Catholic to say: since the Church has never stopped believing in miracles, never stopped believing in supernatural appearances of Our Lady… one would think that such beliefs predispose a traditional Catholic to be more open to unusual moves of the Third Person of the Trinity.
I thought of this in light of a comment I read recently (I sincerely wish I could remember who said it…), that suggested that the problem with the Trooperarum Stormae wasn’t ecclesiology– they’ve never stopped believing in the Church Catholic–rather, they have a problem of pneumatology– they no longer trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding said Church Catholic.
I’m not suggesting that all faithful Catholics are called to participate in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, or that their contribution to the liturgy is 100% positive all the time (I’m actually not a fan of most contemporary worship music…but that’s another discussion…). What I am suggesting is this: the Holy Spirit, who is God, the Divine Third Person of the Trinity, is still alive, and He is still at work in God’s Church. Despite their faults, our Popes and Bishops still hear His voice. The gates of Hell have not prevailed against the Church!
But, just as the Spirit frequently lead the prophets of old into the wilderness, so too He leads us into places of discomfort. We may not like the way that the liturgy at our parishes is done–but perhaps God is calling us away from the comfort of our old routines, and into a deeper focus on Christ Jesus.
Just as the Spirit of God hovered above the waters at the creation of the world, so now He hovers near our hearts, ready to create in us a renewed love for our wonderful Savior.