Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Opinions of Recent Popes

Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Opinions of Recent Popes August 22, 2018

Pope St. John XXIII

Prayer to the Holy Spirit (1961):

Divine Spirit, renew your wonders in our time, as though for a new Pentecost, and grant that the holy church, preserving unanimous and continuous prayer, together with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and also under the guidance of St. Peter, may increase the reign of the Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen

Blessed Pope Paul VI

During the First International Leader’s Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, 1 October, 1973:

We rejoice with you, dear friends, at the renewal of the spiritual life manifested in the church today, in difference forms and in various environments. Certain common notes appear in this renewal: the taste for deep prayer, personal and in groups, a return to contemplation and on emphasis on praise of God, the desire to devote oneself completely to Christ, a great availability for the calls of the Holy Spirit, more assiduous reading of the Scriptures, generous brotherly devotion, the will to make a contribution to the service of the church. In all that, we can recognize the mysteries and discreet work of the Spirit, who is the soul of the church. (cited in McDonnell [see reference at the end of this page], p. 4)

During the Synod of Bishops in 1974:

The Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might forever sanctify the church, and thus all believers would have access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit (cf. Eph.2:18). He is the Spirit of life. The Spirit dwells in the church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf. 1Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them he prays and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16,26). The Spirit guides the church in the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service. He furnishes and directs her with various gifts, both hierarchical and charismatic, and adorns her with the fruits of his grace (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the gospel he makes the church grow, perpetually renews her–” (Lumen Gentium, 4) (in McConnell, ibid., p. 7)

In 1975, Pope Paul VI personally invited the renewal to hold its annual conference in Rome. In a special session during that conference the pope stated:

You have chosen the city of Rome in this Holy Year to celebrate your International Congress, dear sons and daughters; you have asked us to meet you today and to address you. You have wished thereby to show your attachment to the Church founded by Jesus Christ and to everything that this See of Peter represents for you. This strong desire to situate yourselves in the Church is an authentic sign of the action of the Holy Spirit. As we said last October in the presence of some of you, the Church and the world need more than ever that the miracle of Pentecost should continue in history . . . 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 milieu . . . 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?

Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens’ book A New Pentecost? (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1975), was enthusiastically endorsed by Pope Paul VI:

I wish to make allusion to the book written by Cardinal Suenens entitled A New Pentecost? in which he describes and justifies this expectation of renewal. The abundant outpouring of supernatural graces, which are called charisms, can truly mark a providential hour in the history of the Church.

Pope St. John Paul II

To international leaders of the Charismatic Renewal in 1979:

I have always belonged to this renewal in the Holy Spirit. My own experience is very interesting. When I was in school, at the age of 12 or 13, sometimes I had difficulties in my studies, in particular with mathematics. My father gave me a book on prayer. He opened it to a page and said to me: “Here you have the prayer to the Holy Spirit. You must say this prayer every day of your life.” I have remained obedient to this order that my father gave 50 years ago . . . (in McConnell, ibid., p. 25)

I am convinced that this movement is a sign of his action. The world is much in need of this action of the Holy Spirit, and it needs many instruments for this action. The situation in the world is dangerous, very dangerous. Materialism is opposed to the true dimension of human power, and there are many different kinds of materialism. Materialism is the negation of the Holy Spirit. Now I see this movement, this activity everywhere . . . Consequently, I am convinced in the total renewal of the church, in this spiritual renewal of the church. (ibid., p. 26)

In 1981:

Renewal in the Spirit will be authentic and have real fruitfulness in the Church, not so much according as it gives rise to extraordinary charisms, but according as it leads the greatest possible number of the faithful, as they travel their daily plans, to make a humble, patient, and persevering effort to know the mystery of Christ better, and to bear witness to it . . .Pope Paul described the movement for renewal in the Spirit as a chance for the Church and for the world, and the six years since have borne out the hope that inspired his vision. The Church has seen the fruits of your devotion to prayer in a deepened commitment to holiness of life and love for the word of God . . . May the work of love already begun in you be brought to successful completion!

