Traditional or Charismatic Catholic?

Traditional or Charismatic prayer?The Catholic Church has a wealth of wisdom and knowledge when it comes to prayer and the spiritual life. She possesses the greatest tradition of prayer in the history of the world and a track record that has produced countless saints, mystics, and everyday prayer warriors.  Yet, many people continue to be unaware of this spiritual gold mine.

Unfortunately, there are always people within the Church who believe that their method of worship is correct or superior.  On the one hand, there may be those who consider traditional prayer as the only acceptable form.  On the other hand, there are those who may posit that a charismatic style of prayer and worship is superior.  There are extremists who assert that if the Mass is not in Latin, then it is not a valid Mass. (Apparently, they know more than the pope and the Holy Spirit who guides the Church).  Others assert that those who do not speak in tongues or utilize the charismatic gifts, are not spiritual or Holy Spirit filled.

Clearly, these extremes, these polarizations are untrue, and the false judgments need to end.  It is important not to condemn what the Church herself does not condemn.  This is the sort of immature spirituality that must be left behind.  Unity and understanding must be cultivated instead.  Just because you personally don’t not like the Latin Mass (or Praise and Worship music), does not mean that they are wrong or false.  The truth is that neither traditional prayer, nor charismatic prayer, is wrong.  Both are Catholic!  Both are authentic expressions of worship, and both are approved by the Church.  Both have an ancient tradition.  Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and both are needed.  Moreover, both sides could learn something from the other, even if they still prefer their own style.

God taught me this lesson many years ago.  Growing up in a traditional household, I was not exposed to anything charismatic until college.  It had never even crossed my mind that such a form of worship existed.  Then, I attended Franciscan University of Steubenville where a portion of the student population were traditional, a portion of them were vibrantly charismatic, and a portion considered themselves to be both (or to rid themselves of labels entirely).

I’ll be honest, upon first encountering the charismatic style of worship, I thought was akin to the “Twilight Zone.”  In my then ultra-humble opinion, it was all just plain odd –disrespectful, unhelpful, and probably fake.  I often stared at these people judgmentally trying my hardest to make them feel uncomfortable.  Moreover, why were they always so happy and joy filled anyway?  It was annoying!  Honestly, I did not understand this style of worship.  However, it would not be too long until God changed my mind.

It all started by going to the more charismatic evening Mass.  (The traditional Mass was too early in the morning for me).  At the beginning, I failed to understand this style of worship.  Before God changed my views, I griped about how everyone was fake or just trying to put on a show.  Apparently, I had an uncanny gift to read each and every person’s heart.  These were typically ignorant thoughts from someone who did not understand something outside his own narrow worldview.  Eventually, I would realize that the celebration of this Mass was very reverent.  The people loved God with all their hearts and gave everything they had to Him.

It all came to a head when the monthly campus-wide prayer meeting came around.  It was called a “Festival of Praise” (FOP), and it was overtly particularly charismatic in nature.  It consisted of singing to God and praising Him for 2½ hours.  Though I rejected numerous invitations to go, God spoke to my heart and asked me to give it a chance.  Reluctantly, I went, pouting like a spoiled child.  I made sure to arrive complete with a sour face and depressed demeanor.

A key lesson God has taught me again and again in the spiritual life is that when I am open, (truly open and not merely open when I’m comfortable), my life will be changed.  Astonishingly, the FOPs visibly filled with the Holy Spirit, and they bore good fruit.  They were incredibly prayerful, reverent, vibrant, and powerful, and many times life changing.  To my surprise, most of my major spiritual breakthroughs and deep healings occurred at these FOPs.

Traditional or Charismatic prayer?

I should note too that some rather large healings and deep spiritual encounters with God also took place at Eucharistic Healing Masses, Eucharistic FOPS, and at Sunday Masses, all of which were extraordinarily powerful experiences.  Once I learned to truly open myself up to the Holy Spirit (something many Catholics have an extremely difficult time doing), then God could work in ways I didn’t consider possible.  Even though charismatic prayer and worship can have the tendency to rely too heavily on feelings, when done properly, it has an amazing ability to transform a person and open them wholly to God.

To make a long story short, God helped me to understand the different styles of worship.  He showed me that just because I was uncomfortable with one or another, it didn’t make them incorrect.  I learned that some people worship God with outstretched arms, and others on their face.  But, both praised His Majesty with all their being. When I allowed the Holy Spirit to work the way He wanted, and not the way I told Him He must, that is when God blew the doors off my heart and brought me to places I didn’t know possible.  I would never be the same.

It has been 15 years since those days, and I still have a fire burning in my heart for the Lord Jesus.  Thanks be to God!  God taught me very important lessons about not putting the Him in a box and about opening myself up to His Spirit in different ways.  So, am I charismatic or traditional?  The answer is, I’m Catholic!  A Catholic who is both.  We need to stop the labels.  Every Catholic should be open to both!

