Crying at Mass

July 26, 2007 | Uncategorized | 28 comments

Jennifer’s recent post about those moments in life that have “the smell and flavor of God” reminded me of something I’ve often observed but have never quite understood: the surprising number of people who cry during the Mass.

When my husband and I first started attending Catholic Sunday services, I was perplexed by the fact that I usually walked out of the building wiping tears from my eyes. It was the strangest thing. At the time the ceremony was held in a nondescript building constructed in the 1980’s, the choir was small and sang pleasant but not particularly stunning hymns, the homilies were thought-provoking but not designed to stir up emotions, and I wasn’t even convinced that the body and blood of Christ were actually made present in what looked to me like bread and wine. And yet, sometime around the consecration (what I called at the time, “that part after the priest talks where we kneel”) I would feel the familiar yet unexpected sting of tears in my eyes, almost every time.

One day I looked up to glance at the people around me, half expecting to see people pointing and snickering at the crazy emotional girl who was crying for no reason. To my surprise, I noticed that at least two or three of the people kneeling near me were crying as well.

Ever since then I’ve never ceased to be amazed at how many people you see wiping their eyes right before and after they receive the Eucharist. There have been times when it seems like almost everyone is in tears. (And this is just from limited glances as I get in and out of the pew to go up for communion! …For the record, I don’t make an effort to stare at other people to see what their emotional emotional state is at this time). 🙂

I’m really not quite sure what to make of it, especially that it used to happen to me before I even believed in the Real Presence. My best guess, of course, is that it’s simply the Holy Spirit at work. Although I may be missing something since I’m not a cradle Catholic, perhaps the Mass has an emotional significance to people who have been Catholic all their lives that I wouldn’t understand. Also, I’ve only been to Mass at a few Catholic churches, so I can’t speak to whether this is a common occurrence.

I don’t exactly have a “take” here, I mainly just wanted to throw out this observation and see what others think. Does this happen at your parish as well? Why do you think so many people — even, as in my case, the occasional agnostic — are moved to tears by what is on the surface a rather unemotional ceremony?

28 Comments

  1. La gallina

    Oh my gosh, Jen, you are my sister.

    When I first started going to Mass 3 years ago, it had nothing to do with my spiritual/ religious life. I was an agnostic and simply decided on the Catholic church because I felt my children needed to learn a little about morals and values in a crazy world and I certainly wasn’t going to talk to them about God. My husband was a cradle Catholic, so off we went to the Catholic Church. (I also went there because I felt comfortable that no one would try to “witness” to me.)

    I had no clue what the Mass was all about. I had never heard of the Real Presence. But every week I would find myself weeping at that exact same time of the Mass – around Communion. I didn’t even necessarily believe in Jesus Christ! But there I was blubbering like a baby. And this parish was not especially moving either. No incense or pretty music here.

    That’s why I became a Catholic. How could a church make me cry when no one was shouting or telling moving testimonies? I didn’t understand it, but I knew that this was where I needed to be. I have since fallen deeply head-over-heals in love with the Church founded by Jesus Christ!

  2. Jeron

    I rarely cry at Mass. I don’t see anyone else crying, either. I do, however, have a charismatic friend who cries with loud sniffles each and every time the Mass is celebrated. It’s distracting, but I’m used to her doing it now. Maybe I’m envious.

  3. Melanie B

    An interesting observation and question.

    I’m a cradle Catholic and I have to say I’ve never noticed anyone else crying at mass. But my eyes have been known to well up. I haven’t really noticed at what part of the mass, though. I know I always cry at baptisms and first communions.

    I think it actually happened more during that time in college when I’d kind of fallen away from faith, didn’t make it to mass every week. When I did go, though, more often than not I’d find myself crying. I guess God was trying to break through my hardness, draw me back to himself. It hardly ever happens anymore. Maybe I’m just too distracted by the baby.

  4. Ouiz

    I’m not a particularly emotional person at Mass (I wish I were!), but there have been a few times that I have found myself choking back tears, and yes, it’s always around Communion!

