He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, April 2, 2018

Fair Questions: Why charismatic worship?

In Catholic circles, charismatic worship styles are not always approved of, either by laypeople or clergy.  Of course, the Catholic Church as an institution has approved of it in some fashion, and indeed has even encouraged it as part of the life of the Church.

We can see this in the video below:

How did you react to the charismatic worship in the video?

There are at least a couple of obvious dangers when watching charismatic worship. It is easy, if your intuitions about how worship ought to be done are that this is a wrong way of worshiping, to write it off and assume bad faith or spiritual or emotional immaturity on the part of both participants and leaders.

It is also easy, if your intuitions about how worship ought to be done is that this is a great way of worshiping, to ignore the concerns of those who think it is not and go on about how wonderful and energizing it is without asking whether or not it's spiritually healthy.

As a former Pentecostal, I am aware of both the value and the risks of charismatic styles of worship. We ought to be able to loudly and with deep emotion express our longing for God. Charismatic worship is a way to do that., a way to fulfill this potent emotional need for freely expressing our joy to our Creator and Savior.

The big danger is that a reliance on this emotionally powerful form of worship can unbalance us spiritually. We can begin to rely on the swell of feelings as a way of buoying up our faith life, and that's a real problem, because then our faith begins to fail once the big swell of feelings is gone and the hard work of ordinary spiritual growth through suffering sets in.

Each type of worship is prone to become unhealthy for us in different ways.  Liturgical prayer, for example, can easily become a ritualistic practice disconnected from the heart, a purely mechanical process in which we simply repeat the words without integrating their spiritual significance into our lives through the heart, the intellect, the will, and ultimately the soul.

This must be vigilantly guarded against, of course.  And fortunately, the beauty of the ancient Christian liturgies tends to draw us out of purely rote and mechanical recitation anyway.  This helps to keep us from falling into the pitfall of empty worship.  Similarly, we need something to keep us from falling into the pit of mere emotional exuberance for its own sake, an emotional high that has the same basic function as a chemical high and is primarily selfish.

My advice to any Catholic community engaging in charismatic worship is to make sure that it doesn't begin to take the place of the solemn Mass or change the way we celebrate Mass (via ignoring or flouting the rubrics by adding things to the Mass), and that it remains a supplement to the spiritual life of the community rather than becoming its daily bread.

There's real value in charismatic worship.  As with all things of real value, the key is to keep it in right order with the other valuable parts of our spiritual lives.

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