Charisma or "Charismania"

The Catholic Church is currently in a period of liturgical reform, which began in earnest on July 7th. 2007, with Pope Benedict XVI's decree of Summorum Pontificum.  It has since, very slowly, ramped up to a pitch now where it's starting to get some notice.  All over the Western world, youth are flocking to more traditional celebrations of the Church's liturgy in increasing numbers.  More Vatican prelates are speaking out on the necessity of liturgical reform, even citing liturgical abuse as a major contributor to increased immorality in the world, and bringing the Church back to a more traditional way of doing things. Some bishops are now beginning to question the common interpretations of Vatican II, and are calling upon the Holy Father to make some doctrinal clarifications. Even Pope Francis, in speaking of the modern Western Rite, in comparison to the more traditional Eastern rites of the Church, has said: "We have lost a bit the sense of adoration... We are in need of this renewal, of this fresh air of the East, of this light from the East. John Paul II wrote it in his Letter. But so many times the luxus [luxury] of the West makes us lose the horizon."  As I pointed out in a previous article, even new reformed expressions of the modern vernacular (Ordinary Form) mass, are in some places taking on characteristics that look virtually identical to the ancient Latin (Extraordinary Form) mass.  Pope Benedict XVI really started something, and nothing is going to stop it now.  What he did with Summorum Pontificum was not an earthquake, but rather a subtle tectonic shift.  The movement is slow, sometimes undetectable, but it is massive in size, and unstoppable simply because of that size.  Everywhere this traditional "Reform of the Reform" is under way, gaining momentum, and demanding more attention.  It is clear that if parishes and dioceses don't get out in front of this, they're going to be left behind.  In another article, The New Mass -- According to Vatican II, I attempted to bring attention to simple ways any parish priest can bring about this traditional "Reform of the Reform" in his parish, without having to learn Latin, or use the Extraordinary Form.  This can all be accomplished in any vernacular Ordinary Form mass, with only a few modifications.  It's not hard at all.  The complete article, along with a free video demonstration, can be found by clicking HERE.

When we see videos like the one above however, the "singing priest in Brazil," with his charismatic worship services, we're not sure what to think.  The press would have us believe that this is the future of the Catholic Church, but statistics tell us otherwise.  Surely, over the last 40 years the Charismatic Renewal movement has grown strong in the Catholic Church, most especially in the Americas, but is this really the future of Catholicism?  Maybe it is in part, but certainly not in full.  Of course, the question is "how" do we reconcile charismatic renewal movements such as this, with traditional renewal movements such as what we've witnessed over the last several years since Summorum Pontificum.  Can they be reconciled at all?  I believe they can be, but not until we understand the difference between charisma versus charismania.

Charisma is defined as a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, and in a Christian sense, it is seen as a divinely conferred power or talent.  Now pay attention here because this is important.  Charisma is a "divinely conferred power" that "can inspire devotion in others."  By that is meant devotion to God of course.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way...
So that she can fulfill her mission, the Holy Spirit “bestows upon [the Church] varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her.” “Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully observing his precepts of charity, humility and self–denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom.” -- CCC 768
The Catholic Church cannot deny the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit because they have always been present since her founding on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in 33 AD.  So there is really something to this, but as I said, to deal with it properly, we have to understand what it is and what it is not.

Charismania is defined as expressions of chaos within a religious context, that are usually loud and distracting, bringing more attention to the one exercising the charismatic "gifts" than to the one who supposedly gave these "gifts" -- that being God.  The term "charismania" was first coined by Fundamentalist Protestants, in a derogatory way, to describe the scene often found in Pentecostal Protestant churches.  However, the term works well in Catholic settings too.  Charismania is when human emotions take over, and actually begin to drown out the spiritual charisma of God.  When dealing with charismatic religious expressions, the first question every Catholic should ask himself is this: "Am I dealing with charisma or charismania here?"  The way to determine the difference is simple.  All one needs to do is determine if the event is driven by the Spirit of God or human emotions.  There is definitely room for human emotions inside of authentically Spirit-led events.  There is nothing wrong with tears of joy and cries of excitement, but inside of an authentically Spirit-led event there is always order and dignity.  Human emotion is a messy thing.  When events become chaotic and disorderly, they risk becoming more of a soulish (emotional) occasion than a Spiritual one.  I'll dive more into this topic later.  Right now I want to deal with the events of World Youth Day and how that relates to the pontificate of the current Holy Father.

