What gifts that work for our salvation are not given freely by the Holy Spirit? Through Him we are freed from slavery and called to liberty; we are led to adoption as children and, one might say, formed anew, after having laid down the heavy and hateful burden of our sins. Through the Holy Spirit we see assemblies of priests and we possess ranks of doctors; from this source spring forth gifts of revelation, healing graces, and all of the other charisms that adorn the Church of God”. – St. John Chrysostom

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Source: Wikipedia

Have you ever wondered where you stand concerning participation in the mission of the Church? You may ask, “As a lay person, how do I exercise what I perceive to be my talents, gifts, energy, and strengths within the Body of Christ? What specific purpose does God have for me, and how do I fit into a Church of bishops, priests, deacons and religious? How can I work with, and for, the hierarchical Church alongside my lay brothers and sisters for the glory of God?”

The new letter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), entitled Iuvenescit Ecclesia, is addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church and concerns ‘the relationship between the hierarchical and charismatic gifts in the life and the mission of the Church.’ Or, in other words, it answers our desire to participate in the ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.’

Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts come from the Holy Spirit

The gospel reveals the gifts of the Holy Spirit in both hierarchical and charismatic gifts. As the Holy Spirit sanctifies the believer, the Fathers of the Church see the actions of the Paraclete as expressing God’s Will in multiform ways. The Will of God, subsequently, is for the Church to go forth in a missionary fashion, evangelizing through every dimension of the Church. Therefore, it is essential that the Church, both hierarchy and laity, recognize the many charisms capable of carrying out the ‘new evangelization.’

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life”. (Evangelii Gaudium)

Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been an increase in new, faithful movements within the Church. These movements are more than mere sociological phenomena — they express the mystery of the Communion of God and man in the mission of Jesus Christ. These movements share a common charism and apostolic purpose, and they are blessed with an attractiveness which expresses the joy of discipleship in a fresh, new way. The Spirit of God working within these movements shows that the Church attracts others through charity. St. Pope John Paul II described these new movements as the Holy Spirit’s ‘Providential answer’ to the need for the gospel in a secularized world. However, in their Spiritual attractiveness, these movements must also relate positively with all the other gifts present in ecclesial life. In order to facilitate this positive relation, the CDF expresses n Iuvenescit Ecclesia a bringing about of ‘a fruitful and ordered participation’ of the new groups in the Communion and mission of the Church.

Understanding Charisms

The New Testament has much to say about charisms. The word charism comes from the Greek word charisma, which means a generous gift. Catholicism has sanctified this word to mean divine gifts and, more specifically, a differentiated distribution of gifts from the Holy Spirit.

So what does this mean for the Catholic faithful, whether clergy, religious or laity? According to the New Testament it means that all of us have a vital part to play in the Church. These charisms come with both a personal benefit as well as a personal call to responsibility since they are given to us for the benefit of all.  The individual benefits by growing in charity when directing these charisms outward in charity towards others. But without charity, they are not beneficial to even to the individual. Furthermore, it is important to remember that our chosen state in life, whether it is celibacy or matrimony, must be understood as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and therefore a charism given for sharing the gospel.

St Paul reminds us:

For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them” (Rm 12:4-6).

Drawing from the New Testament

The CDF letter also reminds us of points stressed in the New Testament:

  1. The Church always grows over time thanks to ‘the vivifying action of the Holy Spirit.’
  2. There must always be a harmony and complementarity between different charisms.
  3. Charisms must serve the apostolate; always obedient to the Successor of Peter, the Pope.
  4. And of extreme importance, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, coming in two forms—ecclesial and charismatic—must always be understood as non-opposing forms, since they come from the same origin in the Holy Spirit, and serve the same purpose in the glory of God through the salvation of souls.

