Charismatic Prayer



You have head about Liturgical prayer, centring prayer, prayer in history and now charismatic prayer. First of all we must remind ourselves that prayer is simple – it is the raising of the heart to unite ourselves to Him. The means to this are legion – but the deeper ones of liturgy, contemplation and lectio are well covered. Charismatic prayer is the new boy on the block – having been hidden in the Church until our own time. But it’s an experience of prayer which was well known to St. Paul.

Charismatic prayer like other forms of prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is one way of uniting ourselves for a shorter or longer period, in a deep or shallow way with God.

Charismatic prayer has the some or all of the following external characteristics

Music – usually simple tunes – sung in meditative style or a lively style – simple texts which the singer fills with his own meaning

Bodily movement – the whole body is involved – arms may be raised, waved, hands are moved and clapped. Body may sway to the rhythm.

Prayer in tongues – either quietly or aloud

Singing in tongues – also known as Jubilation. – Singing words and music in harmony but not synchronised – i.e. different words and sounds which harmonise.

Praise of God which can be quiet or loud – shouted or muttered.

Quiet intense moments  Prophetic words of encouragement.

It seems to have order but no controller.

All prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit – but in charismatic prayer there is more freedom to give expression to the inner workings of the Holy Spirit. In movement and music, and voice. What Father doesn’t speak to his children ? So in a prayer meeting the members are open and waiting for the movement of the Spirit in their minds and hearts and imaginations – such gifts of word or song or picture are for sharing. Such gifts are couched in the language and idiom of the person who receives the gift and harmony, charity, simplicity and a sense of presence are usually characteristics.

Sometimes when I have found the contributions not to my taste – I have to remind myself that the fault is mine not the person praying – and that if I dislike what is being said, I must start by examining myself rather than criticising the other. I regard it as my job to accommodate myself to them not them to me. I must have a wide angle of acceptance.

People are often drawn to charismatic prayer because they do not feel anything happening in their ordinary prayer life – they feel nothing – that they are apart from God. This is not necessarily the dark night of the soul, its just that they have never taken their spiritual and prayer life seriously enough. Nothing is happening because nothing ever seems to have happened. In this prayer they find a new presence of God, a new delight I the spiritual journey and often healing of their attitudes.

In Charismatic prayer there is a lively openness to the Holy Spirit which lifts the heart and provides a sense of God’s presence. If a person has never known this, or has not had much experience of this they are very drawn to this kind of prayer.

At first experience of charismatic prayer one is either drawn in or feel pushed out – one is very rarely neutral. If one feels pushed out – its not my thing – I dislike exuberant religion – I am not a happy clappy person – it is rather like being plunged without preparation into a Turkish bath for the first time. It is too hot.

It is sometimes thought to be a young persons spirituality to be immature, superficial but this is usually said of those who have never felt at home in a charismatic prayer meeting – but it is better to say – young in heart – or even childlike.

I have found that in the spiritual life there is only Love of God which unites us to Him and to approach him I must constantly be leaving my comfort zones – charismatic prayer is one of the best ways I have discovered for doing this. I could describe it as kind of tonic and the frequency with which one imbibes depends on the quality of ones spiritual life and the place of the journey. I know of no one who is really open to the Spirit who cannot benefit from the experience – and certainly I distrust a person’s attitude and condition if they refuse to take part in one.

Freedom is a gift which Jesus gave his followers – but often the prayer styles of the ordinary Catholics is very restrained. The style does not express the vigour of the Spirit, and does not allow the spirit to inspire others by his work in some. Freedom of style is not something everyone feels they need -.

However often Christians can be trapped in their own comfort zones and this prevents them from being touched and moved on by the Holy Spirit.

The historical approach to worship has always involved dance, movement, robust singing – note the Psalms – shouting, clanging cymbals, trumpets, etc. or African Masses.

In Europe there was a climate of control – from the congregation in the nave, the choir and the priests in the sanctuary – the rubrics of the Mass – this is also a feature of the climate – cold – and the national character – gloomy, introverted suitable to long winters (it is worse in Sweden 1). Puritanism has also had an influence in reducing exuberance in worship to solemnity and dullness.

Charismatic prayer make much more possible the use of the special charismatic gifts which St. Paul mentions – especially tongues, prophecy, healing, discernment of spirit.

The gifts are to encourage and build up the Church – it is noticeable that the Pentecostal communities which emphasise the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the only ones in the Western Church which are growing.

The Churches today in Western Europe are living in the aftermath not only of the reformation, but also of the secularisation of the culture – they are struggling to combat this lack of spirituality – one of the ways in which God is working is to revive the charisms in the Churches.

