In His Own Language

but they were confused because each one heard
them speaking in his own language.

ACTS 2: 1-11

Pentecost Sunday stirs up many memories.   As a child, the Holy Spirit was most evident in the form of my dad’s Pentecostal relatives.  I had one uncle who was a Pentecostal minister in the Church of God.  My grandparents and some relatives attended a Church of God congregation in my dad’s home town.   I always knew at some point in the service, the adults would begin speaking words that made no sense to me.  Of these adults, eventually, at least one if not more, would find their way to the floor.  In this spiritual swoon, other adults would hover — waving paper funeral home fans.   I always looked around curiously at what was transpiring around me — never feeling anything really.  Are we done yet? It seemed like a small penance to endure while we were visiting relatives.

My dad recalled this man in his church  — this poor brother would come down to the altar regularly to be prayed over — he just couldn’t seem to get “sanctified by the Spirit”, no foreign tongue would escape his mouth.  My dad can only recall once in his life that he felt an authentic presence of the Gift — a woman stood to speak a message of the Holy Spirit in a foreign tongue.  Another, a visitor that day, began weeping — this person stood and said the message was for her — it was in perfect German.  The person who delivered the message did not know German.  But; what did I hear mostly?  The relatives would point to the Pentecost scriptures and explain themselves away as having a “personal prayer language.”  Okay.  All I knew was that my family was Baptist and we were less “saved” on account of our lack of this Gift of Speaking in Tongues — we were not sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  Again — never really feeling anything  — should I care?  In the Bible, the people understood the words that were said to them — the Apostles spoke in known languages for a reason — this was crucial to the evangelism of the Good News.

Aside from the day I walked the aisle in my Baptist Church to make a profession of faith and request baptism — my day of Pentecost was the Sunday I attended my very first Catholic Mass.  With a background in scriptures, the Gospel literally came to life in front of me — everything that was said — I recognized scripture after scripture.  I recognized the context around which some of the responses are taken.  Today, I ask myself, would my conversion have been so profound — so immediate — if it had mostly been in Latin.  I don’t think so.  To have disrupted my experience by reading translations in the Missal would have somehow hindered the Spirit.

I’ve always been a conservative in my worship style.  By default then, I’ve befriended some conservative Catholics who prefer Latin.  I’m curious — I’m respectful.  I enjoy the Latin that is used, but, if I’d heard ‘Angus Dei’ instead of ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’ at my first Mass — I would not have dissolved into tears of Spiritual happiness.  I understand the value of Latin — the words have meant what they’ve meant for a long time.  I’m not claiming linguistic expertise here.  I am delighted as I recognize the Latin roots in words of different languages that share meaning.  I understand the value Latin plays as a common language.  But, I also think it is possible to celebrate authentic liturgy that respects the Church while at the same time meets the needs of the local parish.

It was said in Mass today that the distance between faith in your head and faith in your heart can be a very long distance.  For me,  understanding some Latin is an academic pursuit — I got my own 1962 Missal — But, my own language, that is in my heart.  I am convinced that, in the heart, is true Evangelization and Christian unity.

Come Holy Spirit

Veni, Sancte, Spiritus

Note:  the header photo of my blog is of the Holy Spirit window in the Basilica of St. Peter, Vatican City

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2 thoughts on “In His Own Language

  1. SFG, I think you implied two differing things, which I perceive as the same. You wrote that the “apostles spoke in a KNOWN language”, but “in the heart is true Evangelization.” I couldn’t agree more, but I see them as the same. In both instances, it was the work of the Holy Spirit which effected the insight, the wisdom, the conversion.
    My parish is a charismatic one, and many people pray in tongues, although I do not. I (and Scripture) consider it one of the lesser Gifts; I pray for Wisdom. But the people of my parish ARE being acted upon by the Holy Spirit, of this I am sure. I see so many fruits: over 30 men and women are in formation for religious orders from our small parish of 800 families. SOMETHING major is happening there, and I am often struck to tears during mass or communion, or if I choose to be prayed over in times of distress. Once, a visiting priest from Kenya told how he was doubting the prayers going on around him as he said mass, until the person behind him prayed aloud words in his native, tribal language.
    I don’t pretend to understand it all. Once, when I was in Paris, a Protestant co-worker asked to stay for the mass which was starting as we toured the church of Sacre Couer. The mass was in Latin, but I knew in my heart what was being said and done. My friend commented how blessed I was to be able to hear and understand the same liturgy wherever I was in the world. She appreciated more what I took for granted.
    I know I am blessed to be a member of this Church.

  2. It is interesting. I attended our Atlanta Eucharistic Congress on Friday and Saturday. I bought CDs of the talks I missed. I’ve counted at least three testimonies of persons who remarked how it didn’t matter if they understood the language. Each time I heard a new testimony, it was as if God was saying “I am not through with you yet in this matter. Trust Me more that you will know in your heart the understanding of what is heard.” I have participated in Charismatic Catholic services and been at ease. Perhaps because of my family history. The most amazing have been during intense services of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And, I can’t say I have *never* heard the stirrings of something inside that I didn’t full understand.

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