During an audience with the Bishops of Northern France in 1987:

Nowadays, there exists another possibility: that of prayer groups which have multiplied in the Catholic Church as in other church communities, and this spontaneously, in an unexpected manner. Prayer can be developed here in a classic way. It can also seek the support of the more exuberant manifestations. Some pastors have received this movement with restraint. And, in fact, it is necessary to keep watch always so that an authentic doctrine inspires this type of prayer, and the ecclesial character of the sacramental ministers may be well respected, and that the tasks of charity and justice are not abandoned.On the other hand, the dynamism and generosity of these groups should not impede other initiatives animating the life of parish communities. However, with all necessary discernment, it is possible to speak of a grace directed to sanctify the church, to renew in her the taste for prayer, to rediscover, with the Holy Spirit, the sense of gratuitousness, of joyful praise, of confidence in intercession, and to be converted into a new fountain of evangelization. (ibid., pp. 59-60)

At the 6th International Assembly of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal on 15 May 1987:

    The vigor and fruits of the Renewal certainly testify to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church during these years following the Second Vatican Council. Thanks to the Spirit, the Church constantly keeps her youth and vitality. And the Charismatic Renewal is an eloquent manifestation of this vitality today, a vigorous affirmation of what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Rv. 2:7), as we draw near to the end of the second millennium.

Address to the International Council for Catholic Charismatic Renewal, 14 March, 1992 (emphasis added):

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,1. In the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit I welcome the Council of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office. As you celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, I willingly join you in giving praise to God for the many fruits which it has borne in the life of the Church. The emergence of the Renewal following the Second Vatican Council was a particular gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

It was a sign of a desire on the part of many Catholics to live more fully their Baptismal dignity and vocation as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, to know the redeeming power of Christ our Savior in a more intense experience of individual and group prayer, and to follow the teaching of the Scriptures by reading them in the light of the same Spirit who inspired their writing. Certainly one of the most important results of this spiritual reawakening has been that increased thirst for holiness which is seen in the lives of individuals and in the whole Church.

At the end of this Second Millennium, the Church needs more than ever to turn in confidence and hope to the Holy Spirit, who unceasingly draws believers into the Trinitarian communion of love, builds up their visible unity in the one Body of Christ, and sends them forth on mission in obedience to the mandate entrusted to the Apostles by the Risen Christ. We must be convinced that a deepening awareness of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit responds to the needs of our times, for the Spirit “is at the center of the Christian faith and is the source and dynamic power of the Church’s renewal” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 2). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the “principle agent of the Church’s mission” (Redemptoris Missio, 21), sustaining and guiding the efforts to bring the graces of Pentecost to all people.

2. Since the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the building up of the Church, you, as leaders of the Charismatic Renewal, are challenged to seek increasingly effective ways in which the various groups you represent can manifest their complete communion of mind and heart with the Apostolic See and the College of Bishops, and cooperate ever more fruitfully in the Church’s mission in the world. On the international level, your Office’s close links with its Episcopal Advisor, Bishop Paul Cordes, and the coordination of Ecclesial Movements and Associations provided by the Pontifical Council of the Laity, are important means of fostering such cooperation, which is so essential for the prudent stewardship of the Spirit’s manifold gifts. Only in this way will the renewal truly serve its ecclesial purpose, helping to ensure that “the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” [Col. 2:19].

3. 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. “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission” (Redemptoris Missio, 42). What more effective means can there be for drawing those who have lost their spiritual bearings towards that truth which alone can calm the restlessness of the human heart than the living example of fervent Christian believers? To bear witness is to be a powerful leaven among people who perhaps do not fully recognize the value of the salvation that only Jesus Christ can offer.

