Speaking in Tongues at Mass

And More on Children’s Liturgy

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ROME, AUG. 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- 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: Children’s Sunday Liturgy at Midweek

In the wake of our July 28 column on children’s Masses a reader from Austin, Texas, made further inquiries: «We have noticed at a parish that we visit occasionally in town that one of the priests regularly uses one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Children for the Sunday morning Masses. This Eucharistic Prayer as written has within it several dialogue/response sections between the celebrant and the congregation. The priest leaves these dialogues out, presumably because they are unfamiliar to the normal Sunday crowd. Is it ever licit to use the children’s prayers for a regular parish Sunday liturgy? Does leaving out parts of the Eucharistic Prayer (he never leaves out the invocation of the Holy Spirit or the words of consecration) invalidate the Mass?»

Practically all of norms regarding the use of the children’s Eucharistic Prayers indicate that they are designed in order to guide quite young children toward eventual participation in the normal Sunday liturgy. They are thus conceived as a temporary phase and not for permanent use. Therefore, these anaphora are not another option that a priest may use ad libitum, like the first three Eucharistic Prayers, or with some relatively minor restrictions like the fourth, or only for specific Masses like the prayers for reconciliation and particular needs.

They may be used exclusively for those (usually weekday) Masses in which the majority of participants are children in or around the age of first Communion, roughly corresponding to between 5 to 9 years old.

The use of this prayer for normal Sunday Masses — with or without the acclamations — is illicit although the Mass is valid. Since the prayer itself should not be used, the question of the omission of the acclamations is moot. The omissions, however, would not affect the Mass’ validity in any way.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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