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“Let the Shout of Victory Be Heard in the Camp!”

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August 18, 2010 by wcobserver

By Steven Worden
One of the real joys in studying sociology lies in the opportunity to carry out field research.  Field research, as its name suggests, involves leaving the sheltered academic environment and actually going out into the real world to watch, ask, listen, and learn about ordinary people as they carry out their daily lives.

For example, over this past weekend the Arkansas Charismatic Catholics held their annual conference in North Little Rock.  Few things are more striking than watching almost 600 Roman Catholics caught up in a real “Bible-thumping, devil-chasing, pew-jumping, tongue-speaking revival.”

Well, maybe not quite. But for almost three days, Charismatic Catholics from all over Arkansas did pack a large hotel banquet room with their colorful cloth banners, a full electric guitar and drum-kit band, and a variety of speakers– all to renew their commitment in a type of worship that has become more mainstream in the Roman Catholic Church.

People of all ages, social classes, and races joyously sang, swayed, and held up their arms to the strains of old Holiness standbys such as “Victory in Jesus” and “Amazing Grace.”  Unusual for Catholics, they toted their Bibles with them and referred to them frequently as speakers discussed specific verses.  During the healing service, hundreds of people were “slain in the Spirit,” slumping backwards to be laid gently on the carpeted floor, and spoke in unknown languages.

A couple of rows up in front of me, stood a strikingly attractive, well-dressed family with a little grandmother, her son and his wife, and their four children including an expectant daughter with her proud young husband.  They knew all the songs and did in unison all the gestures that went with the praise choruses.  What an advertisement: four generations of a great-looking family, laughing, hugging and hanging onto each other, praying, and praising God together as a unified team.

Amazingly enough, whenever it came time for the daily Mass, everyone immediately became as reverential and disciplined as in the celebration of any holy sacrament.  As one speaker had expressed it, “This is worship.  It’s not about the pastor; it’s not about the choir and whether they practiced or not; it’s not about the sermon.  It’s about thanking God for the sacrifice of his Son.”  He went on, joking: “That’s what I love about the Catholics:  No nonsense.  It’s come in, cross yourself, sit down and shut up, come up and stick out your tongue (to take communion), and get out.”

But before and after the Mass, there was as much singing, praising, clapping, swaying, prophesying, and speaking in tongues as in any Pentecostal service. One could say that it was a great example of the matching of a personal and enthusiastic worship style coupled with a highly structured traditional liturgical framework. Members of prayer teams from various parishes in Arkansas visited with each other, sang and clapped, and formed a tightly-knit network of small groups infused with energy, all under the umbrella of the Diocese of Little Rock.  It felt more like a family reunion than a conference.

Charismatic Catholicism has now spread around the world and claims some 120 million adherents with rapid growth in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.  Over 40 years old, it continues to grow, particularly as more Hispanics gain greater visibility in the U.S. Catholic Church and in Arkansas.  Probably the most impressive stamp of local approval came on the last day of the conference in North Little Rock when Arkansas’ Bishop Anthony Taylor himself, celebrated the Mass for the attendees.  He said that his parents and family members were there and it was their first charismatic Mass.  He jokingly admitted that they might be a little surprised at the enthusiasm of the participants.  Most attendees, looking at each other, laughingly agreed.

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