There Is No Such Thing as a Charismatic Mass

Within our most marvelous, most excellent discussion of our So Very Sacred Liturgy, a few have brought up the fact of being both Traditional and Charismatic Catholics, and of seeing no problem between the convergence of these two. I agree, because the Liturgy is not Traditional, nor is it Charismatic; it simply is, and is attended by Charismatics, Traditionalists and all the rest. I do take issue, however, with the idea of a Charismatic Mass. It’s not that I dislike the music or the expression involved, it’s that, well, the Charismatic Mass doesn’t exist.

Now, the Charismatic Renewal is an authentic, beautiful movement of the Holy Spirit within the Catholic Church. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now our beloved Pope Benedict XVI, described it:

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.

The Charismatic movement is defined as seeking the charisms Paul talks about – tongues, prophecy and the like – and is associated with joyful music, open-armed prayer, life in the Holy Spirit, and generally with active responses to the love of God.

While these are very, very good signs, they do send an interesting message when they are attached to the Liturgy.

The Charismatic Movement is – obviously – a movement. A movement moves somewhere. The Charismatic Renewal is a renewal. It renews something. This implies that the Charismatic Movement is a motion of the Holy Spirit to bring His Church somewhere.

St. Paul made this fact very clear, that the charisms – those extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit at the heart of the Charismatic Movement – are not simply good things in and of themselves, but good things in their usefulness for building up the Church. He says “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12) and “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)

Now then, what is the Holy Mass? It is:

…the source and summit of the Christian life in which (the children of God) offer the divine victim (to the Father) and themselves along with it” (Lumen gentium, n. 11)

…and as Pope Paul VI says, it is “the most perfect form of prayer.” In the sacrifice of the Mass, the Church is truly and fully ‘built up’. In the great feast of Holy Communion, there exists perfect communion between Jesus Christ and ourselves, as well as perfect communion between all the members of the Church, living and dead. This we claim, this we teach.

So what’s the problem with a Charismatic Mass? This: The idea contains an inherent contradiction.

As we’ve established, the Charismatic movement is just that – a movement. Whereas the Holy Mass is an arrival – the summit of our faith. A Charismatic Mass seeks the impossible – to move the Church when the Church has arrived at its summit. Further upwards when the mountain has been climbed.

To make the same point: The Charismatic Renewal is just that – a renewal. The Holy Mass is the most perfect form of prayer. Thus a Charismatic Mass seeks the impossible – to renew perfection.

This creates an awkward redundancy. The application of the music and posture of the Charismatic movement to the Holy Mass speaks the conflicted message that we are building what is built. This is not to say the Charismatic Movement is not authentic, awesome and holy. To be absolutely clear: The Charismatic Movement is a good and beautiful thing, recognized by the Popes, and clearly present in the life of the Church, and of the Saints.

But if the Holy Mass is the ‘summit’ of this same faith, surely we must treat as such, to not seek to inject the music, posture and mindset of the Charismatic Movement into the Liturgy, but to instead let the wonderful music, posture, and mindset of the Charismatic Movement lead us to a greater appreciation of the Liturgy as it is. Paul says that the charisms are good, but instructs us to “let all things be done decently and in order.” What is the proper order? The charismatic movement should lead us to a greater devotion to the Liturgy as it is, it should not seek to ‘be’ the Liturgy.

So again, and as always, the answer doesn’t lie with some particular “I-am-this-and-all-else-is-heresy!” type. The answer just takes some understanding of what the Church is. Until next time!

  • Carolturkia

    You Mark JP are awesome !

  • Arnobius of Sicca

    Interesting article. When I was in FUS (MA, 98) the Charismatic Mass was the norm and always made me feel uncomfortable. You have summed up well the problems I had back them

    It seems things have changed somewhat over there since I graduated.

    • Anonymous

      pray, pray, pray, we’re getting there!

  • Jay E.

    Good, very well said, especially the last paragraph. And fairly good summary of the Charismatic Movement.

    Something that might be useful in this regard would be Varietates Legitimae, an instruction on Sacrosanctum Concilium. Which indicates, for instance, that the bishop has the power to lay down norms and give permission for things like “the gestures and postures of the faithful” (see 54). Thus, given that the ‘orans’ open armed posture of prayer is a “protected gesture” (and normally only the priest is permitted to use it), with permission from the bishop charismatic parishes or groups are allowed to use this during Mass. Anyway, the whole document addresses things in line with incorporating so called “charismatic elements” (including devotional practices, under which would fall things like praying in tongues) into the liturgy.

    I really appreciate how balanced you are. As Aristotle said (and probably others besides) perfection lies between the extremes.

  • sarah

    Have you read ‘Sober Intoxication of the Spirit’ by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (preacher to the papal household)? I think you are mischaracterizing the renewal, it is meant to turn hearts to God, which goes along with the purpose of the Mass. To make the renewal primarily or almost exclusively about the charisms, is to miss the entire point.