    The last time was when the Eucharistic minister was standing right next to me when distributing Communion. I was overwhelmed with how close I was to the Lord, and all of a sudden I choked up and started to cry.

  5. Melanie B

    As far as why are people moved, even non-believers, when the ceremony itself is unemotional and even bland, I think that more than anything else speaks to the truth of the Real Presence. Jesus is there and even if our minds don’t accept that truth, something in our hearts bends at the presence of God.

  6. Kate

    I find myself blinking back tears sometimes. I’ve noticed a few other people crying at Mass too, though not nearly as many here in our current fairly quiet parish as in the charismatic parish we used to go to! If I choke up its usually because I suddenly realize/remember Who is waiting for me to receive Him. Sometimes, it’s in response to some blessing I’ve received during the week, or because the answer to some prayer has come to me as I kneel there. Sometimes it’s because I am bringing some burden to the altar with me, some trial from the week that I am looking forward to being relieved of. But usually I keep my tears pretty well to myself.

  7. Sarah

    Jen,

    I am just a crier I guess;) I usually cry at least once during Sunday service. It is my suspicion though, regarding communion, that it is at this moment where we are, consciously or unconsciously, faced with the true reality of what Jesus went through on our behalf. If that doesn’t warrant tears, I cannot imagine what would.

  8. Hope

    Tears are part of it for me, though not always. This past Sunday I was a teary mess the whole way through. My husband gets teary as well. We’re both converts.

  9. Faith

    When I reverted back to the Church some years ago, I always had to bring lots of tissues with me. I cried a lot at Mass. Over the years I have noticed others crying too. Not a lot but some.

    I do think its the power of being so close to God. It’s very moving!

    And it is funny that there is no whipping up of emotional from the pulpit, no manipulation or deliberate tugging at your heartstrings. It is just intimacy with the sacred that does it.

  10. Matthew G

    This is actually pretty common, so common in fact that it has a name: “The Gift of Tears”. It seems to be one of those movements of the Holy Spirit that doesn’t seem to have a set pattern or rhythm. It affects men and women and most commonly occurs during consecration or when receiving.

  11. Megan Elizabeth

    I don’t know that I have ever cried during Mass, but I got back from Adoration about an hour ago and I’m still sniffling. Every now and then I just get hit with how much God loves me. Being loved makes me bawl–just ask my friends. I’m always crying all over them.

  12. Radical Catholic Mom

    In the Charismatic prayer experience it is common to cry and not because you are so emotional. You just . . . cry. It would make perfect sense to me to have that experience with Jesus. I have had that happen to me both in prayer and while receiving the Eucharist.

  13. el-e-e

    I’ve only noticed other people getting teary once or twice, but I can tell you that when *I* get teary, it’s often a SONG that’s been sung, reminding me of school Masses during my (cradle-Catholic) childhood, or loved ones who’ve died. Sometimes I’ll come to Mass with a particular worry or need and the reading (and corresponding song, since they try to, y’know, match them up sometimes) will just speak right to me like an arrow. 🙂 For me it’s almost always the music.

    loved reading the comments!

  14. Travis

    I think that emotional reactions at Mass can happen on many different levels and have many different explanations.

    Some instances, may be being “caught up in the moment”, if there is music that stirs about emotion, or chanting, or any of the “smells and bells” people talk about.

    Others may be psychological. Some people may have had an emotional experience or conversion, on a retreat, conference, etc, and feel that if they do not cry, then “it’s not real”.

    And there are many other instances, but to me, there is truly a certain moment in which the power of Jesus in the Eucharist is revealed to all.

    That is when all of the “smells and bells” are stripped away, and it is just a person and Jesus, either in adoration, or in coming into communion with Jesus that we can encounter Jesus. In that encounter, we are forced to look at the dirtiness of our sin, and the purity of Jesus. We may not even realize this.

    In that moment, we have a choice: to surrender to God, or to resist his advances. I think this moment of surrender can profoundly effect our experience of Jesus in the Eucharist.

