Is emotion or the show of emotion discouraged at Mass?

Actually, a complete celebration of the Mass should engage the whole person–including the mind, the emotions, and the body. Even the simplest Masses, for example, involve a procession to and from the communion station, and a switch in posture from standing to sitting to kneeling. These gestures indicate that we participate not only with our minds but with our complete self.

Popular devotions often express the emotions of Catholics and may even intensify them. When I visited churches in Mexico I observed persons processing on their knees to the tabernacle or statue of the Blessed Mother. The reverence these pilgrims felt was expressed with deep emotion.

Possibly the most powerful conveyer of emotion in our liturgies is music. Church music can express joy, penitence, and wonder. Sometimes a particular season of the church year emphasizes a certain mood or feeling. The Catholic church is a worldwide church. Part of being “Catholic” is expressing the human need to worship through a variety of nations and cultures. Those who watched Pope John Paul II’s travels around the world discovered the bright colors, exuberant music and energetic dancing of an African Mass. In America, Masses celebrated for youth groups or charismatic communities are often noted for their energetic music and movement. Many Catholic parishes observe Sunday with a different style of music at each of the Masses, so that worshippers of different temperments may choose the style that helps them pray best.

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has understood the Mass to involve a subtle interplay of mind, emotion and body. A Mass that contained thought without emotion might seem more like a philosophy class than worship. A Mass that valued emotion without thought could become a sentimental and unreflective. A Mass that did not call for the response of the whole person, body and spirit, would not inspire Catholics to work for justice and peace. If we keep these elements in balance, we can affirm that showing emotion can play a healthy and positive role in the Mass.