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Charismatic Prayer


A style of Christian prayer now widespread in the Catholic Church in the wake of the charismatic movement. Related to an initial experience of the Holy Spirit, it is rooted in the conviction that prayer is a gift of God (Gr. χάρισμα; 3:460) and not the product of human striving. In the NT, the Holy Spirit, the Gift of God (Acts2.38; Rom 5.5; Jn 4.10; 7.3739) gives inspired utterance, whether this be such basic acclamations as "Jesus is Lord!" (1 Cor 12.3), "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rv 22.20) and "Abba, Father!" (Gal 4.6), or inspired intercession (Rom 8.2627), or prayer in tongues (1 Cor 14; Acts2.111).

Glossolalia, or tongue-speaking, is the most celebrated aspect of charismatic prayer. As practiced among charismatics, it is used both in personal prayer and in public prayer meetings, where most often it is a spontaneous choral singing without intelligible words. Less frequently it is used in a proclamatory way by an individual, followed by an "interpretation" by someone else or sometimes by the speaker himself. As a prayer-gift, speaking in tongues is generally explained by theologians and biblical scholars who have experienced or studied the movement as a form of preconceptual prayer, that is, vocalization of a prayer of the heart (or of the spirit, as distinct from the mind, 1 Cor 14.1516) prior to conceptualization and shaping into understandable languagea phenomenon not without parallels in other traditional forms of prayer. That it is not, except in very rare instances, the speaking of a real human language is supported by cross-cultural linguistic studies of tongue-speaking and by Paul's teaching that the "interpretation" is equally inspired and not simply the work of a translator (1 Cor 14.13). The tongue-speaking by the Apostles on Pentecost may be understood as their actually speaking the various languages of their hearers. However, one should not overlook the emphasis in the text of Acts upon the miraculous hearing. Three times the text says eachone (singular) heard them (plural) speaking his own (singular) language (Acts 2.6, 8, 11). This, coupled with the accusation of drunkenness to which Peter addresses his response (rather than to an unusual brilliance in languages) suggests to some scholars that Luke used the early Pauline tradition of a preconceptual prayer language and, combining it with current Jewish Pentecost traditions about the gift of the Law amid wind and fire, saw the first Christian Pentecost as the new covenant of the Spirit destined for "every nation under heaven." In any case, charismatics view the experience as one in which they yield to the Spirit praying within them. This prayer, which is essentially praise and thanksgiving (1 Cor 14.16), also disposes to a hearing of a "word of the Lord," whether this be in a scriptural reading, an interpretation, or a prophecy (usually uttered in an oracular "I" form). All of these have Pauline antecedents. Prediction is not the primary function of prophecy. Its primary function as inspired speech is the community's "upbuilding, encouragement and consolation" (1 Cor 14.3).

A further aspect of charismatic prayer is prayer for healing, whether physical or emotional, and occasional prayer for "deliverance," though in the latter case there is considerable divergence of both theory and practice within the movement (see healing, christian).

Elements of biblical and early Christian spirituality that the charismatic approach to prayer has pointed up are thus: (1) prayer as a gift of the Holy Spirit; (2) the primacy of praise; (3) the importance of expecting to hear God speaking in prayer; (4) the healing ministry of the Church and the role of prayer in the healing process.

Bibliography: e. ensley, Sounds of Wonder; Speaking in Tongues in Catholic Tradition (New York 1977). f. s. macnutt, Healing (Notre Dame, Ind. 1974); The Power to Heal (Notre Dame, Ind, 1977). d. gelpi, Pentecostal Piety (New York 1972). g. t. montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (New York 1976); The Spirit and His Gifts (New York 1974). w. j. samarin, Tongues of Men and of Angels (New York 1972).

[g. t. montague]

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