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The gift of tongues, as described in Sacred Scripture, is a charism bestowed by the Holy Spirit that manifests in various ways. In Mark 16:17, Jesus prophesied this gift to his disciples: “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak new languages.” This prophecy was fulfilled on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.

The Church recognizes multiple interpretations of this gift:

1. Enhanced Understanding of Scripture: The Holy Spirit grants believers a deeper comprehension of God’s Word, enabling them to expound on it with greater clarity and insight.

2. Xenoglossia: The miraculous ability to speak in languages previously unknown to the speaker, as witnessed at Pentecost when the Apostles addressed the diverse crowd in their native tongues (Acts 2:4-11).

3. Spiritual Language: A form of prayer or praise expressed in sounds or words not belonging to any known human language, but understood by God and potentially interpreted by others with the gift of interpretation (1 Cor 14:2, 13-14).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the gift of tongues as one of the charisms, or special graces, given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the Church (CCC 2003). The Church teaches this gift should be exercised with discernment and always in service of charity and the common good.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, provides guidance on the proper use of this gift. He emphasizes that while speaking in tongues can edify the individual, prophecy and intelligible speech are more beneficial for building up the entire community of believers (1 Cor 14:4-5, 18-19). This teaching underscores the importance of using all spiritual gifts, including tongues, for the benefit of the whole Church rather than personal edification alone.

Throughout Church history, there have been reports of saints exhibiting the gift of tongues, including St. Dominic, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Francis Xavier. These instances, though rare, demonstrate that the charism has continued to manifest in the lives of holy individuals dedicated to spreading the Gospel.


For us as Christians today, the gift of tongues serves as a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the Church. Whether manifested as xenoglossia, a spiritual prayer language, or a deeper understanding of Scripture, this charism ultimately points to the universality of God’s love and the call to spread the Gospel to all nations.

However, it is crucial to remember that the most important “language” we can speak is that of Christian love and service. As St. Paul beautifully expresses in 1 Corinthians 13, even the most impressive spiritual gifts are worthless without love. Our primary focus should be on growing in charity and using our gifts, whatever they may be, to build up the Body of Christ and draw others to the faith.

In conclusion, while the gift of tongues remains a topic of discussion and sometimes controversy within Christian circles, we must not lose sight of its ultimate purpose: to glorify God and build up His Church. As Catholics, we are called to be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit while always seeking to use our gifts in accordance with Church teaching and for the common good. Let us strive to speak the universal language of Christ’s love in all we do, drawing others to the Gospel through our words and actions.

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