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!

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