Praying in Tongues? or Speaking in Tongues? Which is allowed? -CD2000
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
"Tongues" by Scripture Catholic
"Gift of Tongues" from Catholic Encyclopedia
"Speaking in Tongues A Historical, Psychological, and Biblical Analysis 1" from Catholic International
"The Nature of Tongues" from Catholic Answers
Speaking in Tongues at Mass
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: What is allowed for regarding the (so-called) "speaking in tongues" during a Charismatic Mass? And what exactly is an acceptable type of such Mass? Recently, I attended a Mass where the priest added his own prayers during the elevation of the Eucharist (having said the formal prayers of consecration) and, with those present (who were, excluding myself, members of the parish charismatic prayer group), prayed in tongues during the Eucharistic Prayer and at other moments of the Mass. There were various other obvious illicit moments during the Mass and perhaps afterward as well (e.g., layperson anointing with some type of oil), but I'm particularly curious about the "tongues." As far as I can deduce, this is not allowed, but it's exceedingly difficult to find anything to the contrary aside from mere opinions. — P.H., Limerick, Ireland
A: There are practically no universal guidelines on this subject, except of course the general norms that prohibit adding anything whatsoever to officially prescribed texts.
Although some individual bishops have published norms for their dioceses, as far as I know the most complete treatment of this subject is that published by the Brazilian bishops' conference. The document, "Pastoral Orientation Regarding the Catholic Charismatic Renewal," was issued in November 1994. It can be accessed in the Portuguese original at the bishops' Web site: www.cnbb.com.br.
It must be noted that the Brazilian bishops have a generally positive view of the Charismatic Renewal, and a significant number participate in charismatic Masses. The renewal is considered as being especially attuned and appealing to a wide swath of Brazilian society and is credited as helping to stem the hemorrhaging of Catholics toward Pentecostal sects.
Therefore, the norms issued by the bishops should be seen as genuine orientations to help the Catholic Charismatic Renewal achieve its full potential as an integral portion of the wider Catholic community. They should not be seen as condemnation of aberrations and abuses.
In dealing with liturgy (Nos. 38-44), the bishops' document recommends that the members of the renewal receive an adequate liturgical formation. It reminds them that the liturgy is governed by precise rules and nothing external should be introduced (No. 40). No. 41 has precise indications:
"In the celebration of Holy Mass the words of the institution must not be stressed in an inadequate fashion. Nor must the Eucharistic Prayer be interrupted by moments of praise for Christ's Eucharistic presence by means of applause, cheers, processions, hymns of Eucharistic praise or any other manifestations that exalt in this way the Real Presence and end up emptying out the various dimensions of the Eucharistic celebration."
In No. 42 the bishops indicate that music and gestures should be appropriate to the moment of the celebration and follow the liturgical norms. A clear distinction should be made between liturgical hymns and other religious songs that are reserved to prayer meetings. Hymns should preferably be chosen from an official repertoire of liturgical songs.
Finally, the bishops say that Charismatic Renewal meetings should not be scheduled to coincide with regular Masses and other gatherings of the whole ecclesial community.
When referring to speaking in tongues (No. 62), the document offers the following clarifications:
"Speaking or praying in tongues: The object or destination of praying in tongues is God himself, being the attitude of a person absorbed in a particular conversation with God. The object or destination of speaking in tongues is the community. The Apostle Paul teaches, 'When I am in the presence of the community I would rather say five words that mean something than ten thousand words in a tongue' (1 Corinthians 14:19). Since in practice it is difficult to distinguish between the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and the instigations of the group leader, there should never be a call encouraging praying in tongues, and speaking in tongues should not take place unless there is also an interpreter."
I think that these wise counsels and norms from the Brazilian bishops show that it is not in conformity with the authentic charism of the Catholic Charismatic renewal to speak in tongues during Mass.
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Follow-up: Speaking in Tongues at Mass [9-7-2010]
After our mention of the norms of the Brazilian bishops' conference on speaking and praying in tongues during Mass (see Aug. 24), a reader from Indiana wrote:
"In 1975, at the International Conference on the Charismatic Renewal held in Rome, Pope Paul VI allowed Cardinal Suenens to concelebrate a charismatic Mass in St. Peter's. At that Mass, there was most definitely praying in tongues (not 'speaking in tongues') along with singing in tongues by the cardinals, bishops, priests and laypeople all gathered together at this Mass, with the Pope's approval. It was a beautiful time of worship in the heart of the Church. The Pope himself spoke to us after Mass with words of welcome and advice for those involved in the charismatic renewal. It is important to make a distinction, as St. Paul himself does, between speaking in tongues and praying in tongues."
The document I quoted from Brazil clearly made the distinction between praying and speaking in tongues, but finally decided that neither was appropriate in the context of Mass.
The fact that in 1975 Pope Paul VI allowed this concelebration in no way suggests an official approval of all charismatic practices during Mass. In 1975 the Catholic charismatic renewal was barely 8 years old and the Pope was offering cautious encouragement to the movement.
The Church is not hasty in granting definitive approvals or condemnations. It prefers to observe new spiritual realities and orientate little by little. In this sense the 1994 Brazilian document or the 2000 Instruction on Prayers for Healing by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith represent more mature reflections in the light of lived experience.
The aim of such reflections and guidelines is not to condemn the charismatic renewal but to help it achieve its full potential as an integral part of the Church.