Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Applause at Mass

Back in the days of universal Latin Mass, everything was pre-determined. You knew exactly what to expect. The liturgy was the same across the globe. The structure, the prayers, the rubrics, stances, music, and congregation participation was the same. There was no confusion or wondering what should be done next.

More variation became part of the Mass after the Second Vatican Council as certain priests began to take liberties. One area of confusion that arose was applause. My rule of thumb is "never applaud at Mass". Very simple. However, that rule is not being followed very much.

To appreciate how insidious incorrect applause is, we need to understand the dynamics of clapping. In order to attain critical, dare I say, mass, only a small percentage of people must begin the ovation. Even 5 enthusiastic cheerers can ignite an entire congregation. When a small group is clapping, it feels awkward not to, especially after a beautiful song. Clapping is especially prevalent at Masses attended by non-regular churchgoers at times such as Christmas and Easter.

I was having this discussion with some friends some time ago and tried to explain my reasoning. Then today I was listening to Catholic Answers Live and the guest mentioned something Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book titled "The Spirit of the Liturgy". It summed up, very succintly, the reason why people ought not applaud during Mass. Here it is:

Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attractiveness fades quickly--it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation. I myself have experienced the replacing of the penitential rite by a dance performance, which, needless to say, received a round of applause. Could there be anything farther removed from true penitence? Liturgy can only attract people when it looks, not at itself, but at God, when it allows him to enter and act. Then something truly unique happens, beyond competition, and people have a sense that more has taken place than a recreational activity. (p. 198-99)

Of course, this does not exclude some appropriate clapping before or after Mass. Also, sometimes the presiding priest before Mass really gets underway will make a special announcement perhaps a priest is celebrating his 50th year. It would be appropriate to applaud for this when the priest makes note of it. These are legitimate because they are rare and unique and the exceptional nature of the event is implied. However, I've come across some distressing examples. For example, during Mass one day there was a particularly lively tune being performed by the choir which involved rhythmic clapping. Everyone enthusiastically partook in the event. They were doing this during the preparation of the gifts. After the song was finished, the priest, instead of continuing with the liturgy, made note of the choir and said it was the best song he ever heard and then initiated applause for them. This was inappropriate for Mass.

Mass is about focusing on the liturgy and the sacrifice of the Mass, not on performances.

1 comment:

  1. Good Post Phil. Although I have to admit I like to clap. The rubrics clearing state that it is not to included. A little known fact that would help, is if people realized that the missioning hymn is not actually a part of the Mass. It is not in the rubric. So after the Priest blesses us and walks to the back of the Church, this would be a great time to make any announcements that warranted clapping.