Articles about Charismatic renewal

Life in the spirit

Pastoral Guidance on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

A statement from the Irish Bishops

Copyright © The Irish Episcopal Conference 1993

Twenty-one years ago a movement of the Holy Spirit called the Charismatic Renewal first sprang up in Ireland. From small beginnings, only twelve people, it has spread throughout the country and has produced many fruits of the holiness and service in the Church. The Irish Bishops wish to celebrate this twenty-first anniversary by giving some pastoral guidelines for, and encouragement to, this work of the Spirit of Jesus

The Holy Spirit

The New Testament presents a rich doctrine about the Holy Spirit. It inherited from the Old Testament the idea of the Spirit of God being a creative Spirit. At the beginning of the decisive stage of the history of salvation the Spirit descended on Mary (Lk 1:35). As the divine plan unfolded still more fully, the Spirit anointed Jesus the Son of God at his baptism (Mt 3:16 and parallels). The ministry of Jesus was under the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14.18; cf. 5:17). After being raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit (cf. Rom 1:4), Jesus bestowed the Spirit on his apostles for the forgiveness of sins (Jn 20:22). He further promised them that they would be clothed with the power of the Spirit after his ascension (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5.8).

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit came on the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2). The Church knows several ways in which the Holy Spirit words in the Christian Faithful. He is active in Baptism, sanctifying the water and bringing about rebirth of the one baptised (see Blessing of the Water). He is given at Confirmation ('Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit'). At Confirmation the bishop prays for an outpouring of the messianic gifts on those being confirmed. These are named as six or seven: wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge and reverence. The purpose of these gifts of the Holy Spirit is to strengthen those being confirmed to take up their role in the Church as public witnesses to, or ambassadors of Christ.

But there are other gifts of the Holy Spirit which are found in the earliest New Testament writings (1 Thess 5:19-21; 1 Cor 1:5-7). These are given for the upbuilding of the Church and for service (see 1Cor 12:7; 1 Pet 4:10-11). These further gifts are called 'charisms' and they were particularly abundant in the Corinthian Church. The Apostle Paul was very concerned that these gifts or charisms be used in an ordered way (see 1 Cor 14). There are several lists of charisms in the New Testament (1Cor 12:8-11, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8: Eph 4:11-12; 1Pet 4:10-11). These are not exhaustive; the gifts of the Spirit are without number.

Following on the teaching of St Paul (1Cor 12:7), the Second Vatican Council asserted that everyone has a special gift or gifts of the Holy Spirit (Vatican II: Church n.12; Priests n.9; Laity n.3). The Council stressed the value of these gifts for the renewal and upbuilding of the Church, and for its mission in the world. They are a grace-given ability and willingness for any kind of service that contributes to the renewal and upbuilding of the Church (F. A. Sullivan interpreting Vatican II, Church n.12).


One of the fundamental rights of the faithful in the Church is the formation of groups and associations (Cannon 215). But they also have an obligation to remain in communion with the Church (Canon 209). Fruitful associations and groups of clergy and laity arise from the charisms of the Holy Spirit. But there is always a necessity of discernment which ultimately belongs to the pastors of the Church (Vatican II, Church n.12, 27; Bishops n.17; Priests n.9; Laity n.3). From time to time movements arise which are not authentic in their aims or activities; human frailty may distort even genuine gifts on the Spirit. In such cases it would be the task of the bishops to warn the faithful against association with them. The present document can be seen as a positive exercise of the episcopal discernment with regard to Charismatic Renewal.

Charismatic Renewal

In addition to individual gifting of each member of the Church, the Holy Spirit has also inspired various movements, especially of renewal. One of these is called the Charismatic Renewal, which has spread through every diocese in the country. Only eight years after Charismatic Renewal began in the Catholic Church, Pope Paul VI called it 'a chance for the Church and for the world' (19 may 1975). Pope John Paul II re-echoed this observation in an address to leaders of the worldwide Charismatic Renewal (9 May 1981).

The Irish Bishops have seen many fruits of the Charismatic Renewal during the past twenty years. Thousands have found deeper commitment to Christ, a deep love for the Holy Scriptures, an openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, profound gifts of prayer including spontaneous prayer, greater understanding of the Eucharist and of the Church, a fruitful love of their brothers and sisters. Charismatic communities have grown up which support their members' commitment and are of service to the local Church.

To further this important gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the Irish Bishops wish at this point to give encouragement to the movement and to state some pastoral guidelines for its healthy life within the Church.

Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The central gift of the Holy Spirit in the Charismatic Renewal has been called by various names, 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit', 'Outpouring of the Holy Spirit', 'Renewal in the Holy Spirit'. It is perhaps wise not to use the term 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit', as people may confuse it with sacramental Baptism. The term, 'Out-pouring of the Holy Spirit' is perhaps the best one in use. Whatever name is given it must be clearly understood that the sacrament of Holy Baptism is perfect and complete when it is received, whether in infancy or in adult life. But one can always grow more deeply in the grace of Baptism.

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a conversion gift through which one receives a new and significant commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and openness to the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps only a minority of people experiences this conversion as something sudden; for most people it seems it is more gradual, occurring over a period of days, weeks or months. Even though it is a very important gift, it is still only one stage in a lifelong process of ongoing conversion. This conversion experience of an Outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not, of course, confined to the Charismatic Renewal; it is found in countless people who have never heard of the movement. As a gift of conversion, of accepting the Lordship of Jesus and being open to his Spirit, what in the Charismatic Renewal is called an "Outpouring of the Holy Spirit" is sometimes that brings people to a deeper Christian maturity. So even if people are not involved in the Charismatic Renewal, they should pray to receive continually the gift of ongoing commitment in the Christian life.

One of the great strengths of the Charismatic Renewal is the 'Life in the Spirit Seminars'. These prepare people to open their hearts to God, to turn from sin, to embrace the cross in daily life, to hope for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. These seminars have been for millions throughout the world a most graced means to bring people into the conversion experience of the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They have been used for conversion and evangelisation even outside the Charismatic Renewal.

Prayer Groups

The most common place where the Charismatic Renewal is found is the local prayer group. Meeting weekly, it is devoted to songs and prayers of praise, worship in tongues, reading of Scripture and personal testimony. It is in the prayer group that we also find manifest many gifts of the Holy Spirit especially prophecy, intercession, spontaneous prayer, and healing. Those in the prayer group experience the power of the Holy Spirit. Simple believers often show a profound grasp of the Scriptures and deep insight into the Christian mysteries: 'They adhere to the faith, penetrate it more deeply with right judgement, and apply it more fully in daily life' (Vatican II, Church n.i2). The leadership of the prayer group is usually lay. Priests have, however, a role to play in guiding the group, in helping its insertion into the Church. The lay leadership is one instance of the mission of the laity commended and sought by Vatican II and the recent Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II on the laity (Christifideles laici, 1988). It is a ministry arising out of Baptism and Confirmation, one to be fostered by pastors (ibid. 23).


In the Charismatic Renewal there are important gifts which nearly always accompany the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, namely, the Scriptures come alive with new power and meaning, people feel drawn to the prayer of praise and intercession, they grow deeper in their prayer life, they are committed in a new way to forgiveness and to caring for those around them. It has also been the experience of thousands of people here in Ireland that they have received some of the more remarkable gifts attested to in the New Testament, such as tongues, prophecy and healing.

All these gifts are to be welcomed and used for the building up of the community (1Cor 12:7). At times the pastor, both bishops and priests may feel the need to regulate the exercise of these gifts in accordance with the teaching of Vatican II above. They may give directions about the proper and orderly use of the gifts, taking care not to extinguish them (cf. 1 Thess 5:19; Vatican II, Church 12). But all must remember the teaching of St. Paul that love is a higher way than any gift (1 Cor 12:31-13:13). We need to keep in mind the words of Pope John-Paul II: 'For "renewal in the Spirit" will be authentic and will have a real fruitfulness in the Church, not so much according as it gives rise to extraordinary charisms, but according as it leads the greatest number of the faithful, as they travel their daily paths, to make a humble, patient and persevering effort to know the mystery of Christ better and better, and to bear witness to it' (Catechesi tradendae, 1979, n.72).


Healing is an essential part of the Good News of Jesus. But healing is not a simple reality because human beings are complex. We can need physical, psychological or spiritual healing. The great means of healing given to the Church are the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Marriage.

But it is also the experience of the Church from earliest times that God grants healing when the disciples of Jesus pray (Mk 16: 17-18). We should always pray with confidence for healing, for there is no situation into which Jesus does not wish to enter with his healing love. The prayer of faith that will help and raise up the sick person (cf. Jas 5:16) is to be encouraged. He may not always will to cure a particular sick person, but he always offers a fullness of life (see Jn 10:10). Those who are involved in healing should not suggest that all sickness will be cured if only there is faith enough and prayer. There should be no suggestion that prayer can be a substitute for seeking medical help and following medical advice. There is strict obligation on all of us to take due care of the gift of life which God has given us and to use the normal means to preserve or restore our health.

The Powers of Evil

The church knows that there are loose in the world powerful forces of evil. (See documents of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, 26 June 1975, and address of Pope Paul VI, 15 November 1972). Modern society generally ignores Satan and finds it unfashionable to speak of the devil.