    Also I would recommend reading a section of Monsignor Ronald Knox’s (contemporary of G.K. Chesterton and influential in his conversion. C. S. Lewis called him “the wittiest man in Europe,” ) book ‘A Retreat for Lay People’ the chapter entitled: ‘liberty of spirit in prayer’. But don’t take it to mean the wrong thing.

  • Jared Dale Combista

    “The charismatic movement she lead us to a greater devotion to the Liturgy as it is, it should not seek to ‘be’ the Liturgy.”

    My thoughts exactly in your previous post, Marc. Great post!

  • Christopher Mathieu

    I’ve always been edgy around the charismatics. One point in particular bothers me: the notion of speaking in tongues. One group here has made implications that everyone in attendance should do such speaking, and this idea irks me a little; specifically, they seem to make it sound like anyone who doesn’t speak in tongues isn’t doing it right.

    If it’s a requirement for entry, than people will be encouraged to PRETEND to do it, just to fit in. They may not be intending falsehood, but just don’t want to be singled out, or considered lacking. And this group doesn’t have a translator, which means there isn’t someone who can verify it.

    If everyone was required to grow a beard to attend, people who just couldn’t would find themselves either leaving, or buying a fake beard.

    • David

      I’ve gotten that vibe before too. It is really unfortunate that this happens because it can turn people off of God all together. It almost did for me last year, but silent adoration saved me from falling away.

      • Sam Woodward

        Silent Adoration FTW. Totally agree

  • CT Papist

    I agree with a lot of what you discussed. Amen to the points regarding the Mass, descriptions of the Charismatic movement, etc. But I think you got caught up in semantics. Just because there is a “Charismatic reform” does not mean that we need to “reform” the Mass, or the Charismatic movement does not necessitate a change in our liturgy. I think that to say that Charismatic Mass is a contradiction is to overstate it. In fact, shouldn’t every Mass be a charismatic Mass? Shouldn’t every Mass be filled with our awareness of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t every Mass a liturgical celebration of our response to God’s love and grace poured out on us? I don’t see the inherent contradiction that you do.

  • espolon

    el movimiento carismático, ¿ que tiene de santidad? jajaaa, son unos herejes que provienen de una secta herética y los papas que los han cobijado han cometido imnumerables herejías ejemplo Juan Pablo II su sucesor y los que trajeron esta bestia del apocalipsis como es el vaticano II a los hechos me remito, solo hay que mirar y ver, pero mirar con ojos católicos y no con los del mundo que ha sido quién siempre combatió a Nuestro Señor. que Él Señor y la Vírgen Santísima lo bendiga Jorge

    • Roger

      Estas seguro de ser Catolico?

  • Godsbabe

    Are you a Charimatic? Hve you been baptized in the Spirit? If so how long?

  • Brndnekblad

    I agree with most of what you said but keep this in mind: The Renewal is meant to renew the PEOPLE in the Church, not the Church itself. So I would have to ask this: Why can’t we include the “Charismatic” into the Mass? In fact, to be Charismatic in definition is to simply be showing one’s faith in an outward way. The Mass is, in and of itself, a Charismatic expression of faith because at Mass we kneel before the Eucharist, and kneeling is a Charismatic act, an outward expression of faith. I think that to categorize Catholics as either “Charismatic” or “Traditional” is a crime, because they need to be one and the same thing. Even just praying a Hail Mary out loud is Charismatic, since it is again an outward expression of faith, probably inspired and supported by the Holy Spirit if prayed piously and sincerely. Catholics don’t seem to see the correlation between Traditional and Charismatic, because they always, unfairly, associate Charismatic with hands being raised and tongues being prayed. The Charismatic renewal is a renewal meant to bring the people of the Church closer to God, through different charisms and gifts given by the Holy Spirit, and to bring about a deeper relationship with Christ and the Father. All of this being said, I think that there is such a thing as a Charismatic Mass, because the Mass in and of itself is already Charismatic, and to have different music styles or to see different outward Charisms at Mass doesn’t take away from the perfection of the Liturgy. In regards to music I will say that, as long as it’s reverent I don’t see a problem with it. I wouldn’t endorse rap at Mass of course but certain contemporary styles, like what is played at Franciscan University of Steubenville, of which I am a student, is acceptable. Even Blessed JPII and Pope Benedict have allowed these more contemporary styles to be played at world youth day Masses I believe, correct me if I’m wrong. I think that we have to be careful when pitting Traditional against Charismatic as though they are different, because in truth they really aren’t. We’re all Catholic, not Traditional Catholic or Charismatic Catholic, Catholic. Universal. One Body in Christ.

