The Catholic Defender: The Biblical Gift Of Tongues
"In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit". St. Luke was giving the importance of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)." This would be what is called the first novena when the Apostles waited for 9 day for the empowering of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. This would be the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus words, "I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you (John 14:25-26).
We are living in the age of grace and still have the capacity of the Holy Spirit with us through Baptism and Confirmation. The Christian is to live the life of the Holy Spirit given to them as a way of life. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church was an extra-ordinary event. "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-4)." At this point, the speaking in tongues is clearly the usage of languages specifically to the hearers of the Apostles. People from all over the Roman Empire were present and able to understand them in their own language. The text goes on to say, "yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God (Acts 2:11)."
St Mark clearly agrees saying, "These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages..." (Mark 16:17) With the baptism of the house of Cornelius, St. Peter was amazed that as soon as he began speaking, the Holy Spirit was being poured out upon the Gentiles. They were heard speaking in tongues and glorifying God. This was a major sign to St. Peter as he could not withhold Baptism from the Gentiles. It is important here that speaking in tongues here was a sign, an evidence to the Holy Spirit and His will in bringing in the Gentiles. Was this a tongue of another language or was this something different. At least at this stage, it would be within reason to see this as before, they were speaking other languages. St. Paul, while in Ephesus, he too spoke to the people and when he laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Again, it stands to reason that the people were speaking in different languages as a sign of their receiving the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul writing to the Corinthians states, "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds, to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:7-10). This is the first example of the gift of interpretation of tongues. Is this addressing other known languages or is this something else? Up to this point it would appear that the tongues was a sign of the Holy Spirit and the languages spoken had a purpose. Now there is a need of interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28, tongues was part of God's designation within the structure of the Church. What role did this place in the assembly? According to verse 30, "Do all have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?" The obvious answer is no, the Spirit was poured out and the faithful received many gifts that made up the one body, the Church. I find this interesting as there are various Protestant Pentecostals who do not believe you can be Born Again without speaking in Tongues? That is obviously not the intention of St. Paul.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5 gives a very important clue, "Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to human beings but to God, for no one listens; he utters mysteries in spirit. On the other hand, one who prophesies does speak to human beings, for their building up, encouragement, and solace. Whoever speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but whoever prophesies builds up the church. Now I should like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interpenetrates, so that the church may be built up." What does this clearly mean? Obviously, the gifts that build up the Church are more important. St. Paul states, "I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than any of you, but in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, so as to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:18-19). St. Paul makes it clear that "tongues are a sign not for those who believe but for the unbelievers. That certainly makes the case from the beginning as 3,000 people were baptized into the Catholic Faith that first day.(Acts 2:41) The question remains, are we talking about other languages or something else.
Another important clue develops from St. Paul's instruction. He instructs, "If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be two or at most three, and each in turn, and one should interpret. But if there is no interpreter, the person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God" (1 Corinthians 14:29). It appears that St. Paul is basically weaning tongues from the assembly primarily for the up building of the Church and for order. According to St. Paul, Tongues is the least of all the gifts. We are encouraged to seek the higher gifts that buildup the Church. The need for the Holy Spirit to use tongues as a sign began to diminish among the faithful as order and structure developed. Pope Gregory the Great (604 A. D.) in his encyclical Homiliae in Evanfelia, Hom 29.4 observed that such charismatic signs decreased after the first days of the Catholic faith. Sometime after the turn of the 1st and 2nd century tongues became greatly diminished. Though greatly diminished, tongues was not fully done away with. The following is about St. Anthony: "St Anthony of Padua, one of the chosen disciples and companions of St Francis, whom the latter called his Vicar, was preaching one day before the Pope and the Cardinals in Consistory, there were therefore present at that moment men of different countries- Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English and men of many other different languages and dialects. And being inflamed by the Holy Spirit and inspired with apostolic eloquence, he preached and explained the word of God so effectively, devoutly, subtly, clearly and understandably that all who were assembled at that Consistory, although they spoke different languages, clearly and distinctly heard and understood everyone of his words as if he had spoken in each of their languages. Therefore they were all astounded and filled with devotion, for it seemed to them that the former miracle of the Apostles at the time of Pentecost had been renewed, when by the power of the Holy Spirit they spoke in different languages. "And in amazement, just like in the Acts of the Apostles they said to one another: "Is he not a Spaniard?' How then are we all hearing him in the language of the country where we were born-we Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English, Lombards and foreigners?"
