What is Speaking in Tongues?


I’m not exactly sure where to put this but I’ve been reading some of the hot threads and came across one where a person asked about speaking in Tongues. In her replies people were talking about private prayer tongues, and speaking in tongues… I’m confused. I thought that speaking in tongues was a rare blessing, a spiritual ecstacy. Am I wrong?:confused:


Tamara, just so you know there is a LOT of debate about this. You’d get all kinds of answers. As for me, I’m still thinking about it and not entirely sure… God bless you.


The gift of tongues, also referred to as speaking in tongues or a prayer language, is a charism. A charism is a special grace of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul talks about the gift of tongues as the least of the gifts. It is mentioned several times in the Books of Acts as well as his other writings. It was common during in the early Church and is becoming increasing common today.
Those of us who have this special gift speak of a Pentecostal experience like the Apostles. More important than this outward and very noticeable expression is the inward transformation that takes place within the individual’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.


Here’s a link to an EWTN article on charismatic graces: ewtn.com/expert/answers/charismatic_renewal.htm

Below is a large extract. I added the bold-facing.

Charismatic Graces

The Second Vatican Council affirmed the legitimacy of charisms, both ordinary and extraordinary. A charism is simply “a grace freely given by God to build up the Church,” as opposed to the graces given to sanctify the individual. St. Paul gives a list of charisms in 1 Cor. 12. They include ordinary charisms like teaching and administration and extraordinary ones like healing, miracles, and tongues. These things by themselves don’t make the person holier, rather they enable him or her to serve others. Finally, the authenticity of charisms must be discerned, since **charisms are not necessarily from the spirit of God (**1 John 4). The Council taught,

Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected. Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thes. 5:12, 19- 21). [Lumen Gentium 12]

What we have seen in our time is the appearance of the Charismatic Renewal, an apparent outpouring of the extraordinary charisms. This doesn’t mean that one has to be a charismatic, that charismatics are better Catholics, or that every alleged charism is authentic. Yet, as the Council noted, the Church must respect the workings of God, discerning the authentic from the inauthentic.

An authentic charism would not pull one away from the Church. If a Catholic leaves, seeking an emotional boost he no longer finds in the Church, he is seeking the gifts of the Giver and not the Giver of the gifts. Participation in the life of the Church should lead any Catholic (Charismatic, traditional, or ordinary) into a deeper relationship with the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother and the Pope. If it does not, something is spiritually wrong with that particular individual or with the guidance he is receiving within his group. Since a charism does not give the person any special infallibility or sanctity, given the extraordinary character of such gifts it is especially necessary for individuals possessing them to guard the purity of their faith, lest pride, self-seeking or emotionalism lead them astray, and they others. The reality that some have left the Church for Pentecostalism, or sought to create it within, points to the dangers. By contrast, the presence in the Church of a dynamic and faithful institution like the Franciscan University of Steubenville is evidence of the great good that can be done by those graced with authentic charismatic gifts exercised in union with the Church.

All such authentic charisms, therefore, are at the service of the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor 12, 14). As gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are supernatural graces beyond the power of human striving and human nature (e.g. miracle working), though some may build upon the natural talents of the recipient (e.g. teaching). St. Paul contrasts these charismata with “the greater gifts” of Faith, Hope and Charity (1 Cor. 13), which he says have lasting value. These “theological virtues” unite the person’s mind and will to God. As a consequence, the Church teaches that Faith, Hope and Charity are necessary for salvation but the charismata are not. St. Paul’s experience at Corinth demonstrated rather early in the Church how susceptible these charisms are to exaggeration. In another context, he would even warn the Corinthians that **the devil can appear as an angel of light **(1 Cor 11:14). Similarly, both St. Peter and St. John (1 Pet 5:8-9; 1 John 4:1) warn us of this danger.

St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae [ST II-II q172 a2] tells us that unless a charism requires the exercise of divine power the Holy Spirit accomplishes it through the mediation of the holy angels. When they are within the power of the angelic nature, they are also capable of demonic imitation. It is difficult to explain the “charismatic power of speech” of a Hitler, for instance, on purely natural grounds. It is for these reasons that** most spiritual writers, especially the mystical doctor St. John of the Cross, warn us not to seek such extraordinary phenomenon.** As noted earlier, Vatican II made this warning part of its teaching on the charismatic gifts.

Thus the Church on the one hand recognizes that the Holy Spirit moves where He will, and so she does not want to oppose His working, and on the other, that the Church must discern the authenticity of each charism, lest it be a deception of the evil one. For this reason to say that the Charismatic Renewal is approved by the Church is not a blanket approval of every alleged charismatic gift or every charismatic group or individual within the Church. The discernment of the Holy Spirit’s action is an ongoing necessity within the Church and within the Charismatic Renewal.


Thanks for the answers. When I was 22 I went as a chaparone to the Youth Retreat at Steubenville OH. I think I got more out ofthe retreat than a lot of the students! One one night they have Bendiction and Exposititon of the Blessed Sacrement and being that there are so many youth there it takes a very long time. This experience was one of the most awsome, and I mean that in the utmost, brilliant spiritual sense of the word, experiences of my entire life. Many people were blessed in the the Holy Spirit and received gifts through the Spirit, e.i. speaking in tongues, gifts of tears, even ecstacies. I’m glad to have read in that pamphlet posted that they used Steubenville as an example of good. One of the other young ladies experienced the gift of tongues–and she’s one of the most devout Catholics I’ve ever met!

I guess my confusion comes over how do you know that your gift has come from the Holy Spirit and that you’re not just speaking gibberish? Especially with the example of private prayer tongues?


Hi Tamara
I have used the gift of toungs since the 70s.
There are many reasons for them, here are a list of a few, and understand that they are allways used to “glorify God” and build the church as a group and in building individuals for their roll in the church as the Holy Spirit sees and feels there is a need.
There is
Edification, praise, word of knowledge, prophicy, in deliverence, in forgiveness, and many others.
Individually I might be praying and feel the desire or need to start praying in the spirit or to put it another way that the spirit of God in me (as in others) leads us to desire to give God a praise that leads us by the spirit in a tong we may not know.
It is called the “least” but remember that “although the toe may not be a fingure it does not mean that it has no place”.
That is a little and hope it helps.



No person can say they have the gift of tongues. They may claim to have such a gift but unless they submit to the Church to discern if the gift is real or not they cannot say they have the gift. I have met many people who claim to have the gift of tongues and when I asked them if they had submitted to the Church for discernment not a single person had done so.
There are only two reasons a person would not submit to the Church:

  1. They know they are faking it.
  2. They are so arrogant they place their own authority to discern a gift above the Church.

If someone genuinely believes they have the gift there is no reason not to submit to the Church.


Never came across anyone who spoke in tongues, nor witnessed it. My dad who was Baptist, used to joke about his hometown church that spoke in tongues and I guess I would too. Tim


Those I know with the gift have indeed submitted themselves to the authority of the Church.
How long can a person fake?
How do you explain a person with no sense of tone being able to sing?
Again, this outward manifestation is less important than the transformation that takes place in a person’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.


For me, tongues is when I feel so overwhelmed with Joy and the Love of God that it bursts forth in another language. I can’t explain how it happens because my mind is not spiritually oriented. All I know is that when I can’t find the words to describe how amazing God is, He helps me with His own words.

As for submitting to the church, I agree that all spiritual gifts ans charisms should be under the authority of the Church, but we don’t need to put God in a box, because He has an uncanny way of leaking out;).


No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Spirit.
Good description of what happens. I think you just answered the earlier question of “How do I know it’s not just gibberish” with “so overwhelmed with joy” that the love of God simply bursts forth.


how can you submit something you believe to be a gift to the Church?

do you go to a spiritual director or something?


I told my pastor the day after I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Many people receive this gift after taking a Life in the Spirit Seminar sanctioned by their parish. Pastors are generally aware of who attends these Seminars and/or become members of the parish’s intercessory prayer group. If they are themselves actively involved, they will observe the expression of the gifts within the prayer group.
A pastor might notice changes such as a person’s starting to attend daily Mass. Sometimes the priest will initiate the conversation which leads to a discussion of gifts received.
It can also be mentioned within the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


For the glory of God, I should say that, without me understanding much about Speaking in Tongue or all the gifts in the Charismatic Movement, I attended a Life in Spirit seminar once back in July 2006. Since then I have attended daily mass and joined other ministries at my parish. I could say that my life has started to change ever since. This does not mean I have stopped stumbling on my journey.

At this seminar, a priest asked me if I would consider discerning to the priesthood vocation. I laughed a bit about it because I had a girlfriend back then, but it took me 3 years to finally give it a try - I have been accepted to enter seminary this August 15.

All I could say is that God is loving and very merciful to all sinners and Blessed Virgin Mary is always with us.

May the Holy Spirit guide us always. Please pray for me.