Drawing from Vatican II

Iuvenescit Ecclesia points to Vatican Council II for further edification concerning charisms. The Council strongly stresses unity in diversity in the non-opposing charisms (ecclesial and charismatic) which illuminate ‘the Holy Spirit’s constant renewal through gifts in every rank.’ But the Council, far from glossing over the responsibility laden in these gifts, stresses two divine demands. First, they must be received ‘with thanksgiving,’ and second, ‘each believer has a right and a duty to use them…’ The CDF’s letter noted the Teaching Magisterium of the Church stressed the ‘coessentiality’ of these two forms of charisms during the Post-Vatican II period. This is further revealed in the fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intertwined in the Will of the Father, further disintegrating the fallacy of hierarchy versus charismatic gifts; after all, every gift comes from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

John Paul II insists particularly on the principle of the coessentiality of these gifts:

I have often had occasion to stress that there is no conflict or opposition in the Church between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which movements are a significant expression. Both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the Church founded by Jesus, because they both help to make the mystery of Christ and his saving work present in the world”.

The CDF goes even further in describing the consubstantial reality of the hierarchical gifts, instituted through Christ, working with the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. The sacraments and the charismatic gifts work in Trinitarian union inspiring evangelization, recreating us in holiness, initiating charity within us, and bringing about our salvation, subsequently fulfilling the Will of the Father. In essence, baptism and confirmation are the foundational entrance into Communion with God and the Church while the Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of our faith. This thereby reveals ‘the sacraments of initiation’ as an entrance into the life of God vivified through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Equally, but differentiated by the Will of our Savior, the sacrament of Orders (ordination) is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is differentiated as the priest makes Jesus present, ‘in Persona Christi,’ sanctifying, teaching, and governing. It is therefore true that everyone is gifted by the Holy Spirit, but God’s spiritual economy has the Apostles first. Therefore, charismatic gifts must bear fruit in, and through, the sacramental life, made present through the actions of the priest.

The CDF states:

“According to Basil the Great, it is evident that the ordering of the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit. This same order (taxis), within which St. Paul catalogues the charisms (cf. 1 Cor 12:28), ‘is according to the distribution of the Spirit’s gifts’,57 and locates that of the Apostles in first place.”

The charismatic gifts, moreover, must be discerned by the bishop. This discernment process has an objective criterion. “Does it inspire love and holiness? Does it inspire evangelization within the Church? Is it faithful to Church teaching? Does it promote unity with the Pope and the Bishop? Does it coexist with other gifts? Does it suffer in patience (during the discernment process)? Does it bear much spiritual fruit? Does it promote social justice, solidarity, and charity?”

Elements of Concrete Ecclesial Practice Concerning Charisms in the Church

Reciprocity is described by the CDF as a form of complementarity in which the charismatic group respects pastoral authority while the pastor ‘cordially receives what the Holy Spirit gives the Church as a gift’ in the form of charismatic initiatives. For the charismatic, the Pope is the sign and source of universal unity strengthening a particular church, while the Bishop is the sign and source of local unity in union with the Successor of Peter which also benefits the whole Church. In this reciprocity there is no dichotomy between universal and particular gifts.

The state of one’s life is also offered as a gift of the Holy Spirit. This derives from baptism and confers the Priesthood of Christ on all disciples in two distinct forms. One is the common priesthood, and the other is the hierarchical (ordained) priesthood. The Consecrated Life is also illuminated as a gift of the Holy Spirit which benefits charismatic groups and receives benefit from them. Celibacy, both priestly and lay, is another special gift of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the document reveals the Church’s desire to seek ecclesial recognition for charismatic groups where reciprocal needs between hierarchy and laity can be met in a spirit of fraternal charity.

The CDF fittingly finishes with Mary’s exemplary holiness:

Awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples were assiduous and united in prayer with Mary, the mother of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:14). She had perfectly accepted and made fruitful the singular grace with which she had been superabundantly enriched by the most Holy Trinity: most importantly, the grace of being the Mother of God. All of the Church’s children can admire her complete docility to the action of the Holy Spirit: faultless docility in faith and transparent humility. Mary, therefore, testifies fully to the obedient and faithful reception of every gift of the Holy Spirit.”