Radio Show

Why Don’t Catholics Smile at Mass?


Susan calls in to the Radio Show and asks, “Why don’t Catholics smile at Mass?” Susan explains that she is Lutheran, but recently attended a Catholic Mass on Christmas Eve and noticed that nobody was smiling.

Father Dave points out that we usually see Pope Francis as a joyful figure, but even during Mass, he seems to be a bit more serious. He thinks we should be careful not to think that reverence means the absence of a smile on our face, but he does point out that happiness and joy are not the same thing: “I can have my joy rooted in Christ even on a tragic day … I would not necessarily always associate joy with a smile on your face.”

Father Dave says that it’s not fair to pass judgment on whether or not someone looks reverent because reverence is an interior disposition. He also said that this applies to both sides of the coin, meaning sometimes people complain about the opposite, that people are too happy during Mass. “I would defend the fact that those celebrating the Mass are not necessarily devoid of joy at the celebration of Christ just because their face doesn’t have a smile on it,” Father Dave says. “But I would say it is more prevalent than I care to admit.” He also adds, “It saddens me that it is surprising for people to see an expression of joy during the Mass.”

RELATED: How Do I Know If I’m Praying Reverently?

Father Dave asks Susan what outward signs are different at a Lutheran service. Susan says the main difference is smiling. People at her church tend to smile more, and it surprised her that no one was smiling on Christmas Eve. Father Dave acknowledges that the outward expression is very important to us as humans. He explains the theological distinction between the transcendence of God and the immanence of God: “The transcendence represented by the mystery, the incense, the great gothic cathedrals, people on their knees with their eyes closed. Something we can never imagine. Even in Genesis, two different experiences of God are described, indicating, I think for us, that not one of them is right.”

He explains that there will be Christians who relate a little bit more to the immanence: “The buddy Jesus, the gathering around the table, holding hands at the Our Father … and those that gravitate a little more toward the transcendence: the God hovering over the waters who doesn’t have a face. The God of mystery.”

“People naturally and genuinely will have a powerful, spiritual, joyous celebration with hands clasped, eyes down, and no smile on their face. We have to have room for them and for the people who are raising their hands and praising the Lord.” Original air 1-17-18

Photo credit: Pope Francis celebrates Mass marking the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)