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Our readers asked:

Does the Catholic Church have an official stance on speaking in tongues?

Fr. Joe Answers:

Question: Some of my Pentecostal friends believe that speaking in tongues is a sign that you are “saved.” Does the Catholic Church have an official stance on speaking in tongues?

I don’t believe that the Catholic Church has an official stance on speaking in tongues. In recent years its approach to this phenomenon seems to have been one of cautious acceptance, with an emphasis on the “cautious.”

Speaking in tongues (also known as “glossolalia,” from the Greek word “glossa” meaning tongue or language) has been part of Catholic experience at two periods of our history.

The first was in the very early Church, as recorded in the New Testament. There are three references in the Acts of the Apostles to speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4,6, 10:46 and 19:6). In these instances, speaking in tongues is described as a community-wide experience which assists in the establishment and expansion of the community of faith. When St. Paul describes tongues in his letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:5) he seems to be observing not a community-wide event but a gift that particular Christians receive. Paul recognizes it as a gift from the Holy Spirit, but considers it a less important gift than some others and counsels that it must serve, as do all the Spirit’s gifts, to build up the community rather than create distinctions or divisions among its members.

After the time of St. Paul, speaking in tongues does not make a wide appearance in the Catholic Church until 1967. In that year a Catholic prayer group meeting near Duquesne University in Pittsburgh received this gift. Other charismatic Catholic prayer groups began to experience speaking in tongues, and it became a key element in the development of the charismatic movement within the Church. It usually takes place at prayer meetings, but can also be part of private, individual prayer.

Speaking in tongues is not a phenomena unique to Catholic Christians. Some Protestant Christians in the United States, called “Pentecostals,” began to speak in tongues at the beginning of the 20th century. They considered it a sign of being baptized by the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues had spread to some “mainline” Protestant denominations by 1960.

What is glossolalia? Some have believed that the “tongue” spoken is an ancient language not known to the speaker, or perhaps a combination of different languages. But this does not seem to be the case. Linguistic researchers who have studied this practice believe that it’s not a true language but rather consists of sounds that are formed like speech but have no intelligibility of their own. It’s not a miraculous occurance, but can be a genuine form of prayer.

While the Catholic charismatic movement has spread throughout the world, and charismatic prayer groups have found a home in many Catholic parishes, this movement would still represent a minority of Catholics. The Catholic Church does not believe that speaking in tongues is necessary for salvation or that its practice makes one a “better” Catholic or Christian.

Is speaking in tongues good or bad? The answer is probably that it depends. St. Paul’s test for judging gifts of the Spirit may still be the best. If speaking in tongues (or any other gift) brings genuine wisdom, understanding, right judgment, knowledge, and reverence to a person or a community, it’s likely to be a genuine gift of the Spirit. If a community which practices speaking in tongues is also characterized by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trust, gentleness, humility, generosity, mercy, justice and truth, then it seems evident that the Holy Spirit is at work there. If, however, speaking in tongues leads to elitism, a sense of some Christians being “in” and others “out”, anger, dissension or divisiveness, then that particular faith community may be focusing too much on the gift of tongues to the detriment of other gifts which might more effectively build up its unity.

Fr Joe Scott CSP lives in Los Angeles and is a longtime contributor to the Busted Halo Question Box

 
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The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • dulce

    Thank you father Joe.

  • Milano Mitchell

    Father you have spoken well but Jesus says that you must be born again John 3:1-10 and Peter of the Apostolic succession declares what Jesus instruted in Acts 2:38. In His Service Elder Mitchell of the Apostolic Faith

  • tom

    Let’s take the second citation first. Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, she was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of original sin and its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—by anticipation.

    Why is this so important? Sometimes divisive. Maybethis is a cop out to you; but Mary is Jesus’ mother. Come one, she deserves our love, but Jesus is the way, truth the life. Can’t we stay focused on Jesus’? So one is right, one is not. We will all find out when we get to heaven and spend eternity with Jesus, the Christ. thanks

  • Tom

    Father Joe, Thank you for your article. I have a questions. It seems that Scripture makes a distinction between praying in tongues and speaking in tongues. In Luke when the Apostles speak in tongues then they can speak other languages. Where in some of Paul’s writing it talks about speaking in tongues but also of praying in tongues. They appear to be different gifts and many in charismatic circles seem to have the gift of praying in tongues but not speaking in tongues. What do you think?

  • Mike Hayes

    Todd, if you look carefully, you’ll see that Fr. Joe referred to both scripture and tradition, which is what we as Catholics believe. I’m not sure what you’re referring to here but let us know what your issue is with this.

  • Todd

    Father Joe, how about answering with what God’s stance is? Is His Word more important than Church opinion? This is another example of taking something God breathed and scriptural and putting it in a box. Good grief. And some wonder why there are 45 million fallen away Catholics.

  • Steve

    Wayne, the following is from a tract by Catholic Answers. You can follow the link to find out more information about Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Also, the topic has probably been covered on this site as well.

    Fundamentalists‚Äô chief reason for objecting to the Immaculate Conception and Mary‚Äôs consequent sinlessness is that we are told that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Besides, they say, Mary said her “spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47), and only a sinner needs a Savior.

    Let’s take the second citation first. Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, she was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of original sin and its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—by anticipation.

    Consider an analogy: Suppose a man falls into a deep pit, and someone reaches down to pull him out. The man has been “saved” from the pit. Now imagine a woman walking along, and she too is about to topple into the pit, but at the very moment that she is to fall in, someone holds her back and prevents her. She too has been saved from the pit, but in an even better way: She was not simply taken out of the pit, she was prevented from getting stained by the mud in the first place. This is the illustration Christians have used for a thousand years to explain how Mary was saved by Christ. By receiving Christ‚Äôs grace at her conception, she had his grace applied to her before she was able to become mired in original sin and its stain.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that she was “redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son” (CCC 492). She has more reason to call God her Savior than we do, because he saved her in an even more glorious manner!

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Immaculate_Conception_and_Assum.asp

  • Wayne kirkendall

    Iconverted to the Catholic Faith on Easter of 2008.
    I try to defend the faith specifically about Immaculate sinless state of Our Mother but my protestant friends say that “she herself, admitted that she was not without Sin in the magnificat when she said “My soul procalims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Why would Mary feel compelled to say “savior” if she was sinless?

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