I confess my surprise at the popularity of the thread on the dancing wedding procession. I almost didn’t post it; I wasn’t sure what to say about it. Thanks for the many comments.

I thought there were two liturgical aspects touched on that deserve some further discussion. One that can and will be discussed until the end of time, and maybe beyond, is the notion of performance: when does it intrude into liturgy to the detriment of the whole. The other is the aspect of joy, glumness, reverence, apathy, or whatever outward expressions worshipers bring to the liturgy.

My sense is that individuals bring various moods and attitudes to liturgy. Most Catholics feel that the experience of ritual suppresses the outward expression of emotions. So they truly feel inside, but hide it–more or less.

A friend once gave a concert in a church, and as the event went on, was feeling more and more doubtful about the experience. It wasn’t his first concert experience in a church, but he was concerned that the music was a total flop. At the reception afterward, the people were buzzing in excitement. One woman confessed that it took a monumental effort to keep herself from applauding, and those who overheard, were all in agreement.

This wasn’t a ritual event, but it illustrates the nature of the suppression of emotion common across many Christian traditions. Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists: I’ve seen it all there.

Some Christians attempt to break free of this and express the affective dimension of liturgy. Like pre-adolescents at a dance, maybe they’re not so good at it: over-expressing the obvious, grasping for an appropriate way to act. When I go to monasteries, I generally perceive a depth of emotional life that seeps into the liturgy. Monks and nuns aren’t going happy-clappy, but they don’t need to. The joy of the religious life and the community is already present.

Diana expresses what I’ve often experienced:

Just today, I looked at the faces in the pews at Sunday Mass. Not one smile. Even as we sang “Alleluia”–not one visible hint of joy. This happens not just at parish Masses–watch again the installation Mass in DC last week. The assembly and the clergy looked passive and joyless. We have several volunteers who take photos at our diocesan liturgies. In the hundreds of pics they take, it is rare to catch one person with a smile or pleasant look on their face during the liturgies themselves.

I don’t know, but I suspect pre-conciliar liturgies were even more dour. I’m sure it was more culturally reinforced that outward joy, happiness, and pleasure were not part of ordinary worship.

As with the expression of worship in singing, not everyone need bring a spirit of joy to Mass. Individuals may feel like not singing, they may feel unhappy because of or before coming to Mass. If a community weren’t singing–nobody at all–that would be a sign of a grave spiritual lack. Likewise, if nobody felt joy in a community’s worship, I think the same diagnosis might be considered. The culture might be blamed. The lack might be in the spirituality and leadership of priests and musicians.

And I offer a caution: the expression of joy need not be effusive, apparent, or obvious. But if no joy is present, then the sacrifice offered by the people is deficient, as people would seem to be unable to offer their feelings and affective dimension.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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14 Responses to Glumness

  1. Liam says:

    Good thoughts.

    Regarding capturing of smiles or even joy in photographs or videos: it’s my experience over the years that most people have to use some conscious effort to smile when being photographed or videotaped. Knowing you are being observed tends to dampen affective expression. And we’re in a culture that celebrates affective expression; many other cultures discourage it.

    Me, when I see a supposedly candid photo where everyone is smiling or has a pleasant expression, I wonder if it’s an add. (What can I say, I worked for several years reviewing advertising copy; you realize that many things you would think are normal visuals are in fact a bit harder to confect.)

  2. Liam says:

    An “ad.” Not an “add”. sorry.

  3. Randolph Nichols says:

    It should not surprise if we have conflicting feelings about expressing emotion in worship. The roots of contention are in scripture. While the dancing David is one point of reference, so is the speechless covering of one’s eyes in the presence of the Wholly Other. The inner joy we sometimes perceive in those dedicated to the religious life suggests that an enduring, hard earned relationship with the Divine does not necessarily demand demonstrative expressiveness.

    I’m reminded as well of many revered performing musicians who manage(d) to say everything with a minimum of motion and without a hint of flamboyance.

  4. Gavin says:

    I read somewhere that, at a given time, 20% (or some such number, it was a substantial number) of people are suffering from depression. That may be higher these days. Forcing someone to pretend otherwise is really not at all “pastoral”. I agree with the singing analogy, though: if there isn’t ANY sense of joy, there’s something wrong.

  5. You want “smiling” and “happy” that is offered as proof of spiritual joy while at worship?
    Visit “GOTTA SING, GOTTA PRAY,” Todd, Jerry Galipeau, Doctor of Ministries.
    He seems always “happy.”

    • Todd says:

      Reading comprehension, my friend. It’s the downfall of many a commenter.