Pope Francis understands something, and he is not alone.  Pope Benedict XVI understood it, and Pope John Paul II profoundly understood it.  If we don't revive Catholic youth, all other reforms won't matter. They will be a moot point. A clean Church won't matter if its an empty Church.  There are those who charge that failure to clean the house is what prevents new people from entering.  Experience tells us otherwise. The house must be cleaned of course, but it will never be spotless (totally free of corruption, heresy and liturgical abuse).  We can make it better, but we can't make it perfect.  Only God can do that, and he will make it perfect, on the last day. Experience and history tell us, however, that converts come into the Church not when she is perfectly clean, but when she is engaged with the suffering of the world. Clean or unclean, her willingness to engage the poor, sick and miserable is what gives the Church her evangelical and charismatic character. This is what attracts people, particularly the youth, and this is what Pope Francis understands in a very profound way.  So this is understandably, his profound focus.

So enters the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church with its attempt to re-engage the youth by tapping into their energy and excitement. There is nothing new here. It's been going on since the first World Youth Day back in 1984. However, it's not just World Youth Day. Similar methods of tapping into the energy and excitement of youth are employed in LifeTeen and other similar youth programs. Pope Francis has never had any problem tapping into this method of channelling the youth to deliver his message of engaging the suffering world with the love (charity) of Christ. To be sure however, this is just one of many vehicles for him. It is the message that reigns supreme in his ministry.  It's not about loud music, dancing and arms waving in the air. For Francis understands something that we all must understand, and when we do understand it, it will put to ease many of the concerns of traditional and contemporary Catholics alike. What Francis understands, and what we all must understand, is that all of this youthful excitement and jubilee is fleeting. Today it is here and tomorrow it's gone. Any seasoned Christian (Catholic or Protestant) will tell you that. Attempts to maintain such a heightened emotional state indefinitely will always fail.  Eventually reality catches up with all of us and we have to return to the daily grind of life. The excitement of youth will eventually leave us all. This is unavoidable.  That doesn't mean the joy of Christ must leave us though. You see, in order to have the joy of Christ, we have to first understand what it is, and this is the message Francis is seeking to impart to us all. Joy comes from hearing Christ's words and obeying them. It does not come from an ecstatic feeling of excitement. It comes from the peace of simply knowing God's will for your life and doing it. Of course, God's will for all of us is laid out in the gospel, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and most especially her liturgy.  This is true joy, and this is what lasts. It lasts beyond the drums, beyond the music, beyond the excitement and ecstatic feelings of youth and energy. This is joy that lasts a lifetime, and this is what we all need to hear, know and profoundly understand.

The concern of traditional Catholics is a perfectly legitimate one, and I'm sure that when presented in these terms, our Holy Father Pope Francis would agree. The concern is that if liturgy becomes simply another method of producing a heightened emotional state, its profound message of true Christian joy will fail to be conveyed. When people go to mass just to get a certain "feeling," they miss the purpose of why they are there. The later state could potentially be worse than the former, because if they mistakenly thought the objective of mass was to invoke a certain "feeling," and it eventually is no longer able to do that, many people will walk away.  Indeed, isn't that exactly what has happened over the last four decades?  Is not the disenchantment of many, with the mass, rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what the mass really is and what it's for?  As I've written of previously in my popular article, Converting Protestants -- A Secret Method, when it comes to invoking a certain feeling of excitement and energy, Protestants do it better. They always have and they always will, because after all is said and done, especially in the Evangelical and Charismatic traditions, that is the focus of their worship services. Catholics will never be able to fully duplicate what the Evangelical/Charismatic Protestants have created, because our focus of worship (liturgy) is fundamentally different, and seeks a fundamentally different goal.

That goal of mass is a singular one.  It's about bringing God and man closer together.  What does that mean.  It means man giving God the worship that is due to him.  For human beings are the only biological creatures on this planet that are capable of worshipping him.  We, humanity, represent all of material creation when we worship God. We are the material universe's "ambassadors" (so-to-speak) to the divine.  Animals, plants and minerals cannot worship God.  That's our job.  When we worship God, we represent all of the world around us, as the pinnacle of God's creation. It also means that God gives of himself to us.  In the act of Holy Communion, God bends himself down, reaching down deeply, to touch us.  He does this by transubstantiating physical matter into his real and actual presence in the Holy Eucharist, which is to be consumed by us, his material creations, in a real and material way.  The liturgy of the mass is designed to help us understand this reality.  It is NOT designed to entertain us.  It never was and it never will be, because you see, the mass is not about our entertainment.  It's about man reaching up to God in worship, and God reaching down to man as physical matter.  Thus it's about man and God coming together in Holy Communion.  The liturgy is designed to convey this reality in a dignified and beautiful way.  It is not designed to entertain us.  Any attempt to make the mass "entertaining" is severely misguided and a perversion of what the mass is really all about.  Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this, and the liturgical renewal he started in July of 2007, is designed to ultimately bring the entire Church back to this understanding.  As time passes, the Church will most certainly return to a more traditional way of doing things.  It is already under way and unstoppable now.

