Charismatic Prayer Meetings
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
While Luke's Gospel culminates with the Pentecostal Promise, "I will send you what my Father promised, - so wait to be empowered by him, and then you shall be my witnesses" (Lk 24:49); the Acts of the Apostles commences, after the nine days of waiting and praying, with the climax of the once and for all Pentecost Event, "That very day three thousand accepted the message of Peter. They repented, were baptized and received the Holy Spirit." But it did not end there! It continued with the everyday ongoing Pentecostal Experience, "They remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, the common life of sharing, the breaking of bread and the prayers … Each day they met together in the Temple area, but met in their houses for the breaking of the bread, sharing their food gladly and generously, and praising God … and so were looked up to by everyone … and that is why everyday the Lord added to their number." (Acts 2:38, 39,42,46,47).
This was the Scripture passage that came to my mind, as I witnessed it become a reality in many ways already at the very first charismatic prayer meeting that I attended. But what struck me ever more forcefully, was the similarity of the structure of the meeting, - praise and worship, sharing the word, intercession and workshop, - with the format of the morning (Lauds) and evening (Vespers) prayer of the Breviary or Everyday Prayer of the Church, - psalms of praise, the scripture reading and the intercessions, - and with structure of the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass, - the hymn of praise (the Gloria), the scripture readings and the general intercessions (prayers of the faithful). I realized then that the Prayer Meeting, far from being labeled only as 'charismatic', was very much 'Catholic' also, as it was 'biblical'.
But I also realized that these meetings were called charismatic for two valid reasons: firstly, because, far from being stereotype, they were lively and vibrant, and secondly, because the spiritual or charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were very much operative and evident. This experience led me, firstly, to my own personal deduction, which I put immediately into effect: that I should make both my private praying of the Divine Office and my public celebration of the Holy Mass as 'charismatic' as possible, without disturbing their liturgical integrity. As a result both the Breviary and the Eucharist became for me much more meaningful and enjoyable.
Furthermore I arrived at a still more far-reaching conclusion: firstly, that the weekly parish Sunday Eucharist, and even the daily Mass, should be both 'catholic' in the sense of being 'solemn', that is, with the celebrant keeping to the rules of our beautiful Liturgy, and at the same time 'charismatic', with the community participating actively and joyfully (to quote the very words of the Vatican Document on Sacred Liturgy); and secondly, that the daily Family Prayer should also be both 'traditional' (e.g. praying the Rosary), and yet 'charismatic' (e.g. hymn singing and scripture reading or sharing). What then are those essential elements of the Charismatic Prayer Meeting that led me to the above observations and conclusions? And what are the prerequisites we should underscore and the pitfalls we should steer clear of to make the prayer meeting both 'catholic and charismatic'?
Praise and Worship
Praise and Worship is the first of the three clear-cut phases of the prayer meeting, its most characteristic part, and so the longest. After a song or songs of 'entrance' or invitation or warming up, the main section is that of praise (when we glorify God just for what he is to us), and to a lesser extent that of thanksgiving (when we thank God for what he has done for us), ending up with a time of profound adoration that would make our minds attentive and our hearts sensitive to the Word of God that follows. The Praise of God should not be put-on or forced but sincere and spontaneous, the genuine expression of a liberated and grateful heart, that wants (in Biblical terms) to sing and even to shout (not to scream) for joy, to raise one's hands and to clap them unto the Lord, and even to 'dance' before him, with one's whole being in joyful rhythm, but not gyrating - movie style. The prayer meeting can justifiably be called 'charismatic', if there is also 'free praise' and 'praying or singing in tongues' (termed jubilation), and does not confine itself just to 'singing songs' and to 'repetitive ejaculatory prayers'.
In the first years of the renewal the 'praise' was simple and childlike, joyful and uplifting, with the full participation of all the members. Nowadays there is often a lot of operetta style crooning and fellowship sing song, with hardly any hymns of praise addressed directly to God. The proper role of the worship leader is to 'stir up' and not 'take over' the praise, to gently lead and not to browbeat the members with constant exhortations and intimidations to glorify God. The praise leader may sometimes end up becoming a cult figure, using God's praise time as a habit for solo singing his pet or own compositions, Pavarotti style, or as a long awaited chance to intersperse the hymns with long-drawn-out Gospel discourses in anticipation of the customary Scripture teaching, and even assuming as his prerogative the praying for the 'anointing of the Holy Spirit', usually the conclusion and climax of the meeting.
Teaching or Sharing the Word
Teaching or Sharing the Word is the heart or core of the prayer meeting, but unfortunately in most cases its weakest point. Whereas the purpose of the Life in the Spirit Seminar or a charismatic mission or outreach is mainly kerygmatic or evangelistic, to preach repentance and proclaim the Good News, the goal of the prayer meeting is mainly didactic or catechetical, to teach ongoing renewal and train for growth in discipleship. That is why the vigor of a prayer group depends not only on at least one skilled praise leader, but also on at least one proficient Bible teacher, capable of giving simple, clear and systematic Bible Teachings, flowing from a genuine charismatic experience, but also well grounded in a thorough and accurate knowledge of Scripture, according to Catholic interpretation under the authority and guidance of a priest animator.
Few are the prayer groups that stand out like lamps on the stand and like stars shining in the sky, by their consistently anointed teachings, (as well as praise), that are biblically inspired, doctrinally sound and personally beneficial, - for few are the teachers that are knowledgeable, well prepared and inspirational. Many teachings are sound but bland, while others are spicy but messy. There are teachers too (as also leaders and healers) who, when they were sitting in the pews, censured the clergy for putting the laity down, but, now that they are standing in the 'pulpit', will make the teaching ministry exclusively theirs, not inviting or allowing anyone else, be it even the parish priest, to share the word. These will often also become main leaders 'for life', holding full sway and control over the personal lives and 'prosperity' of their 'flock'. Paul warns his flock against "holding meetings that do you more harm than good" (1Cor 11:17).
Fellowship is the third and last part of the prayer meeting. For after having from a repentant and grateful heart articulated our appreciation and love to God, and after hearing, with an alert and eager mind, his wisdom, correction and guidance, then, as the Family of God our Father, we need to pray for one another, as brothers and sisters, and we need to speak to one another, as members of the Body of Christ, words of peace and encouragement, to build up the community of believers, as one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32). Knowing well that where two or three are gathered in Jesus name, he will be there with them, and when they pray together in one accord, the Father will answer that prayer, we can make our personal petitions and especially the general intercessions with full assurance (Mt 18:19-20). Besides an anointed word of prophecy can be like a spark setting one's heart on fire. And short touching testimonies can often speak louder than just teachings, for they bring home to us very graphically what God can do us too.
To conclude: While many prayer groups still remain tiny and unnoticed, there are some that still continue to be sizeable, pulsating and life changing. Firstly, because they have an excellent main leader, a man of vision with a mission, a planner and organizer, an unifier and encourager, a go-getter and still humble. Secondly, they have a trustworthy core leadership, which prays and shares together, corrects and encourages one another. Thirdly, even though open to the Spirit which blows as it wills, they have a sufficiently well prepared plan of teachings and activities, and an organized network of cells and ministries, leading to the implementation of their common vision and mission, for the greater glory of God and the salvation and peace of mankind.
In imitation of the Letter to the Hebrews, we urge all of you, "Do not stay away from the meetings of the community, but encourage each other to go … Let us be concerned to spur one another to love and to do good works" (Heb 10:25,24).
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved.