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The Catholic charismatic renewal.

In Acts 2:39 we read "It was to you and your children that the promise was made, and to all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls." What is this promise and who are its recipients?

The promise is that the Holy Spirit will be with the Church throughout all generations and in every part of the body of Christ. Pope John Paul II, at a gathering of all the ecclesial movements in Rome at Pentecost 1998 (the year of the Holy Spirit), reminded us all of the promise of the Holy Spirit. He stated:

"The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's people."

A significant part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1699-2051, is entitled, Man's vocation: Life in the Spirit. So we should not be surprised that throughout history God will stir up the Spirit within His body the Church; not that the Holy Spirit has ever been absent from the Church, but there are times in history when the love of God has grown cold or when the institutional elements may seem to predominate and God in his love and mercy will blow the wind of the Spirit to fan into flame a burning zeal for the Gospel.

So it was when Blessed John XXIII prayed at the opening of the Second Vatican Council for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost. His prayer, the prayer of the whole Church, was answered in an abundance that is truly immeasurable. Both elements, the institutional and the charismatic, were invigorated by the Holy Spirit.

Beginnings in United States

In 1967, two years after the closing of Vatican II, a group of young men and women in the U.S. were studying the Acts of the Apostles at a weekend retreat. They questioned: "Why, Lord, do we not see this same power of the Spirit in our day that was manifested on every page of Acts?" God honoured the hunger in their hearts and that weekend all experienced a release of the power of the Holy Spirit, manifesting extraordinary charisms such as tongues, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge, and many other signs and wonders began to follow as early prayer groups were formed and proclaimed the Good News. The promises of Mark 16 were being fulfilled in the lives of those who were professing their faith. The Catechism reminds us of these charisms (# 2003-2004).

What is significant about the Catholic charismatic renewal (CCR) is that there was no specific founder of the movement, as in the case of other ecclesial movements such as Cursillo, Focolare, Marriage Encounter, and Neo-Catechumenate. The Catholic charismatic renewal is a grace of the Holy Spirit meant for the whole Church. The charisms, be they ordinary or extraordinary, are not meant for a select few but are poured out by the Spirit upon the whole body for the building up of the Church. Not as marks of elitism, but spiritual gifts to be used humbly and faithfully for the good of all. It is as St. Peter says, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, Acts 1:16-19.

In a recent article, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap. (preacher to the Papal household) reminds us that in the time leading up to Vatican II the charisms were only expected to be manifested by the saints. Teaching, preaching, and prophecy were exclusively under the control of the Magisterium and there was no expectation that charisms would be manifested by all believers. Thankfully Vatican II in Lumen gentium reaffirmed that charisms are meant for the whole Church.

Rapid spread

This renewal spread rapidly throughout North America, the Caribbean and especially through South America. Within a few years, prayer groups were springing up on every continent. In Canada, from PEI to BC by the early 1970s, the CCR was making an impact upon the Church. Not always positively, as frequently, in the enthusiasm of this new expression of faith mistakes were made, and there was often a distinct lack of wisdom and maturity. There was much suspicion and, in many instances, a lack of guidance by the hierarchy who, in some instances, opposed this movement, questioning its authenticity.

Sadly there were Catholics who, experiencing this new freedom in the Spirit and lacking a depth of knowledge in the true faith, chose to leave the Church for other expressions of Christianity. There were attempts by prayer groups and communities to be ecumenical in nature, sometimes embracing a false ecumenism that eventually led to the collapse of many of these groups. Certainly this is not new in Church history, as we human beings have often erred in trying to respond to the Holy Spirit and attempting to go our own way without the direction of the Magisterium.

In spite of these setbacks the CCR was growing rapidly throughout the 1970s and 80s. The Life in the Spirit seminars, a seven-week course of teaching, discussion and scripture study, were touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of Catholics worldwide and many experienced a renewal of their Baptism and a new zeal for the Gospel. One of the fruits of this renewal was great joy in the Lord expressed in lively music and worship. Charisms were expected and many bore witness to a new power of the Spirit to overcome sin and temptation, and many miraculous healings, spiritual and physical, were reported.

Encouraged by the Vatican

Cardinal Suenens of Belgium, who had been active during Vatican II in ensuring that the Church continued to recognize and expect charisms, was instrumental in establishing an office for the CCR at the Vatican which is known today as ICCRS (International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services). This office has representatives in each continent and reports directly to the Pontifical Council for the laity. Over the years, prayer groups have formed service committees in each region, and many countries have national bodies that are accountable to the Conference of Bishops in their respective country.

Both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II met regularly with the CCR leadership and many of their statements on the CCR can be reviewed on the ICCRS website at On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the CCR in Canada, the CCCB issued a document that was both encouraging and complimentary as it reviewed the growth of the CCR in Canada.

To date there are in excess of 140 million Catholics worldwide who have experienced this renewal in the Spirit. The CCR is active in over 120 countries and is perhaps strongest in South America, especially Brazil, where it is not unusual to have prayer meetings with numbers in the thousands. Africa, which I have visited regularly, is also a continent of rapid growth in the Church, and the CCR has found fertile ground here as well. This is essential because in recent years the more fundamental sects of Protestantism have been flooding these two continents. Where the CCR is strong, there are fewer inroads made by the fundamental sects in the proselytization of Catholics.

In North America and Europe the CCR would appear to be declining, as prayer groups are smaller and those participating are mainly from an aging generation. However, the CCR was never seen as an end in itself. Rather, it was the means by which God would renew individual lives and then have them effectively incorporated into the active life of the Church. Untold thousands of Catholics who are not active in prayer groups but who have experienced this new life in the Spirit are serving in a multitude of ways.

The CCR has seen the development of other expressions of renewal stemming from it, such as Covenant communities of priests, religious and laity. Schools of evangelization, missionary organizations, Bible schools, etc., have grown from the CCR and are effectively serving the needs of the Church.

We are always in need of renewal and thankfully Christ Jesus will always be with us to challenge us and to help us to be open to the Spirit, who is the promise for each generation.

Peter Thompson has been active in the CCR in the diocese of Calgary since 1974. Currently, he is ICCRS representative to Canada and the Caribbean, and country co-ordinator to Kenya for Renewal ministries.
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Title Annotation:Bible teachings
Author:Thompson, Peter
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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