Will Catholic Charismatics Embrace the Latin Mass?

I have recently seen a handful of stories about clergy and religious with a strong background in the charismatic movement coming to embrace the Tridentine Mass without abandoning their charismatic orientation. This includes an article published by Catholic Herald about the charismatic Franciscans of the Holy Spirit learning the old liturgy and a personal account by a charismatic priest which was posted by Father Zuhlsdorf. I do not know if this is a common trend since both publicized examples and my own personal experience are necessarily anecdotal. But I would say that if it is not a trend it has the potential to become one; the reasons which lead people to embrace the charismatic movement can easily lead them to eventually embrace the Tridentine Mass.

Such a suggestion may sound strange to many. As someone who began to attend the Tridentine Mass twenty years ago and who has never been a charismatic it once seemed strange to me. But it becomes less surprising, and perhaps almost predictable, when we stop thinking about the differences between charismatic practice and the ritual formality of the Tridentine liturgy and start thinking about what motivates people to embrace both. When we look at the topic at this level what becomes obvious is that many charismatics—perhaps not the majority but probably a high proportion of them—are not motivated by a desire for theocentric worship rather than by hostility to ritual formality.

In these reflections I do not mean to mount an unqualified defense of the charismatic movement, a movement towards which I am more inclined to caution rather than enthusiasm and whose unique practices tend to be either immature or easily open to abuse. My point is to stress that charismatics, especially those of the younger generation, are commonly led to the movement by, or led by the movement to, a real love for God and his Church and a real desire to be faithful Catholics, which make the evolution towards more formally ritualistic worship and more mature forms of spirituality a natural development rather than an about-face.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

When the charismatic movement first entered into ecclesial life in the years after the Second Vatican Council, it was largely grounded in a desire to turn to a more spontaneous, informal, and emotionally effusive approach to prayer, if not to positively abandon more disciplined ones. Its better wing was devoted to becoming as low church as possible within the limits of the Catholic faith. Others treated the movement as the Catholic component of a sort of ecumenical “mere Pentecostalism” which treated charismatic spirituality as more central to Christianity than Catholic doctrine, rituals, and membership in the Catholic Church. Its popularity was increased by the attitude of those Catholics who were willing to support almost anything on the sole condition that it had not existed prior to 1960.

Times quickly changed. Soon the major divide was not between such age-old traditions as Latin and chant and a rush towards novelty but between theocentric religion and left-wing activism with an occasional prayer thrown in. With traditionally ritualistic vernacular liturgies hard to find and Latin liturgies a true rarity, many Catholics chose the influence of Billy Graham over that of Karl Marx. By the 1980s, faithful clergy and religious who had been skeptical about the charismatic movement came to cautiously support it as pastorally effective in leading people to the basics of Catholic belief and practice. High-profile conversions by former evangelical Protestants moved the charismatic movement further in the right direction. Fully convinced of the truth of Catholic doctrine, of the centrality of the sacrifice of the Mass, of the value of adoration and the rosary, and of the importance of membership in the church Christ had founded, yet gravitating towards those whose spiritual approach was similar to that which they themselves had always known, they influenced the charismatic movement to see itself as a wing of Catholic orthodoxy rather than a wing of revolution against the “pre-Vatican II Church.”

Such was the situation when Pope Benedict issued Summorum Pontificum. At the time of the motu proprio‘s release I was studying for a Master’s degree in philosophy at Franciscan University after undergraduate studies elsewhere. Having by then attended the Tridentine Mass for the better part of a decade and holding a more senior place among the student body, I soon was at the center of efforts to bring that form of Mass to the university chapel. To my surprise, most of my leading collaborators had a charismatic background and were enthusiastic to learn more about this newly liberated ancient form of worshiping God. One was National Catholic Register‘s Susana Spencer. Another went on to graduate studies at Chicago’s Liturgical Institute and then to work for Magnificat. A third is now a Benedictine monk in a community which uses the old liturgy exclusively. Through them I learned that Ralph Martin, one of the charismatic movement’s founders, was entirely receptive to those who wished to embrace the old liturgy. Among the friars and the professors at the university, opposition to the old liturgy was largely associated with the generation that had become charismatic after Vatican II. Those whose formative years were spent under the influence of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were much more likely to be favorable.

Determining how much of a broad trend such examples represent is at best difficult. And there is no denying the existence of an intra-charismatic dispute between those friendly to the old liturgy and ritual formality and those who idealize effusive spontaneity. But the fact that the former attitude has a strong foothold among leading figures and institutes of the charismatic movement, and a stronger one among the younger generation than among the older one, seems to indicate that support for the old liturgy and ritual formality is likely to at least slowly spread within the charismatic movement as time goes on.

Faithful Catholics have long had disagreements about many points of theology and the spiritual life prior to those points being authoritatively settled by the Church. It is common, probably even typical, for Catholics who firmly believe in the core teachings of the faith and who are devoted to orthodoxy to unintentionally fall into material error on more advanced and technical points of theology. I have no desire to call for a halt to legitimate disagreement with, or to legitimate critiques of, the charismatic movement. What I do want to stress is the need to keep such disagreements and such critiques charitable, and to keep in mind the distinction between what is best and what is obligatory. The more our focus is on building upon the charismatic movement’s theocentric religion, the more we can focus on the ways in which ritual formality is a better way to do the good things that charismatics are already doing; the more we treat charismatics as fellow faithful Catholics, the better able we will be to further the restoration of liturgical formality and to defend orthodoxy in a time of crisis.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)


  • James Baresel

    James Baresel is a freelance writer. Publications for which he has written include Tudor Life, Catholic World Report, American History, Fine Art Connoisseur, Military History, Catholic Herald, Claremont Review of Books, Adoremus Bulletin, New Eastern Europe and America’s Civil War.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...