Sometimes I pray lifting my hands high in the air to praise the God of the universe with all my being.  At other times, I sit or prostrate myself in front of His Majesty saying little or nothing – just aware of His awesome presence in and around me.  Sometimes I praise God through music and audible or inaudible praise.  At other times, my prayer is just to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).  Normally, I attend a regular Mass at my home parish, but I used to attend a monthly traditional Latin Mass too. [1]*  My wife and I do Praise and Worship every Friday night with our Bible Study group and pray for an outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit, but we also pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  My wife sang for a Latin chant choir, and the priest who witnessed our wedding perpetually celebrates the Latin Mass.

Needless to say, I have adequate exposure to many styles and forms of worship within our wonderful Church.  I see and understand the power and beauty of it all. [2]*  In all of these cases, I seek to cultivate a deeper contemplative life and a deeper relationship with Love Himself.

Charismatic Protestant are only able to join certain denominations.  More traditional Protestants must find other denominations. Some Protestants are neither and must find still other denominations.  Unlike Protestantism, the Catholic Church is not an either/or Church.  It’s a both/and Church.  Thank God!  The great thing about the Catholic Church is that there are many different ways to pray and serve God.  There are Franciscans and Carthusians, Dominicans and Trapists, Catholics who prefer more traditional prayers and Catholics who pray more expressively.  None of these are wrong or false, just different!

Moreover, a person should not be judged as wrong or inferior because they pray differently than you do.  That is shallow.  Even if there are some abuses in the Church, in some areas more than others, gossiping, complaining, judging, labeling, and compartmentalizing are not helpful.  This is a clear sign of spiritual immaturity.  The Lord Jesus calls us to compassion, to love, and to humble evangelization.

Over the years, I have learned the majesty and mystery of the traditional Mass and traditional forms of prayer, which can lead you to contemplation and a deep spiritual life.  I have also witnessed the power, joy, and self-donation of Praise and Worship, which when done correctly, can also lead to contemplation and a deep, loving relationship with God.

Traditional or Charismatic prayer?

WE MUST BE OPEN TO THE HOLY SPIRIT!

Some of the super traditional students at my old college ended up becoming charismatic by the end of their tenure, or at least very open to it, and some of the charismatic students become traditional in their worship and practice, or at least open to practicing both.  Most people switch sides, or more accurately, opened themselves up to both.  They rightly open themselves to how the Holy Spirit desires them to pray.  They do not fight Him, close their hearts to Him, or say things like, “Oh, that’s just not me, I could never pray that way.”

While the students at my alma mater might prefer to focus more on one or the other (traditional or charismatic), both are Catholic and students realize that.  Most see the beauty in the other, and they possess a healthy respect for it, and that is how it should be!  People who limit the Holy Spirit stunt themselves and remain stunted spiritually, even if they are too blind to see it.  Those who refuse to even be open to other forms of prayer are spiritually stunted, and if we close ourselves off, then we are not fully open to the Holy Spirit and what He wants to do in our lives! May the Holy Spirit guide us and His Church.

FOOTNOTES: 

*[1] When I first attended a Latin Mass, it was almost as difficult for me as attending charismatic prayer services.  I couldn’t understand the Latin, couldn’t follow along (not even with the booklet), “couldn’t participate,” and I had an extremely difficult time not being ADD.  Anger and frustrating occurred at every Mass.  However, over time, I grew to understand it more.  I continued to persevere and develop a respect for it.  Over time, even though it was occasionally frustrating, and even though it was not my personal preference for weekly Mass, I have grown to possess a profound respect for the Latin Mass. I firmly believe that everyone needs to.  I believe every Church should offer it.  I have come to see the beauty, power, mystery, and reverence with which it is celebrated, and its effectiveness to draw a person into the presence of God.  Even though it is not my preferred style of worship, I respect it deeply, and God always blesses me abundantly.  He makes His presence known to me.  Why?  Because even though chant music isn’t really my style, it is perfectly designed to cultivate the mind and heart toward God.  The music, the silence, and the way the Mass is celebrated allows a person to worship and contemplate God in a way not found anywhere else.  Whether someone likes it or not, it should be esteemed in the highest.

*[2] As a side note, so as not to lead people into believing that everything is acceptable as long as you are well meaning; I have seen many abuses in the Mass and within the Church – priests doing whatever they feel like.  Abuse is never acceptable.  We must always follow and listen to Holy Mother Church and avoid thinking we know more than She does.  And, that goes for people on both sides.  Many times, charismatics may label traditional Catholicism as “unloving, rigid legalism with no spirit,” and traditional Catholics may label charismatic Catholics as “Mass abusers” with an attitude of “whatever-we-want-to-do-is-OK.”  When stating that I see the power and beauty of both sides, this presumes that everything is done correctly. I have had to endure rock teen Masses and shockingly painful Broadway style Masses, and yet, I have seen Praise and Worship done correctly, done so reverently, that it’s worthy of a King.