    I know I was once told that before and after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, a good prayer to focus on is :

    “Jesus make me pure” and “Jesus keep me pure until I receive you again”.

  15. Stephanie

    I actually haven’t noticed other people much myself, but that’s usually because I’m trying to hide behind my hair and wipe my own eyes, lol.

    Just a few weeks ago, I have no idea why, but after receiving I could not stop crying, like, not just a few tears trickling down my face, but ugly catching your breath type crying…I was so embarrassed, of course it just happened to be a day I had my hair pulled back, lol. Nor did I have any tissues…my husband graciously offered me his shoulder, lol, which I buried my face in for a bit until I could catch my breath and stop the tears.

    I grew up going to church 3 times a week. I don’t remember a single time where I ever cried while at church. Since I became Catholic, I can’t count the number of times I have, and really for apparently “no” reason, I’m happy, not pondering life’s great mysteries or anything, but just, WHAM, tears start pouring out.

  16. Linda

    I have a couple of things to add. When I was little, and hurt myself while I was outside playing, no matter how far away from home I was I would not start crying until I came home to my mother. Now I cry when I am “Home” in church, especially before the blessed sacrament. The Church, my Mother, and God, my Father, understand my pain and comfort me.
    Another source of tears at consecration is the realization of the unbelievable pain and suffering that our Saviour experienced during his Passion. The harsh reality of what he experienced was shown so graphically in the movie, “The Passion of The Christ” which I only saw once, but has given me images on which to focus during the memorial of his ultimate sacrifice. Tears of sorrow for being part of the cause of that sacrifice, and also tears of joy because of the incredible love he has for me and all of us in spite of our sinfulness.
    Finally at times tears just happen. I can find no “reason” for their presence, but I accept them as the gift that they are. Maybe someone else will see them and be moved because of them…in that sense perhaps they are a sacramental. In any case I do try to stop the inevitable sniffling because I do not want to be distracting to others, but again, maybe that too is sacramental.

  17. tminbc

    Wow – I have been Catholic for two years and always thought I was just abit unusual in my shedding of tears. I usually have to choke them back as I walk to my pew, then “hide” as I kneel and pray and discreetly wipe my tears away. I have never seen anybody else cry at Mass! I assumed it was because I am just an emotional person. But reading this makes me see it is much more than that – I was surprised to hear them referred to as a gift of the Holy Spirit, I had never heard that before!
    My tears come along with a wide range of emotion; gratefulness, unworthiness, happiness and joy, fear and sorrow, grief.. you name it, and I have felt it along with my tears.
    Thanks for this post, and thanks to all of you who cry! I now feel less weird and more blessed!
    Bring on the tears!

  18. The Ironic Catholic

    You’re definitely not alone. It has happened to me too.

    Sometimes it is gratitude…the beauty and goodness of God. Sometimes something is not right with my life and it takes this encounter with Truth to make me more consciously aware of that.

    I’m with Radical Catholic Mom on the charismatic take. You actually wonder why this isn’t more common, honestly.

  19. BuddyinStL

    I too cry during communion. I am a Eucharistic Minister, and while standing in front of the alter, my eyes just start tearing, for no know reason. This happens mostly around communion time. I never make a big deal of it, but had to search the internet to see if I was alone. Apparently not.

  20. Catholic Mom of 5

    I too well up with tears at communion regardless of the state of my life. This has been going on for years and I never had control over it. At times my mind isn’t there and still.. tears pour out. It is embarrassing. I do come prepared with lots of tissues now because its going to happen no matter where my heart or head is. When I can’t receive due to unconfessed mortal sin or when I have confessed the day before and can receive.. makes no difference. I have always thought it was simply being near him that brought this on .. sort of the “every knee will bend” thinking. I recently read that the early catechumenates underwent intense exorcisms and deliverance practices to rid them of a life of sin or occult (pagan) practices before being initiated into the Church. During these practices there was wailing, foaming at the mouth and weeping while the devil’s influences were being expelled. When these things no longer occurred, it was in indication that the catechumen was no longer under the power of evil. Now I’m curious, are the uncontrolled tears a reaction to the darkness inside of ourselves being confronted with the Almighty presence of God? There’s a mixed feeling there of intense sorrow over sin and the peace that comes with being “home”. I wish I could carry this experience day and night but it leaves when I walk out the doors of the church.