The entry is through the grace which we call being baptised in the Holy Spirit. One cane be in a charismatic prayer group but not part of it. Usually someone will pray over you and sooner or later you will be aware that you are different. From then on it is a delight to be involved in a prayer meeting with tongues and prophecy. And you want to tell other people about it. This experience is grace by the way which was thought to be intrinsic to the experience of baptism in the early Church. A person who was baptised would be given the gifts of the Holy Spirit – would experience their own Pentecost. This grace moves us into the experience which we call charismatic prayer.

My own experience happened at a Day of Renewal at Harrogate in 1973 – at the end of the day I felt very elated when I return back to the monastery. But it was only some weeks later that I realised that something had happened and that I had indeed changed. I would say that this was the most profound experience in my spiritual life.

When filled with the Spirit as a result of the gift of baptism in the spirit – there is a new depth to everything we do. And especially does it affect our prayer.

Abbot Parry wrote: St. Paul said be always joyful; pray continually; give thanks whatever happens; for this is what God in Christ wills for you.

Our prayer should grow rich. Let it contain and begin with praise then thanksgiving. Hallowed, sanctified blessed and praise be thy name. And this when the Spirit is at work in us arises as a need, something we must do, without which life would be aimless and disorientated. We become now aware that God is to be praised and thanked for the first drawing us out of nothingness to have existence, which existence is the basis of happiness. We become aware that he calls us again through the waters of baptism, and again through the other sacraments, that he hold us in his hand until he take us to himself in eternal joy. We become are aware of his workings in others, whom he has created and loves and draws to himself; we become concerned a the resistance to this plan, we become aware that our part is to pray for their realisation, and know that this realisation is somehow incorporated in the fulfilment of the divine plan. We find ourselves praying that his will be done, knowing that this really is the ultimate in goodness, and happiness, though we do not understand how; we do not understand how but joy come to the rescue, indicating that such always is the nature of God’s loving plans for us and for all. Thus through this new outpouring of the spirit we progress more rapidly in the dimension in which our prayer leads us to be praising God always, thanking him with joy always for his will in Christ for us. It is made possible for us to do what of our own nature we could not have done however hard we tried. And since this is a dimension of happiness, we come to pray always, as we can, how we can, conscious that these are the riches which are in Christ Jesus

1. Prayer is an action of the heart – it is a union of the heart with God by love. – everything else is a preparation for this activity – where it is reading, thinking, singing, dancing. It only has a meaning if it is done in love – and a reaching out to God in love.
2. Charismatic prayer works because it uses more of the whole person – body, mind, spirit
3. Charismatic prayer works because the spirit is more consciously active – and there is more freedom. – it is more involving, reaches more parts of the human person, and therefore its effects tend to be more lasting. The person goes on singing.

I remember when I used to wake up with a song on my head – alleluia on my lips.
4. In charismatic prayer there is often renewal of faith, healing, even deliverance from evil, there are words from God which arise in people’s minds and are shared. There are moments of great peace, and harmony – there is the expression of a lively and deep faith. There is the expectation that people’s lives will be touched, prayers answered and lives changed.
5. If contemplation is the aim of all prayer – the mindless love of God in the heart – the yearning to unite my self with him – then for many people the silence, the pause the resting in the Lord which follows the songs etc is an approach to contemplation.

Certainly my experience of contemplation really began with my contact with charismatic renewal.
6. Connections – since prayer is a common theme we are not surprised to find many links between conventional prayer forms and charismatic ones.

Rosary and praying in tongues – both are the use of the voice to say words whose meaning is not significant to the workings of the mind.

Jubilatio – singing in tongues has correspondence to the plainchant alleluias which go on and on – using a single syllable.

Bodily actions – are similar to the actions of the priest at Mass – to the prostrations in the liturgy, to the bowing in reverence.

It is only that these activities are not planned – they are ex tempore – they are improvised – they are moved by an internal spirit of praise. – They express freedom and not control.


There is today a problem in the prayer experience eof Christians – and this means that spreading the gospel is weakened. Charismatic prayer has an emphasis on spiritual experience which is lacking in conventional Christian prayer. One might say that this experience is stage one in the stages of prayer. But so few Christians have experienced stage 1 that they cannot use it to spread the gospel of Jesus and show by an experience of his presence that he is really here with us.

One might say that the musicians, the literary experts, the liturgical planners so dominate the ordinary Catholic liturgy, that freedom spontaneity and the power of the holy spirit often seems to be lacking in the ordinary parish. There does not seem to be life, never mind new life

But in a charismatic prayer meeting there is an abundance of life, and lives are touched, people are healed – there is joy and witness to what God has done, is doing, and will do. No wonder the Pope has encouraged more and more people to be involved.