Emotion — What role should it play in a healthy faith life?

I’ve visited non-Catholic Christian denominations before where a great deal of emotional expression in worship and during sermons is the norm. Pentecostal and some Non-denominational congregations come to mind as an example. It almost seemed like your depth of faith or relationship with Christ was somehow tied to how worked up emotionally you were in church and how many loud shouts of “amen” you gave. Others lift and raise the hands in praise, either in tears or with looks of great joy on their faces and seemed very sincere about it.

On the other hand, I’ve been in some traditional services where you would need to take the congregation’s pulse to ensure they were still alive/awake during the service or otherwise acted like they were at the dentist getting their teeth pulled or something.

I sometimes feel overcome with strong emotion at church but usually don’t express it much due to my religious background where emotions are viewed more as a personal thing and not to be a source of distraction to others.

Just curious how your faith tradition views the expression of emotion during congregational worship. Does it view it as a positive or negative and if it helps to be emotional to feel closer to God in your life.

The way you describe the different settings stirred my emotions!

I don’t care much for the charismatic type of hype if it seems phony. But neither do I like the “teeth pulled at the dentist” atmosphere (I almost laughed out loud when I read that).

What often gets me emotional is listening to great acapella four part harmony. Also listening to someone speak when they are so happy they cry!

Whether it’s positive or negative depends on how sincerely authentic it comes across.


Truth is more important than feelings. Feelings can be deceiving and lead you astray. Both St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila warn against being carried away by feelings/emotions.


Emotions are part of our essential humanity.
We cry for our losses, we become angry at injustice, we “want” and “rejoice”.


We have reason to help us make good choices among the various possibilities we are faced with.

So, it’s not a matter of either emotion or reason, but both emotion and reason.

For instance, I see a bracelet at the store and I want it (emotion). Now, I have to decide among buying it, asking somebody to get it for me, or stealing it (reason).

So, in a mature individual, emotion and reason work together.


Some Catholic congregations are more emotional than others. It depends heavily on the culture of the Catholics worshipping and also whether they are charismatic. In general, emotional expression during Catholic worship is cultural - it’s not a part of “faith tradition” to be emotional or not be emotional.

My personal cultural background is Irish/ British/ German so I was not raised to be emoting all over the church or anywhere else. You show respect by remaining calm and quiet. For Latinos, it’s often a different story.


Thanks for the replies everyone’s given so far. They made a lot of sense.

Makes sense that culture can play a big part in emotional expression at church. I also have observed that that there is more emotional “license” in certain Protestant denominations than others (in general). For example, a Pentecostal congregation will generally allow more emotional expression during worship than a conservative Presbyterian one.

My predominantly White Methodist congregation has a partnership with a predominantly African American congregation (non-Methodist) in our city. One time their choir came and sang at our church along side ours. Their choir swayed in unison to the music and were much more lively than ours. They wore their emotions on their sleeve, so to speak, and seemed very genuine about it.

It made some of our congregation uncomfortable, kind of reminding me of the British guests’ reaction at the Royal wedding of Meghan Markle when her pastor spoke. On the other hand, some of our choir members did their best to join in and sway and clap along.


We’ve heard people in our parish describe their “gift of tears.”

Many of these people are older, and not culturally likely to display visible emotions, and yet, they have “the gift of tears.”

They describe it as the onset of tears during a particularly stirring homily, a choir anthem, or other occasions of joy or sadness in the parish.

My husband serves as a EMHC, and he is often very tearful as he performs this service for the Lord Jesus and the Church–he is humbled and honored to help people receive Holy Communion.

I think I tend to be more staid and less likely to display emotion because I grew up playing piano (and now organ) in church, and when you are offering the music, you have to be thinking as much with the logical side of the brain as with the emotional side of the brain. You simply can’t let yourself go and end up making mistakes that interfere with the congregation’s or choir’s or soloist’s perception of the musical piece or anthem.

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I think we should be somewhere in between. “Pray over the Book of Mormon to the Holy Ghost to know it’s true”. But I can easily mistake my subjective emotions for something that should be objective. Now,to answer the question: I, as a Catholic, believe that Jesus is truly and really present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist IS he, and I base this, not on emotion, but on history. And since I trust God enough to believe him when he says “this is my body”, I tend to believe him. Now, how I TREAT the Eucharist is, in fact, based on emotion. Not everyone cries when they receive Holy Communion.

We walk by Faith, not by sight.

Emotion is not a gauge for anything, well, maybe it is good for rating horror movies. If you feel emotion at Mass, as long as it is reverent, no problem but don’t teach yourself to rely on that emotion. If it goes away one day and you become Spock-like, it does not mean you have lost God or your Faith.

Love is a choice.


Whether we’re using our emotions, intellect, or a combination, honesty is the goal.

It no longer bothers me if people get “overly” emotional, so long as I’m not pressured to do likewise.

I don’t like attending churches that “obligate” me to emotional expressions like tears or even raising my hands while singing. That doesn’t feel honest or authentic to me. This also explains why I don’t attend a lot of group retreats.

On the converse side, I don’t judge others if it feels authentic to them.

Whether or not you’re honestly feeling what you’re expressing is based both on cultural and individual traits.



I think it’s a delicate balance to strike, particularly in liturgy : offering a space of prayer that is objective enough that everyone can inhabit it with their particular subjectivity, and welcome the emotions it awakens, which will be very different and at very different moments for different individuals.

One of the places I regularly attend, a Reformed monastery of all places, is very good at doing this. People will randomly break into tears or drop to their knees, or prostrate, without anyone blinking an eye or making feel that such manifestations are unwelcome. People whose emotion is all safely bundled up inside aren’t judged for it either.


Our personality type and life experiences play a big role in how we react emotionally to all things in our life. The Catholic Mass is a ritual and it can actually tend to dull our emotional reaction, even to the point of many people waiting for the Mass to end so that they can leave. But I sense in many Catholics a deep commitment and desire to participate in “the sacrifice of the Mass.”

The Mass confronts us with the opportunity for offer our lives in sacrifice and along with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. So, the appropriate emotional reaction is reverence and awe, not agitated dancing or expressions of ecstasy, shouting or outbursts of shrieks, etc.

Being there at Mass is a great expression of love and devotion, which are not common sorts of expression.

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I believe that God loves it when we raise our hands, dance and pray in the Spirit. I’m not really into the kind of worship where there are people weeping, having convulsions, falling down after being pushed by the pastor/evangelist, speaking in tongues uncontrollably and running up and down the aisles. That’s mainly because I don’t find those practices to be Biblical.

I consider myself to be a pentecostal, but I insist that there must be self-control in a worship service. I’m not against speaking in tongues, but I believe that it should be done with only one or two persons doing it at the same time. There is a time and place to show emotion and to relish in ecstatic love, of course. I just think there needs to be structure in a service, not worshiping while flying off the handle.

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