      • Charles says:

        Gee, Todd, I’ll be sure to put a smiley face in a post when I’m posting with tongue in cheek. Glad to have your endorsement as both being stupid and counted among the “downfallen.” Oops, I already knew that! ;-)
        But, your endorsement means a lot to me, especially when it also seems like condescending payback.

      • Todd says:

        Charles, the topic was intended to a starter for a serious discussion on what good, authentic worship could or should inspire in the assembly.

        I appreciate tongue-in-cheek as much as anyone else, but your first comment struck me as rather strange and out of place, especially in the way you referred to a ministry colleague.

        The point of my post is that “smiles” and outward “happiness” are not necessarily indicative of “spiritual joy.” Knowing Jerry personally, I don’t need to go to his blog to know he’s always struck me as an appropriately “joyful” Christian, while managing to be a serious church musician.

  6. Neil says:

    I think that the problem occurs when we take an all-or-nothing approach to joy – when we pronounce that joy is either mandatory or nothing more than self-gratification.

    I would think that there are likely problems if you never radiate joy or if you are joyous all of the time.

    For instance, St Bernard writes of four different inner movements. It is important that they come in order, but, says Bernard, all movements have a role:

    “If sadness follows fear, it brings despair. If joy comes after love, it brings laxness. Let joy then come after fear, for fear dreads what is to come, whereas joy finds its happiness in what is present and possesses the object of a prudent security. Joy must therefore put fear to the test. And tested fear is nothing but prudence. Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation. Thus sadness must balance joy, and a balanced joy is nothing but moderation.”

    Once more, all the movements have a role, for we must have prudence (fear and joy), moderation (joy and sadness), strength (sadness and love), and justice (love and fear) if we are to be virtuous people.

    So, without joy, we are likely to end up in despair. But, with joy and without sadness, we are likely to end up lacking moderation and becoming rather self-indulgent.


  7. Jim McK says:

    The missing element in this discussion istm is gratitude. Since our liturgy is centered on thanksgiving, it must contain some elements of appreciation, wonder, and even relief from the tedium of dissatisfaction.

    Those things may be hidden, but there will be times when they are expressed openly if the Eucharist is to be true to its meaning. I think an ecstatic dance might be appropriate sometimes, just as a weeping widow is sometimes appropriate. The determining factor is not smiles or tears, but the gratitude expressed by either.

  8. I appreciate Jim’s comments. Gratitude–thanks-giving–is the basic stance/disposition of we who celebrate the Eucharist. His comment also reminds me of one of the statements in a US liturgical document: People in love make signs of love. What is the “sign” of gratitude that humans need to make (God does not need liturgy; we do)?

    Another missing element in the discussion here is the role that the liturgy has to evangelize. No, it’s primary purpose is not *for* evangelization; but if the Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of our life as disciples, then it should also draw others to that kind of lifestyle. Wasn’t the liturgical life of the Apostles one of the attractive/intriguing aspects of their life that made onlookers comment, “see how they love each other”?

    In a way, this video has evangelized a whole set of people who would never consider “church” to be joyful. This often happens at good wedding liturgies–people tell me that they never thought “the church” could be so beautiful/life-giving/etc.

    Perhaps one reason this video has taken such a hold of the world-wide commentariat, Catholic or not, is because it is *attractive*–it causes people to stop and wonder what gives these people so much joy. It may be staged choreography, but I doubt the joy was fake.

    We who give thanks in the Eucharist are called to evangelize by our very living, our witnessing through our behavior and not first through our words–to make others question, as Pope Paul VI challenged, why we act in such a way.

    Lastly, perhaps one reason why there’s so much hesistation to the expression of joy in this video is fear of liturgical manipulation–and rightly so. To me, liturgical manipulation is doing something in the liturgy–a song, a story, a gesture–for the sake of evoking a specific, strong emotion from the assembly. The reason for doing so is solely for “moving” the assembly rather than expressing the faith of that assembly in an appropriate, authentic way for that assembly. I know I’ve been guilty of doing such manipulation in my younger days, and I do penance to this day for it. I don’t believe the expression of joy in this video falls under this liturgical sin. But I can understand why many prefer it did not happen.

  9. Jimmy Mac says:

    If congregational singing is “making a joyful noise unto the Lord,” then a parish that sings fully, readily and often is indeed a joyful parish …. smiles or no smiles!

  10. dymphna says:

    If you were to see me at Mass not only would you not see any smiles you’d probably see tears.

  11. Gavin says:

    I tend to agree with Jimmy there. A singing parish is a joyful parish, facial expression (and issues of genre) aside.

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