  21. Ghena

    Maybe because you were touch by the Gospel thats why you show emotions to the public. Never mind people criticize you because only God knows how you felt. I can say that God is really exist in our heat.

  22. Josh

    I have to admit that I often cry during/after the distribution. I’m a 30 yr. old male who is often so moved that I can’t contain it… God is good, and I feel I am never deserving of the sacramental gift he has given us. Although I’m Lutheran, we still consider it to be just what the scripture says: the body and blood of Christ, and a rememberane of what He did for us. I actually googled “I cry at communion” in order to find out who else does this (I know it’s weird, and I hide it well when I DO cry). Truthfully; I think you nailed it when you said “…I guess it’s simply the Holy Spirit at work.” Psalm 51:11 – “Do not cast me from your presence and take not your spirit from me.” I can’t explain it – maybe I’m overly emotional. I even hide it from my wife by keeping my head down and pretending I’m praying. To summarize: I’m just glad I’m not the only one. I look around, too (also trying to be inconcpicuous) and I have never seen anyone else doing it. I felt weird until I read your post. Thanks.

  23. Ron

    I went to the mass today (noon mass). Right as the priest moved to the altar, I started crying. I did not know why. After the communion, I also cried. Again, I did not know why. It happened several times. That is why, I am curious and Google this, and I found your blog!

    • Eva

      I get weepy at communion. My husband always has a tissue for me. I am deeply touched by the moment and love present.

  24. IrishCatholic

    Ok, my crying moment started in December of 2011. I have been catholic since I was born, but I never cried in mass, until recently. First, I was giving a book in October 2011 called, Live the holy mass, the testimony of Catalina a visionary. In this very small 36 paged book is an in depth information about what is happening during the mass, things as a born and raised catholic should know, I didn’t. The words of Jesus melted my heart. Changed my whole perspective about everything. Secondly, I had went on a road trip that december to mother Angelica’s convent in Alabama. I personally think every church should be as beautiful and respectful, it should say the king of kings reigns here. Now getting to the crying part, I have not been allowed to receive communion, because of the rules of being catholic and not having my marriage blessed. Not by my choice but it is what it is. Ten years has passed now my marriage has failed and I go on a retreat seeking god. There I am at the convent, it is time to go up to receive the Eucharist, which I still cannot receive, anxiety strikes me, I do not want to go up for even a blessing, but my mother makes me. I’m having an all out anxiety attack as I walk up to the alter. I’m not crying yet just panicking, I kneel down and once the priest who is really enveloped by Jesus places his hands upon my forehead and blesses me, I burst into a flood of tears. Ever since then I can’t help it. After reading Catalina’s book, and having that experience at the convent I have a better understanding, I feel it with my heart and soul. I am working to resolve my issue of my divorce and hope to soon be able to receive Jesus again, but every time I go up to get just a blessing I cry. I am happy to know that others cry too.

    • Laurel Burnett

      I would love to get a copy of the book you have entitled “Live the Holy Mass a testimony of a Catalina a visionary – 36 pages. Would you please let me know where I can get a copy – I have checked Amazon – do not have and no luck on other Catholic sites. If you can help me find it, I’d appreciate it very much.
      Thank you.

  25. Charlotte Saucier

    Thanking each of you for your honest comments. I was wondering why I cry during Mass. Today I saw a man two pews ahead of me whipping his eyes as well. But he wasn’t sniffing and with tears like I was. I try to hide it, because of the makeup smearing. I’m glad to see I’m not crazy and it is the Holy Spirit moving my heart, as I was feeling. I strive to see Jesus’ face in the Eucharist each time I try to vision the “Transubstantiation” during Mass. Then comes the tears!
    Thank you Matthew G, now I know it has a name. “Gift if Tears”.
    I would love to read the book also. Does anyone have the ISBN number on the back?

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