4. The Charismatic Renewal can also help foster the growth of a solid spiritual life based on the Holy Spirit’s power at work in the Church, in the richness of her Tradition, and particularly in her celebration of the Sacraments. Frequent reception of the Eucharist and regular use of the Sacrament of Penance are essential for a genuine life in the Holy Spirit, for these are the means which Christ himself has given us to restore and sustain the Spirit’s gift of grace. Since the ways of the Spirit always lead to Christ and His Church, since it is the Spirit Himself who guides those He has established as Bishops to care for the Church of God (cf. Acts 20:28), there can be no conflict between the fidelity to the Spirit and fidelity to the Church and her Magisterium. Whatever shape the Charismatic Renewal takes – in prayer groups, in covenant communities, in communities of life and service – the sign of its spiritual fruitfulness will always be a strengthening of communion with the universal Church and the local Churches. Your role as a coordinating organization is to help all these various facets of the Renewal to work together in union with the Pastors of the Church for the good of the whole Body. At the same time, the deepening of your Catholic identity by drawing from the spiritual wealth of the Catholic Tradition is an irreplaceable part of your contribution to genuine ecumenical dialogue which, fostered by the Holy Spirit, must lead to the perfection of “fellowship in unity: in the confession of one faith, in the common celebration of divine worship and in the fraternal harmony of the family of God” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).

5. Dear friends, at the beginning of this Lenten season, I pray that your work will contribute to the growth of the Church, in fidelity to the Lord’s will and to the mission which she has received. I commend all of you to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, who “through the same faith which makes her blessed …, is present in the Church’s mission, present in the Church’s work of introducing into the world the Kingdom of her Son” (Redemptoris Mater, 28). May her prayers accompany those who strive to extend the Kingdom of Christ in obedience to the prompting of His Holy Spirit. To all of you I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

To Catholic Charismatics: “Seek to be active in life of your local Church,” 9 November 1996 (abridged):

Dear Friends in Christ,1. With affection in the Lord I greet the participants in the Seventh International Meeting of the Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities and Fellowships . . .

You represent communities of the Charismatic Movement from around the world, which, in their variety, bear witness to the spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit is bestowing on the Church even in our own day (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 24). How can we fail to praise God for the abundant fruit which in recent decades the Renewal in the Spirit has brought about in the lives of individuals and in communities? Countless people have come to appreciate the importance of Sacred Scripture for Christian living they have acquired a new sense of the value of prayer and a profound yearning for holiness, many have returned to the sacraments, and a great number of men and women have achieved a deeper understanding of their baptismal call, and have committed themselves to the Church’s mission with admirable dedication. In thanking God for all of this, I repeat the words which I wrote in the Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio: “As the third millennium of the Redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs” (n. 86).

2. On 27 November 1995, the Catholic Fraternity received final recognition from the Pontifical Council for the Laity. By this official act the Church expressed appreciation of the Fraternity’s goals and methods, and at the same time wished to strengthen your ecclesial identity. That identity requires you to be ever more fully associated with the life of the particular Churches. When ecclesial movements “humbly seek to become part of the life of local Churches and are welcomed by Bishops and priests within diocesan and parish structures, they represent a true gift of God both for new evangelization and for missionary activity properly so-called” (Redemptoris missio, n. 72). In order to help Pastors and the Charismatic Movement to work together in building up the Church of Christ, the Pontifical Council for the Laity is preparing a document which will serve as an important point of reference for the life and apostolate of such communities, and for the discernment of their spiritual gifts. Let us pray that this document will produce the good results which we expect from it!

3. . . . Because the whole Church must prepare for the Great Jubilee “in the Holy Spirit” (Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 51), I have suggested that the year 1998 be dedicated specifically to the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying presence in the ecclesial community (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, nn. 44-48). It is my fervent hope that during that year all movements enlivened by the Spirit, who is the never-ending source of holiness and communion, will come together to bear joint witness to the unifying power of divine grace.

4. . . . Likewise, the approaching third millennium brings the urgent challenge of the new evangelization. True, it is not easy to proclaim the Gospel in a world which claims not to need God. Yet we are bound by the compelling words of St Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). Today, this proclamation must be accompanied by a commitment to ecumenism: “In these last years of the millennium, the Church should invoke the Holy Spirit with ever greater insistence, imploring from him the grace of Christian unity” (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 34). In this perspective too, I wish to encourage your communities to a further strengthening of their ecclesial character, at the doctrinal level and in programs of formation, as the only sure basis for genuine ecumenical dialogue and action.

5. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: again I thank you for all that you do in the service of the Church. Through the intercession of Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, I entrust to Christ, the Lord of history, your spiritual journey towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and beyond. To each of you and your families, and to all the communities belonging to the Catholic Fraternity, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.


VATICAN CITY, APR 4, 1998 (VIS) – Leaders of the Italian National Service Committee of Renewal in the Holy Spirit, also known as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, were received by the Holy Father this morning, who spoke to them of the various tasks facing ecclesial movements today, in particular the formation of the laity. The Pope recalled that “the Catholic charismatic movement is one of the many fruits of Vatican Council II” which stimulated “an extraordinary flourishing of groups and movements especially sensitive to the Holy Spirit.” “In your life (as an ecclesial movement),” remarked John Paul II, “all those criteria of ecclesiality of which I wrote in Christifideles laici must find their expression, especially fidelity to the ecclesial Magisterium, filial obedience to pastors and the spirit of service with regard to local Churches and parishes.” “One of the most urgent tasks of the Church today is the formation of the laity,” he went on. This “has as its basic objective the very clear discovery of one’s own vocation and an ever greater willingness to live it in fulfillment of one’s own mission. “This must, therefore, be one of your priorities. In today’s secularized world, which proposes models devoid of spiritual values, this duty is more urgent than ever. Faith dies when it is reduced to a custom, to a habit, to a purely emotional experience. … I know the Renewal in the Holy Spirit does all that it can to respond to this need.” Encouraging them to persevere in their task, the Pope concluded: “In this world permeated by sadness and uncertainty, have the courage to collaborate with the Spirit in a new, great outpouring of love and hope on all of mankind.”

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

It is not only through the sacraments and Church ministries that the same Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues. Allotting His gifts “to everyone according as he will” (1 Cor 12:11), 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.Still, extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from them. In any case, judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good (cf. 1 Th 5:12,19-21). (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 21 November 1964; Lumen Gentium; ch. 2: “The People of God,” par. 12)

The Holy Spirit sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments. However, for the exercise of the apostolate he gives the faithful special gifts besides (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7), “allotting them to each one as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11), so that each and all, putting at the service of others the grace received may be “as good stewards of God’s varied gifts,” (1 Pet. 4:10), for the building up of the whole body in charity (cf. Eph. 4:16). From the reception of these charisms, even the most ordinary ones, there arises for each of the faithful the right and duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the development of the Church, of exercising them in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who “breathes where he wills” (Jn. 3:8), and at the same time in communion with his brothers in Christ, and with his pastors especially. It is for the pastors to pass judgment on the authenticity and good use of these gifts, not certainly with a view to quenching the Spirit but to testing everything and keeping what is good (cf. 1 Th. 5:12, 19, 21). (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, 18 November 1965; Apostolicam actuositatem; ch. 1, par. 3: “Foundations of the Lay Apostolate”)

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

What is hopeful at the level of the universal Church – and what is happening right in the heart of the crisis of the Church in the Western world – is the rise of new movements which nobody had planned and which nobody has called into being, but which have sprung spontaneously from the inner vitality of the faith itself. What is manifested in them – albeit subdued – is something like a pentecostal season in the Church. I am thinking, say, of the charismatic movement, of the Cursillos, . . . Certainly all these movements also give rise to some problems. They also entail greater or lesser dangers. But that happens with all living beings. I am now, to an increasing degree, meeting groups of young people in whom there is a wholehearted adhesion to the whole faith of the Church, young people who want to live this faith fully and who bear in themselves a great missionary elan. The intense life of prayer present in these movements does not imply a flight into interiority or a withdrawal into the private sphere, but simply a full and undivided catholicity. The joy of the faith that one senses here has something contagious about it. Here new vocations to the priesthood and to the religious orders are now growing spontaneously.What is striking is that all this fervor was not elaborated by any office of pastoral planning, but somehow it sprang forth by itself. As a consequence of this fact, the planning offices – just when they want to be very progressive – don’t know just what to do with them. They don’t fit into their plan. Thus while tensions rise in connection with their incorporation into the present form of the institutions, there is absolutely no tension with the hierarchical Church as such.