While I had heard the term Charismatic, I likewise had no idea what the Charismatic Renewal was until I became a part of it.
In the midst of a personal crisis, I made an Easter Retreat, the first retreat I had ever made. I found myself returning to the retreat center, drawn by Christ. It was fifty miles one way from where I lived in WI. I received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit on Ascension Thursday of the same year.


thanks, that makes a little more sense.


I’m interested in what you call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Would you describe it as an instant illumination, purging and union described by the Saints? I had this experience Holy Saturday 2005 as a suicide intervention, but with no idea of the charismatic, thus received no direction. It wasn’t until awhile later a Priest put a name to it. I would like to know what your experience was like, if you don’t mind or you could PM me. Thanks, Tim


The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a new Sacrament. Rather it is a release of the gifts that each of us has already received through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. These great gifts no longer sit on the back of a closet shelf unopened. One of the manifestations of this release of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is Speaking in Tongues.
When I was about ten, a visiting priest told the story of asking "how big is God?’ A young boy about my age had replied, "God is so big that the heavens cannot contain Him and so small that He can fit in each of our hearts."
I use this story to explain the change that happened as a result of my Baptism in the Holy Spirit. No longer did I see God simply as this all powerful being looking down at me from heaven. I understood that He dwells within my own heart. He is as close as my next breath.


Thanks DebChris. Is it , for lack of a better word, “ritualistic” or called upon by someone in a church setting, perhaps a Mass? Or is it just “as the Spirit blows” and people seek out answers or just confirm what has happened to them? Thanks, Tim


Ho boy! :doh2: Is that ever a kettle of worms I wish I’d never pealed the top off of. With a master of divinity and a master of sacred theology I was ordained priest in a “convergence movement church.” Ostensibly the movement sought to bring Catholic theology and Charismatic together, but it didn’t work out that way. I left that “Ecclesiastic Community” as the Holy Father terms such when my then bishop came to town brandishing a dummy hand grenade from the pulpit and demanded that we “drop those dumb beads and practice speaking in tongs!” I’m Catholic five years now, having been only tolerant of charismatics, but I am left under obligation: My Holy Orders are through the Brazilian Succession (another long story) and have been found valid by the Congregation for the Holy Office (formerly known as the Holy Inquisition) in Rome. I do not now function as or present myself as a priest as there is an irregularity in my ordination. But I have for five years now been working to remove that irregularity. Once a priest, always a priest, it can’t be undone and I am bound to honor it best I can. Any other life is precluded.
That said: glossolalia (speaking in tongs) is identified as a charism by St. Paul, along with the translation of tongs, teaching, preaching, “helps” etc. These are special graces given to selected individuals by God for the good of the community. So far, so good. Unfortunately most heresies are the result of building an entire theology around one perecoupe to the exclusion of the rest of scripture and that’s exactly what happened in the late 1800s on Azuzza Street when the Pentecostal Movement was born. Glossolalia is documented as a spontaneous ecstatic outpouring in many of the worlds religions. It seems to be part of the human psyche. These people in Chicago tacked together several unconnected pieces of scripture to make it the defining test of salvation! Peter, having received the Holy Spirit addressed the assembled crowd on Pentecost and each man there understood as if in his own tong. Note that the Bible doesn’t say that Peter was speaking in tongs as the Pentecostals claim, but that all miraculously understood him. The Apostles encountered Christians who had received only John’s baptism and they insisted that these followers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Hence Pentecostals insist on a second baptism, specifically of the Holy Spirit, and demand glossolalia as a sign of true faith. But note above that Paul identified several charisms distributed throughout the community and not all to each individual. No where does the Bible say that all must speak in tongs, or that it is the exclusive definitive mark of a Christian. The Bible also says that the Holy Spirit prays for us with groaning that we cannot understand. where this connects with Christians groaning eludes me. I do not dispute this gift of the Holy Spirit in some, but as I implied, this got way out of hand and has become in it’s perverted state a herricy that divides the church Catholic. My own experience of “words from God” was that it degraded into a public “cat fight” of self righteous criticism of others in the assembly. It got ugly with the wife of the Bishop (Brazilian Order priests do marry, which is one reason there schismatic) calling the wife of a priest for some perceived short coming, which was answered with an “all right, well I’ve got a word from God for you” and so forth until every woman in the place was involved! That hair pulling didn’t ensue is itself a grace. It was trivial and said under the guise of God’s word!
If God has a message, He will deliver it through the Magesterium of the Church He established as the repository of faith and mediator of grace. Stay away from anyone who pretends special knowledge.

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