So with that being said, where does this charismatic renewal of youth and excitement fit in, and how do we integrate the two in a spiritually healthy manner?

I think a good place to start is understanding the difference between the spiritual and the emotional.  Spiritual gifts can sometimes provoke emotional responses, but not always, and the two are not one in the same.  The Spirit comes from God, while emotion comes from man.  Yes, there is plenty of room in the Catholic Church for both, but these things must be done in an orderly way that gives glory to God not man.  Let's start with music shall we?

There is plenty of room in the Catholic Church for exciting and vibrant contemporary worship music, but the place for it is not the mass, or any liturgical function for that matter.  The mass (and all Catholic liturgies in general) have organically developed over more than a thousand years for the specific purpose of bring one's attention to the miracle of man's interaction with the Divine.  This is something that should never be treated lightly, and never tampered with in any kind of abrupt way.  This pertains to liturgical music as well.  Many of our modern hip-hop masses may be sincere, but they are also sincerely misguided.  Of course there is room for contemporary music in the Catholic Church, but how it's used is extremely important.  What many youth worship leaders have complained of, is what is commonly called the "let down effect."  Catholic youth ministries will invest a tremendous amount of music to get youth interacted before mass.  The worship band will ramp up the tempo of the music to a near frenzy, and then the liturgy begins, with it's slow methodical pace, leaving the youth "let down" in an anticlimactic way. As a result of this, parish priests come under tremendous pressure to allow contemporary music during liturgy of the mass itself, so as to intersperse more exciting contemporary worship music into the more "boring" and "mundane" liturgy.  This results in a "choppy" feel to the mass, with highs and lows, like a liturgical roller-coaster.  Again, this puts the priest under even more pressure to "spice it up" a little when it comes to the words of the liturgy itself and the motions he performs while at the altar.  So enters a complete attitude of entertainment, and this kind of environment is ripe for liturgical abuse.  This is what I would consider the beginning of Charismania -- Catholic style.

Might I suggest there is another way.  It all starts from the beginning and it completely taps into the musical charisma of modern worship bands. One of the problems with modern hip-hop contemporary worship music is that many of our youth leaders are doing it backwards.  Instead of ramping this music up to a crescendo before mass, and/or trying to maintain some kind of a upbeat tempo during mass, it should be the exact opposite.  Instead of ramping up with a crescendo, start off with one, and then slowly ramp it down to a soft, melodic and gentle rhythm just before mass begins.  Then encourage the priest to return to a more traditional style of celebrating mass, with regular use of incense, bells and chant.  The intent here is to use the upbeat loud music to capture the youth's attention, and help them work off some of that energy.  Then slowly lead them down into a proper disposition for Catholic worship, which is a disposition of solemnity and prayer.  This may sound strange at first, but I'm telling you from experience -- it works!  One of the most popular Evangelical chains on the West Coast of the United States is an affiliation called Calvary Chapel.  (NOTE: I am not condoning Calvary Chapel teaching here.  I'm just using their charismatic appeal as an example.)  Anyone who has attended one of their West Coast mega-churches can attest to their phenomenal success. This method of "musical declination" is frequently employed by many of their churches to burn off the hyper-frenzied disposition of modern life and bring worshippers into a proper attitude of prayer and reception of the pastor's sermon.  The worship songs start off fast and loud, then gradually ramp down to slower and quieter melodies.  While I was an Evangelical, I personally watched people in the congregation start off with their hands waving in the air, jumping up and down, and singing at the top of their voices.  Then I watched them slowly settle down, until finally, toward the end of the praise session, some of them were kneeling in the pews.  Now that's saying quite a bit, considering these were Protestant pews that had no kneelers.  These people were kneeling on the floor!  All of this is a testimony to the power of music.  When used properly, it can bring people into the proper state of mind for worship.  If Evangelicals can do that, this actually is something we Catholics can do better.   Because you see, when the Evangelical service starts, it typically consists merely of a prayer and a sermon.  We Catholics on the other hand, have liturgy, chant, bells and incense.  If Catholic youth ministries were to use the method of "musical declination," starting out big and tapering off to a gentle whisper, followed by a traditional-style liturgy with all the chant, smells and bells, I do believe we could actually see some significant growth.  I'm speaking not only of growth in the number of young parishioners, but also in the spiritual growth and maturity of them as well.  The music can lead them from their frenzied modern lives, into a state that is receptive to traditional-style Catholic liturgy, if it is used properly.  The same method can be used for Evening Prayer (Vespers), Eucharistic Adoration, and all sorts of liturgical celebrations.  This also completely takes the pressure off the priest, and allows him to celebrate liturgy the way he was trained to do in seminary.  He can do this with no fear of "boring" the youth, because they've already been led by music into an emotional state that is receptive to it.

