Charismatic movement unites faithful through personal encounters with Holy Spirit


PROVIDENCE — It’s a sunny, warm afternoon on Pentecost Sunday. During the entrance procession, praise and worship music is played, and once the celebrant enters the sanctuary, he, the deacon, and the altar servers raise their arms and wave them back and forth. Many in the congregation do similarly: some move a lot, others merely hold up their arms as they intently look towards heaven, and others close their eyes in highly focused prayer. This Mass comes on the heels of an all-night prayer service taking place in preparation for the Solemnity of Pentecost.
The deacon delivers an impassioned homily on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the faithful. “No Spirit, no Church,” he says. His homily is interspersed with shouts of “Amen” from the pews. The sermon ends with the deacon loudly proclaiming, “¡Viva Espíritu Santo!” — “Long Live the Holy Spirit!”, with the parishioners shouting the same in response. The closing procession is marked by lively music.
Such a picture is not an uncommon part of life at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Providence. In fact, it is a common feature of worship in this parish. St. Charles is associated with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR).
In 1975, after a group of 10,000 Charismatic Catholics attended a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope St. Paul VI initiated a similar investigation on a larger scale, something continued under Pope St. John Paul II, under whose guidance the movement became widespread.
St. Charles Parish became associated with the CCR relatively early on. In 1978, Father John Randall, a priest for the Diocese of Providence affiliated with the Charismatic Renewal, was stationed at the parish. He frequently held Bible studies and prayer meetings inspired by the Charismatic movement. As the number of people associated with the movement began to grow, Father Randall instituted the Life in the Spirit Seminar, which was held regularly at the parish.
Father Jaime García, the pastor of the parish, attributes the growth of the movement within the parish to a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit working in a more personal relationship has helped many people grow in our rich Catholic faith,” Father García said, noting how this manifests itself particularly in an increased love for the Eucharist and reading Scripture, the development of a more robust prayer life, and an increase in the collective spiritual state of the community.
It was through the ministry of many Charismatic institutions and organizations at the parish that “people are able to develop and come to a personal relationship with Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit,” Father García stated.
Dr. Ian Levy, a professor of theology at Providence College, notes that the gift of tongues as described by St. Paul is “to be distinguished from the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2.” When Paul speaks of the gift of tongues, he is describing what Levy calls “ecstatic speech that some scholars define as pre-conceptual” — that is, experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in such an intense manner that it resulted in certain spontaneous utterances of praise that are not merely attempts to express certain ideas within the confines of human language. On the other hand, what the Apostles experienced at the first Pentecost was the miraculous ability “to speak and be understood in a variety of languages spoken across areas of the known world at that time.”
Dr. Daria Spezzano, also of the Providence College theology department, notes that the “charismatic gifts [are traditionally called] ‘gratuitous graces’; unlike sanctifying grace they are not for the primary purpose of making the recipient holy but rather for building up the Church.”
This is something reflected in the words of Pope Francis in a speech delivered on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Charismatic Revival: the Holy Spirit helps the Church to “build bonds of fraternal friendship that encourage us on our journey towards unity, unity for mission.”
“The coming of the Holy Spirit changes fearful men, enclosed behind shut doors, into courageous witnesses of Jesus,” Pope Francis continued, going on to say that “Exultation, happiness, joy… is the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit!”