“Tongues” and Vain Repetitions

The reason for the title of this post is to point out a very interesting phenomenon I have noticed, particularly after coming back into a more liturgical and structured style of worship.  Very often those of us who follow what others quickly call “ritual” are accused of “vain repetitions,” something definitely condemned by Jesus in the Sacred Scriptures. And I agree with the danger.

But I would challenge what is at times meant by this statement.  It is not the repetition which is condemned–otherwise even memorizing Scripture would be a sin!  And, truth be told, sometimes it is. And singing of worship choruses and hymns, even good “meaty” ones that have strong substance (a whole other topic by the way) would also be an evil waste of time and energy.  Only prayer that is extemporaneous and “on the spot” would ever be allowable, even during a wedding or funeral. And just imagine how that might go.  Grandma’s funeral might go on for days, prophecy after prophecy, and someone might even get a “word from the Lord” to fast and pray for her to be raised from the dead! A mess indeed.

So the issue is not repetition in and of itself. The challenge therefore is in its motivation and the sometimes lack of heart and understanding behind it. When a “Holy Ghost preacher” thunders in a heaving, gravelled voice “say Amen somebody” and I jump and do so, but only because he says to, and I in fact have no idea what he just said since he interrupted what was in fact a delightful short nap, is that not vain?  I think it is. Very much so, in fact.

Yet if I sing “Alleluia” before the reading of the Gospel, the very words of Jesus our Lord and Savior, as we do in each and every Mass, and which many Lutheran and other liturgical brethren do as well,  and I do so thoughtfully as a way to prepare my own heart to welcome His Holy Word, my repetition is not vain even though I do it every single time I attend.  Again the difference is within my own motive and my openness to hearing the Holy Spirit speak to me through the Word of God.  And that can be a huge difference indeed.

In the matter of speaking in tongues, it is much the same. Why are you doing it? Because someone told you to?  Or taught you to? Or, as I read from Tim Staples, featured in the first video below, describing on another occasion,  those who told you to open your mouth and just talk “baby talk” until the sovereign God decides to take over your mouth? Is it because you heard it on a YouTube video as in the 2nd video below? Or is it honestly and fully flowing from your heart as worship to the mighty and amazing God who you serve? Anything less is vain.

I am not against “tongues.”  Not at all. But I am against the atrocities and utter confusion that even well-meaning believers can unwittingly cause to happen by posting such things as you will see here in video # 2. The woman not only speaks in tongues extensively  but teaches us how, and then suggests we do so while “cleaning the house.” Can I pray while cleaning–or driving?  Indeed. Especially with some of the drivers on the road these days!!!

But is that the best use of a gift that most Pentecostal/charismatic people consider holy, reverent, and sacred, and in many cases (another topic yet) supernatural ?  I do not think it generally is.   In short there are many ways to “vainly repeat.”

Earlier I wrote an article about my own experience, shortly after returning to the Catholic Church, regarding my own experience within the charismatic renewal within the Church. Since that article I have at times attended wonderful charismatic meetings at times, and do not discount the movement as a whole in any case.  But there are limits, and “charismania” should not prevail or be our basis for believing.  I refer my own earlier post below for further information and background:


Neither my original post nor this one was written as an attack on charismatics, who arguably are one of the most vibrant and worshipful Christian peoples I know, whether Catholic or Protestant.  The movement really did bring a fresh wind of the Spirit  into the Christian faith on all levels, including the emphasis on personal worship, commitment to Christ and the sharing of the Gospel with others.  And I still have great appreciation for many aspects of it. In short I have not rejected the charisms nor dare I do so.

BUT…misuses do abound.  And it is the Holy Spirit who, as 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity, would actually curb those misuses by pointing us to Christ Jesus and the Word of God to balance us.  Below are two very different perspectives on this gift, and both from people who I believe are sincere and Christ-seeking. Please watch them each, in order, and then let us know what you think.  As always, various opinions are welcome, but please remember that your sisters and brothers on both sides on the topic love our Lord and are attempting to serve Him well.  Listen on:


11 Replies to ““Tongues” and Vain Repetitions”

    1. Well as you can tell I do not take it to that extent, and do believe in the validity of the charisms–BUT–what a hilarious and great example of “charismania” you present! Welcome to the blog. Comment anytime!


      1. Thanks, I appreciate it! And feel free to drop by my blog as well! Unfortunately, I sometimes handle LGBT issues with all the subtlety and skill of Freddie Kruger, and I could use a critique from someone who can see both sides of the picture.