[1] Ps. 46:10

[2] When I first attended a Latin Mass, it was almost as difficult for me as attending charismatic prayer services.  I couldn’t understand the Latin, couldn’t follow along (not even with the booklet), “couldn’t participate,” and I had an extremely difficult time not being ADD.  Anger and frustrating occurred at every Mass.  However, over time, I grew to understand it more.  I continued to persevere and develop a respect for it.  Over time, even though it was occasionally frustrating, and even though it was not my personal preference for weekly Mass, I have grown to possess a profound respect for the Latin Mass. I firmly believe that everyone needs to.  I believe every Church should offer it.  I have come to see the beauty, power, mystery, and reverence with which it is celebrated, and its effectiveness to draw a person into the presence of God.  Even though it is not my preferred style of worship, I respect it deeply, and God always blesses me abundantly.  He makes His presence known to me.  Why?  Because even though chant music isn’t really my style, it is perfectly designed to cultivate the mind and heart toward God.  The music, the silence, and the way the Mass is celebrated allows a person to worship and contemplate God in a way not found anywhere else.  Whether someone likes it or not, it should be esteemed in the highest.

[3] As a side note, so as not to lead people into believing that everything is acceptable as long as you are well meaning; I have seen many abuses in the Mass and within the Church – priests doing whatever they feel like.  Abuse is never acceptable.  We must always follow and listen to Holy Mother Church and avoid thinking we know more than She does.  And, that goes for people on both sides.  Many times, charismatics may label traditional Catholicism as “unloving, rigid legalism with no spirit,” and traditional Catholics may label charismatic Catholics as “Mass abusers” with an attitude of “whatever-we-want-to-do-is-OK.”  When stating that I see the power and beauty of both sides, this presumes that everything is done correctly. I have had to endure rock teen Masses and shockingly painful Broadway style Masses, and yet, I have seen Praise and Worship done correctly, done so reverently, that it’s worthy of a King.

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About Bryan Mercier

Bryan Mercier is a thirty-eight year old speaker and retreat leader. He has spoken to adults and teens for the last fifteen years on a wide variety of topics; ranging from catechetics and faith formation, to morality, spirituality, and apologetics. He has spoken at youth and adult retreats, workshops, seminars, Catholic schools, parish missions, local, regional and national conferences. He has spoken in front of crowds ranging from thirty to three-thousand and has been aired on both TV and radio in different states. Bryan also runs the R.O.C.K. (Revival Of Catholic Kids) Ministry Team that puts on all-day retreats for teens. He is going for his Masters in theology and working on writing numerous books and tracts.
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4 Responses to Traditional or Charismatic Catholic?

  1. Lauren Lazzari says:

    Hi Bryan. Thanks for this post. Something I have also experienced in college is being open to different types of worship preferences. I’m studying sacred music at a secular school. My department is made up of a bunch of Catholics, but we don’t really discuss performance practice of chant or how to do Praise and worship correctly. do you or your wife know of any conferences, resources or things to achieve a knowledge of what is right in forms of avoiding abuse? thanks for your time!
    Also, wonderful talk at Camp Veritas a few week ago. my group of girls was on fire!
    God bless.
    Lauren

  2. Hunter Moon says:

    The Novus Ordo when practiced properly actually looks very similar to the Latin Mass but even then it’s still watered down compared to the Latin Mass. Hence why Cardinal Ottaviani and Cardinal Bacciexprssed concern over how watered down the Novus Ordo was compared to the Latin Mass in a letter to Blessed Paul VI aka the Ottaviani Intervention. Archbishop Bugnini who was the principle author in formulating to Novus Ordo Missae said himself that we must remove prayers and things that could possibly offend Protestants. Hence why the Missae is watered down even when practiced following the guidelines. The Novus Ordo is a valid Mass and is licit meaning anyone can faithfully attend it but theologically speaking. It isn’t as strong as the Latin Mass

  3. Sarah Bailey says:

    I just wanted to thank you for your post. It has given me much peace. I think the prevailing attitude is that staying close to little t norms is better and more authentically Catholic. As you beautifully say; however, we should be open to all authentic expressions of the Catholic faith. Change is scary, but sometimes necessary. I am curious how you would respond to those, who say that praise and worship music does not correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action since the liturgy is a somber occasion. I’ve inspired to grow in my appreciation of the latin mass.

  4. Thank you Sarah, and I am glad that you have found this helpful! :) To answer you last question, Somber does not mean sad… not in the intended meaning anyway, though our modern English has made it seem mean that. While the Mass is more serious, that doesn’t mean sad, depressed, gloomy. The mass is a celebration of everything Christ did for us and it is the highest form of worship. Music is supposed to be beautiful and lift us up to praise God, to create an atmosphere that helps us worship His Majesty and to lift our hearts and give our lives to Him. The majority of the music on Sundays doesn’t do that no matter how “somber” they try to make it. While I haven’t often seen P&W done well in Mass, I have seen it done in such a way that it is beautiful, Spirit-filled, and lifts you up into praise of God which is the purpose of music. As a side note, I am not trying to compare P&W and Latin Chant on the same level necessarily, but only trying to rid the the Church of all the false stereotyping, toxic finger pointing, and false and haughty attitudes that aren’t from Christ. Music is supposed to beautiful and lift our souls to God. This takes many forms. Praise and Worship can be one of them.

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