In the Charismatic Renewal there is an awareness of the operation of the power of Satan. However, there needs to be a proper balance and orientation of our thoughts and actions. We know that Satan exists and is seeking our harm. But we do not so much concern ourselves and evil as direct our thoughts to the Lord who has triumphed over all powers of darkness. Excessive concentration on the demonic is unhealthy. The Church instead advises us to pray to the Lord for deliverance from evil (cf. The Our Father and the prayer which follows it at Mass, 'Deliver us…'), to invoke the protection of the Holy Angels, especially St Michael, to trust in the love and care of our heavenly Father.


One of the great gifts of the Charismatic Renewal to the Church is evangelisation. In the rapid spread of the movement in the 1970s there was a very powerful one-to-one evangelisation, as people touched by the Holy Spirit told their friends and acquaintances or even total strangers, 'We have found the Lord…cone and see,' (cf. Jn 1:41-45). The joyful freedom and spontaneity of the Charismatic Renewal has much appeal to youth. The Charismatic Renewal has fostered approaches to youth, especially through conferences, and in turn it has been enriched by the presence off young people. There is a need constantly to seek out new ways of evangelising youth.

Indeed in this decade of evangelisation the Church encourages the Charismatic Renewal to renew the grace of evangelisation that it has received, and to take up seriously the new evangelisation sought by the present Pope (address, Haiti, 9 March 1983; Christifideles laici 33-34). In the past the great means of evangelisation for the Charismatic Renewal was the bringing of people to the 'Life in the Spirit Seminars'. This well-tried approach must be revitalised, and new methods of evangelisation must be sought to serve the Church and to bring the world under the Lordship of Jesus. The Charismatic Renewal is aware that 'there can be on evangelisation without the Holy Spirit' and that 'even through the techniques of evangelisation be perfect, they cannot dispense with the secret action of the Holy Spirit' (Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi 75). To be faithful to the mind of the Church and the signs of our times, the Charismatic Renewal must have a special care for the poor, the alienated, and the marginalised in our society. It must be concerned with the call to justice which is one of the great challenges of our times.


In the first decade of its existence in Ireland there was a marked ecumenical thrust in the Charismatic Renewal. People found a new unity in the Spirit which crossed denominational lines. Now is surely a time for a deeper commitment to ecumenism on the part of the Charismatic Renewal. Catholic involved in the movement, especially in leadership roles, need to be open to, and welcoming of, other Christians, even as they are conscious of their own Catholic identity. Pope John-Paul stated: 'Let us be confident that if we surrender ourselves to the work of genuine renewal in the Spirit, this same Spirit will bring to light the strategy for ecumenism' (7 May 1981).

To the Heart of the Church

The Church in Ireland has seen many fruits of the Charismatic Renewal. Its songs have enriched its liturgy. Those most active in parish activities are very often people who are, or have been, involved in Charismatic Renewal. Following the guidance given by Pope John-Paul II, the Charismatic Renewal needs to be fully integrated into the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church. Its members should be conspicuous for their adherence to Catholic teaching. They should seek the guidance of pastors in fruitfully serving in the Church.


The Charismatic Renewal is and authentic gift of the Spirit to the Church. But its members need pastoral care. As they grow in the life of prayer, they should be guided by the age-old wisdom of the Church in all matters of the spiritual life. They have to be encouraged to recognise their charism and be shown how these can be used. It is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that priests have a special function with regard to the charisms in the Church: they are to help in discovering them, to foster and to discern them (Vatican II, Priests 9.). 'The priest has a unique and indispensable role to play in and for the Charismatic Renewal, as well as for the whole Christian community' (Pope John Paul II, May 1981). Priests should also see to it that those involved in the Charismatic Renewal are receiving sound teaching on Scriptures, on the faith and on the spiritual life, as well as about the charism of the Spirit. In pastoring prayer groups priest are to keep in mind the marks of catechesis according to Pope John Paul II: Instruction 'must be systematic, not improvised but programmed to reach a precise goal; it must deal with essentials, without any claim to tackle all disputed questions or to transform itself into theological research; it must nevertheless be sufficiently complete, not stopping short at the initial proclamation of the Christian mystery…but be an integral Christian initiation, open to all the other factors of Christian lift' (Cathechesi tradendae n.21). Though they may not give such teachings themselves, they can be in a position to advise about this whole area. We note with particular joy that very many priests have found a revitalisation of their own priesthood through their involvement in the Charismatic Renewal.

We take the opportunity of thanking those many priests, both diocesan and religious, who have served faithfully the Charismatic Renewal and helped it by their encouragement and guidance. It is important that where possible prayer groups should not be left with adequate pastoral care.


Following the lead given by Pope John Paul II we commend the Charismatic Renewal to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May her example teach us all how to live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ever more perfect discipleship of her Son, Jesus the Lord.


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