It was not only at this consistory that St. Anthony's gift of tongues was utilized. It is written that while preaching in Italy he spoke in perfect Italian, and while in France he preached in French, although he had never studied these languages. Also remarkable is the fact that "the simple-minded and the most ignorant listeners were capable of fully comprehending all he said; and his voice, though gentle and sweet, was distinctly heard at a very extraordinary distance from the speaker." It is quite clear here that St. Anthony's tongues was languages similar to the original Pentecost. In recent times, Pope John XXIII is reported to have prayed for those gifts of the early Church to aid in these final days. The Charismatic Renewal was sparked in the 1980’s and continues through today. Pope Paul VI encouraged the attendees in their renewal efforts and especially to remain anchored in the Church. "This authentic desire to situate yourselves in the Church is the authentic sign of the action of the Holy Spirit ... How could this 'spiritual renewal' not be a chance for the Church and the world? And how, in this case could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so..." Pope John Paul II, for his part, has been more explicit. Speaking to a group of international leaders of the Renewal on December 11, 1979, he said, "I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church." Noting that since age 11 he had said a daily prayer to the Holy Spirit he added,
"This was my own spiritual initiation, so I can understand all these charisms. They are all part of the richness of the Lord. I am convinced that this movement is a sign of his action." Pope John Paul II once held a Mass at the Vatican inviting 10,000 Catholic Charismatic pilgrims. During the Eucharistic Prayer, many of them prayed in tongues and later the Holy Father was asked about it. He was asked it this disrupted his prayer and his response was that it enriched his prayer. Pope Benedict XVI once said, "At the heart of a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit suddenly burst forth. And, since then, that experience has assumed a breadth of a worldwide Renewal movement. What the New Testament tells us about the charisms - which were seen as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit - is not just ancient history, over and done with, for it is once again becoming extremely topical. What is the relation between personal experience and the common faith of the Church? Both factors are important: a dogmatic faith unsupported by personal experience remains empty; mere personal experience unrelated to the faith of the Church remains blind. ...to those responsible for the ecclesiastical ministry - from parish priests to bishops - not to let the Renewal pass them by but to welcome it fully; and on the other (hand) ... to the members of the Renewal to cherish and maintain their link with the whole Church and with the charisms of their pastors. [Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, Leo Cardinal Suenens (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1983)]
The Church has "Life in the Spirit" Seminars that help people understand the Catholic perspective and to encourage devotion to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is said to be the forgotten member of the Trinity. There are also "healing Masses" that people are sometimes healed. My Mother had her back broke in two places causing her years of pain. In her 40's she would have to kind of scoot from one plant to the other. After being given the Anointing of the Sick at a Mass, she exclaimed she felt this warmth throughout her body. In her 50's she was able to run out to the garden. Some concerns: St. John writes, "Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). I was raised around many various Protestant groups, I had two Uncles who were Assemblies of God Preachers. My Mother was raised Assemblies of God before her conversion to the Catholic Faith. They certainly were trained and fully aware of the scripture regarding tongues. Among the Pentecostals, Charismatics, non-denominations who espouse this in their services and belief systems, are in great disunity on many things to include the Divinity of Christ. Also, some Pentecostals place so much emphasis on tongues that they do not believe your a Christian unless you do speak in tongues.
This is a couple of major concerns of mine. The Holy Spirit can only teach the truth and would never deny Catholic teaching. Are there well meaning people who are influenced by their environment and their teachings received? Certainly, many good people simply are misled by others through no fault of their own. I have been in both Catholic and Protestant surrounding where they implored me to speak in tongues. I had one Protestant Leader kneel down next to me to listen to see if I was speaking in a tongue. He encouraged me to sing and let it go? Early on in the 1980's while participating with Catholic Charismatics, I became concerned that it was projected that they enjoyed and got more out of the prayer meetings that the Mass. I believe such a position was a wrong and dangerous one. Like they prefer the gifts more than the giver of the gifts? In the 1990's while stationed at Fort Campbell KY, I was invited to lead a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting mostly because of my interest and knowledge of the Scriptures and the Church. I was a main leader for three years and during that time I participated in a lot of great things. On one occasion, while we were singing in a circle, we had a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. As we were singing, this most beautiful scent of perfume overwhelmed me. I gave everyone a hug right then and there to find no one had that scent which was so strong. It was moments later that everyone else realized why I was hugging them because soon everyone noticed it as well. It really seemed to be a supernatural experience. There was no source found for that scent and all recognized it as supernatural.
I remembered stories of St. Padre Pio and sometimes his presence was noticed by such a scent. I recalled "For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life". St. Paul wrote, "So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma". When looking and reading about the gift of tongues, the bottom line for me is that we must seek the higher gifts for up building the Church. If the Lord were to give me such a gift, I would never refuse it, but I could never fake it nor demand it. The Charismatic gifts are so much more that tongues, it is a movement within the Church that seeks to enrich the believers. Cursillo is another movement that seeks to do the same thing. They are not to replace the Mass, but to enrich it for you. To grow closer in the Lord and to strengthen us in these difficult days that lay ahead.