        I don’t “doubt” the validity of the charisms per se; it’s like C.S. Lewis said about spies: I can accept their presence in our country without needing to believe my next-door neighbor is a foreign agent. So it is with speaking in tongues. I’ve been exposed to a couple of instances of people attempting to “speak”; though I’m only fluent in English, I’m enough of a linguist to tell when I’ve been babbled at. But two instances is a poor statistical sample, right? However, I’m also familiar with some of the literature on demonic possession, which is why I can’t lightly toss aside the stories of people yelling foreign-language blasphemies at Charismatic functions as “urban legends”.

        So color me not “skeptical” but “wary”. Or “Irish”.


  1. Hello there,

    Nice set up on the discussion of “speaking in tongues”. I felt it good to wait and see where you were going; when I started reading. I thought you were going to left and delighted to see you go a different path.

    I, for one, do speak in tongue and appreciate the questions you posed. It’s good to ask the question “Why?”. I was raised as a nominal Catholic and later dove into the charismatic circle in the 90s. At first, I didn’t get it and did not have the gift and dreaded the idea of faking it.

    In time, someone taught me, what tongue is and how. It was not like what’s seen in the video He explained that it’s a heartfelt prayer that done in faith. I have had to trust that the Spirit would pray through me. As I grew, it was shown that tongue is meant to edify the self and it’s sometimes used for praying when you don’t have the words..

    Do I pray in tongue like I did 10+ years ago? No, I don’t. Today, I pray mostly in English and a smattering of tongue and I’m still a moderate charismatic Christian.


    1. Thank you for your thoughts! And for checking out the blog too. You are welcome to share anytime. I agree with you in that there are just so many types of prayer, and, if done in Jesus’ Name and meant from the heart, they are ALL “in the Holy Spirit.” But when I least expect it I still pray in tongues, sometimes as you said at moments when what you feel inside is just too big for your own vernacular. And that is a very valid use of the gift. The question arose earlier from another reader about whether the Saints through the ages spoke in tongues. I would contend that many of them did, whether they realized it or not. Some had mystical experiences where they perhaps even had visions and the like, and, although their writings may not indicate specifically speaking in tongues, you can bet that they were either silent or speaking words that they did not understand at times such as those!

      Also Blessed John XXIII, who established the 2nd Vatican Council, prayed specifically for a “new Pentecost” to be poured over the Church at that time in history. Is it an accident that, less than 10 years later, the charismatic renewal as we now know it was spreading through the Christian Faith like literal wildfire? And every Holy Father since that time has acknowledged and allowed this movement. So I think it is a huge mistake to throw it out. But it is an equal and opposite mistake to go along with nonsense such as “leg growing,” the “Holy Ghost Hokie-Pokie” (and no I am not making that one up–that one is on YouTube too!) or the “laughing” movement. St Paul dealt with these types of abuses and explained clear ranges of use for each gift within 1 Corinthians 12-14. And sandwiched the words of chapter 13 right in the middle, showing us once for all that love of God and each other is far more important than the most dramatic of manifestations.

      Lastly is an article from the Christian Research Institute on this whole topic–and please keep in mind that these folks are not anti-Catholic nor anti-charismatic. I spoke in person to Hank Hanegraaff, current President of this organization, and heard him speak shortly after my return to the Catholic Church. He very agreeably considered me a brother in Christ, and publicly that night had in fact told the audience that the Catholic Church was not the “whore of Babylon” in no uncertain terms. So, long answer to your comment, but you brought up some good salient points which I did not wish to miss. Again welcome!



  2. I do wonder how many charismatic Christians who become charismatic still speak in tongues. I feel that the gift is real, but I question whether it is misused. How many Catholic saints prayed in tongues? My feeling is that the true and substantial presence of Jesus in the Eucharist somehow supercedes the need for praying in tongues.


    1. My feeling is that it is a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.” However I find myself praying in tongues much less than I did in my charismatic Protestant years, and for much the same reason. I also know that they are many ways to pray “in the Holy Spirit” as it says in Ephesians. Those ways include the Liturgy (including the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office), Adoration, the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet or just meditating on the Crucifix, just to name a few. Ironically when I became “charismatic” one of the big phenomenons was “singing the Scriptures.” Obviously none of us had heard of the Liturgy of the Hours which is full of Psalms put to music and chant. And yet it was precisely then, in the early 1970s, that the Roman Catholic Church had begun to promote this to lay persons in a new way. But we chose the bubble gum route, which then evolved into Contemporary Christian Music and now worship music, which in many cases now consists of “I love you Jesus, Jesus you are so good TO ME” sung over and over. The Church had the meat and potatoes and we chose Spaghetti-O’s and laced brownies instead. Sad isn’t it?


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