Now we ender into the area of charismatic gifts.  Granted, we don't see as much of this as we used to, but it's still there.  I have a friend in California who is a cradle Catholic.  He was raised in a fairly traditional Catholic parish during the 1970s and 80s.  (Yes, if you looked hard enough, you could still find a few here and there.)  Then after he got married he moved to the suburbs outside of Los Angeles.  There he encountered his first experience of Catholics "speaking in tongues" during mass!  He also had the misfortune of watching the hand-waving, fainting in the pews, etc.  He described the whole experience as "spine chilling" and found himself walking out in the middle of the whole thing.  I don't think he even made it to the homily.  It scared him, and it scarred him.  He's been very careful about where he worships ever since.  Multiply this sentiment by tens of millions, and I think we can begin to understand how many Catholics view the whole "charismatic renewal" thing.  This is because what my friend witnessed was not "renewal" at all, but rather an abuse.  There is no such place for these things in the mass, and I believe I can say that with some authority.  Why?  Because the mass is the "divine liturgy."  It is the divinely inspired dialogue between God and man.  The Holy Spirit does not, indeed cannot, interrupt himself.  To speak out in extemporaneous expressions of "tongues" or "prophecy" during mass is blasphemy, because when one does this, one is basically saying that God is not speaking to us in the liturgy or through the homily at all.  It's wrong on all levels.

When it comes to the supernatural "lesser gifts" of the Holy Spirit, such as "speaking in tongues" for example, the methods for doing this are clearly outlined in sacred scripture.  Saint Paul lays out the apostolic rules in 1st Corinthians chapters 12 through 14.  Saint Paul is very detailed and explicit in this.  If you're not going to follow the rules laid down by Saint Paul, then you have no business exercising your "spiritual gifts" at all, because you're acting as a rebel and going against the expressed teachings on "spiritual gifts" in scripture.  Pastors of parishes need to be diligent on this.  They must not let these things slide by or go unsupervised.  Go to 1st Corinthians 12 though 14, and learn how these things are supposed to be done based on holy scripture.  First of all, these things have no place in the official liturgy of the Church, but they could play a role after such liturgies in what some have called "afterglow" services.  I once heard of a parish priest leading an "afterglow" service about 15 minutes after the mass.  He would begin with a benediction and exposition of the blessed sacrament.  Then he and a deacon would would outline the order of service for the youth in attendance.  With the sacrament exposed, a small few were permitted to "speak in tongues," one at a time, in turn, provided there was an officially recognised "interpreter" present.  All of this was done in a decent and orderly manner.  There was no hysteria, no fainting, and no scandalous behaviour.  Now I'm not saying this is how things should always be done, but I am saying this is one example of how things can be done well.  I have only one thing to add to this in the way of "speaking in tongues."  Based on the sacred scriptures (1st Corinthians 14:2-4), the interpreted messages of this manifestation seem to centre around expression of thanks, praise and petition to God, not prophetic messages from God to man.  The charismatic gift of "prophecy" would seem to be a completely separate matter.  As I said, follow the rules of Saint Paul, or else don't do any of this at all.  The Church needs charisma not charismania.  Follow the rules of the apostle, and you will have charisma.  Fail to follow them, and you may end up with charismania.  Sadly, in my lifetime as a Christian (both as a Protestant and then as a Catholic) I have seen far more incidences of charismania than actual charisma in so-called "charismatic" services.

Saint Paul points out, in his instructions on the gifts of the Spirit, the superiority of certain spiritual gifts over others, but the greatest of all spiritual gifts is love (charity).  This is what Pope Francis is telling us, and it is what every pope has told us since the beginning of World Youth Day.  Saint Paul and Pope Francis are talking about the most dramatic and radical kind of love (charity).  They're talking about a love (charity) that moves us out of our comfort zones, and into the streets, where there is hurting, suffering and misery.  This is where the "rubber meets the road" so to speak.  This is where charisma reaches its total fulfilment and becomes one with evangelism.  Let this be absolutely clear though.  Evangelism isn't just about drawing new members into the pews.  No!  It's about getting them there, and then transforming them.  We are all to be transformed into the image of Christ.  This can't happen with constant spasms of emotional highs.  We must be led into the deeper contemplation of solemn worship.  Only then can we fully experience communion with the Divine Son.  Only then can we be made into the image of Christ.  This is what fills us with inner joy.  It is not a joy that is always seen by expressions of excitement and ecstasy, but it is always present underneath our day to day lives, leading us and guiding us into greater works of mercy and ever deeper communion with God.


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Miles Christi said…
Here's a solid sermon on this as well (found on