    • Sam Woodward

      I am sorry, but the Mass already has rubrics for music which organizations like FUS throw out for the sake of protestant rock songs. That is the sad fact.

  • BobA

    Marc, if I may, I think you may want to rework some of your statements. While I agree with many of the sentiments you express (such as unified posture) there are some serious flaws in other parts of your logic. For instance, you state: “The Charismatic Renewal is just that – a renewal. The Holy Mass is the most perfect form of prayer. Thus a Charismatic Mass seeks the impossible – to renew perfection.” If one were to accept this at face value, then one would also have to consider the Second Vatican Council as teaching heresy as it also reformed the liturgy. The Church has, as a matter of fact, reformed the liturgy many times throughout our history (and will probably continue to do so). Therefore to say that reform of the liturgy is not possible is clearly erroneous. The Mass is perfect not because all the rubrics are perfect, but rather because the Sacrifice of Christ is perfect. More to the point, the Charismatic renewal is not about renewing the liturgy, but rather renewing the Body of Christ. If the Charismatic renewal can bring about greater devotion at Mass and deepen and strengthen our relationship with Christ then it should be fostered, not spurned. This is not to say that I agree with “Charismatic Masses” per se, but rather I think that properly guided, as you say, the Charismatic Renewal can help bring about greater devotion and humility.

    As to the music at these types of Masses, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal pp48 (option 4) seems to allow this type of music. Much of this kind of music isn’t used exclusively in “Charismatic Masses” either. There are many many parishes (including the one I attend) that have a so-called contemporary music mass. Would these likewise be contrary to true liturgy, and if so why do so many pastors/bishops allow them?

  • Neil

    There is such a thing as liturgical renewal. The liturgy is the prayer of the Church and at times the outer forms of that prayer need renewal. That’s the whole basis of the “renewal” of the words spoken as part of the English Roman Missal, which itself was a dramatic renewal of the outer styles and forms of Mass in 1570 A.D. We do ourselves, the world and the Church a disservice when in the name of orthodoxy or “the Holy Mass” we are wedded to outer forms that are not in and of themselves the Apostolic Tradition, nor essential to the Eucharistic celebration.

  • Jacob Neeson

    I think you nailed it, although I think many of those involved in the charismatic renewal will probably take offense to some of your comments (though they needn’t). I think – as can be seen in some of the comments – that it is hard for some people who are so eager to defend the renewal that they miss the point of your article which is:

    The Mass is the Mass is the Mass and you can’t make something that is already perfect any better than it already is. It is illogical nonsense to argue that you can make something perfect more perfect, or the coldest possible temperature colder, or and infinite thing more infinite.

    It could be said that to add any modifier to Mass (aside from those like low, high, solemn, pontifical… etc which are purely descriptions of specific practices within the Mass) is redundant. There is no adjective that can make the word Mass more complete. We already worship with our entire being at Mass in that we stand, sit, kneel, hold hands (sometimes), process with candles, bow our heads and so on. So, to say “charismatic Mass” is either redundant because the Mass is already charismatic or it might even be irreverent by adding certain things to the Mass (since it is perfect, any addition is subtraction).

    If anyone seeks to argue this I would suggest a deeper study of the Mass, which I will also be doing because of this article. To finish, I may be wrong but I have a sincere inclination that Dr. Edward Sri would agree wholeheartedly with this article.


    PS that was way longer than I meant it to be.

    PPS please don’t get offended. I love charismatic worship and am a huge proponent of the renewal. I just don’t think our opinions matter on this topic because whether we like it or not, this is the way God made it. I also have experienced a “charismatic Mass” and this, ironically enough, might be an opinion but I’m quite sure that clapping randomly during communion as well as praying aloud during the silent times is distracting to most people. Maybe I’m just not holy enough though.

    PPPS now it’s even longer…

  • Just Another Catholic

    The mass is perfect. There is no doubt about that. It is made perfect because the “perfect sacrifice” is celebrated. However the rubrics have changed over a period of time. In fact the last year itself, we had a change in the rubrics. The way the Mass is said – including language, postures etc. have changed based on understanding of the times. Newer and newer (more beautiful) hymns, and in newer languages have added to the beauty of this most beautiful Mass

    Now, saying that there is no “Charismatic” Mass is something foolish, because every Mass (irrespective of whether people from Charismatic groups or traditionalists or what I call “plain dead” Catholics attend it) is Charismatic.

    Finally the Charismatics to the best of my belief are only making us all aware, about what a “great and wonderful” mystery we are celebrating, and where most of us Catholics are sleeping through it – I have even seen and known people to go out for a smoke during sermons :-( (in fact many Protestants including those who have later entered the Catholic Church make pointed references to our lack of respect for this great celebration)

    Interestingly it was a Pope – Pope John XIII who seems to first speak about a “renewal in the Church” before before the word “Charismatic” even became fashionable.