Does 1 Corinthians 14 prohibit speaking in tongues?

Does 1 Corinthians 14 prohibit speaking in tongues as seen in many non-denom charistmatic churches? The people seem to babble with out any ‘order’ to their words/noises (there doesn’t seem to be any ‘structure’ to the ‘language’) and then someone claims to interpret what they said…it happens every week at the church that I was invited to.

My wife has friends in a charismatic church, and I’m not really sure what to say about it. I’m a cradle Catholic, and my Wife recently converted just last Easter (was a S.Baptist)…She’s very new to Catholocism, and her RCIA teacher was very nice; but not very knowledgable. And our priest is kind of a sour-puss who dismisses a lot of questions…

Part of the problem is that they tried to ‘coach’ her into doing it herself while she was a protestant, and her friends told her that it would ‘come to her’ if she was a true believer. They still talk to her about it once in a while, and are constantly riding her about her conversion.

Any help would be great,
Thank you!

Dear Isidore,

St. Paul is quite explicit about the fact that He spoke in tongues: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all;” (1 Cor 12:18) He then goes on to say that he preferred to not speak in tongues when instructing others. This is reasonable enough. Speaking in tongues is basically a private way of praying.

In his book, “Did You Receive the Spirit?” English Dominican Father Simon Tugwell writes that there are hints of speaking in tongues in the Desert Fathers. He describes praying in tongues in this way: “It is that one speaks words which do not mean anything in any language known to himself.” St. John Vianney is known to have prayed in this way.

He mentions that many Catholics have long been familiar with a kind of substitute for tongues in the use of Latin, noting “how many of those who most regretted the passing of Latin were people who did not understand a word of it!” Speaking in tongues is not a matter of hysteria and it is not Protestant (Pentecostal) in origin. I myself have spoken in tongues and was quite put off when I initially was told to imitate the gibberish that another priest was saying. Eventually, I began speaking my own gibberish. At this stage of my life it is not a form of prayer that appeals to me.

Speaking in tongues is a way of praying and is a charism or gift. But it is far, far from the greatest of gifts and is certainly not necessary for salvation. So your wife can speak in tongues and be a Catholic. She certainly can find a Catholic charismatic prayer group somewhere in your diocese if she feels that she needs to pray with a community in this way. But I do not advise her to attend a non-denominational church. “Non-denominational” is its own denomination!

The book I mentioned above is available through

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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