What is emerging here is a new generation of the Church which I am watching with a great hope. I find it marvelous that the Spirit is once more stronger than our programs and brings himself into play in an altogether different way than we had imagined. In this sense the renewal, in a subdued but effective way, is afoot . . .

Cardinal Ratzinger is asked by interviewer Vittorio Messori:

Nowadays, I notice, there is underway a rediscovery of the Holy Spirit, who has perhaps been rather forgotten in Western theology. This rediscovery has not been merely theoretical but has involved growing numbers of people in the so-called “Charismatic Movement” or “Renewal”.

That is so. The period following the Council scarcely seemed to live up to the hopes of John XXIII, who looked for a “new Pentecost”. But his prayer did not go unheard. In the heart of a world dessicated by rationalistic scepticism a new experience of the Holy Spirit has come about, amounting to a worldwide renewal movement. What the New Testament describes, with reference to the charisms, as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit is no longer merely ancient, past history: this history is becoming a burning reality today . . .

There is in the “Renewal” a new and concrete awareness of the powers of evil, in addition, of course, to the calm certainty of the power of Christ who subjugates them all.

It is essential, above all, to maintain a balance, to beware of an exclusive emphasis on the Spirit, who, as Jesus humself reminds us, “does not speak of himself” but lives and works at the heart of the life of the Trinity. [A wrong overemphasis] could lead to setting against the hierarchically structured Church (which is based on Christ) a “charismatic” Church based only on the “freedom of the Spirit”, a Church that regards herself as continually a new “happening”.

Maintaining balance also means keeping the proper relationship between institution and charism, between the Church’s common faith and personal experience. Without personal experience doctrinal belief remains empty; pure experience is blind unless it is linked to the faith of the Church. What counts, ultimately, is not the “we” of the group, but the great “we” of the universal Church. She alone can provide the proper context in which we can “not extinguish the Spirit and keep to what is good,” as the apostle exhorts us.

We must beware of a too-easy ecumenism which can lead Catholic charismatic groups to lose their identity and, in the name of the “Spirit” (seen as the antithesis of the institution), uncritically associate with forms of Pentecostalism of non-Catholic origin. [Catholic renewal groups must therefore] think with the Church – sentire cum ecclesia – more than ever. They must always act in unity with the bishop, not least so that they will avoid the consequences that always arise when Holy Scripture is taken out of its context in the fellowship of the Church, which results in fundamentalism and the marks of the esoteric group and the sect.

Messori interjects:

Having given this warning about the risks involved, does the Cardinal also see positive signs in the emergence of the Charismatic Renewal Movement into the limelight of the Church’s life?

Certainly. It is evidence of hope, a positive sign of the times, a gift of God to our age. It is a rediscovery of the joy and wealth of prayer over against theories and practices which had become increasingly ossified and shriveled as a result of secularized rationalism. I myself have observed the effectiveness of the Movement: in Munich I saw a number of good vocations to the priesthood come from it. As I have already said, like every other reality entrusted to human beings, it too is exposed to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and exaggeration. But it would be dangerous to see only the risks and not also the gift offered by God. The necessary caution does not alter my fundamentally positive judgment. (The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985, pp. 43-44, 151-153)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994)

800 Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms. (cf. 1 Cor 13)#2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms  after the Greek term used by St. Paul meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.” (cf. Lumen Gentium  12) Whatever their character – sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues – charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church. (cf. 1 Cor 12) [see also #688, 799, 801, 951, 1508]


(originally 6-6-98)

Photo credit: [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]


Browse Our Archives