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The Entrance Procession

Flawed Applause?

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We’ve all been to a Mass where the celebrant, just before the faithful stand to receive the final blessing, takes the time to thank those who have contributed to the liturgical celebration.

The celebrant may applaud the organist, choir or altar servers. If it’s Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Veteran’s Day, the celebrant may ask these members to stand and ask the congregation to applaud.

My children love it when this happens! “What?! We get to make noise in church?!” My son in particular goes overboard in his exuberance.

But is this sound liturgical practice? (pun intended). First, let me be clear that the intention of the celebrant IS pastorally sound. To make everyone feel welcomed and appreciated—including the ministers—is commendable and should be one of the goals of all pastors! However, should it take place during Mass?

Some say, “why not?” Don’t the Psalms demand:

“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.”–Psalm 41:7

Here’s where a distinction must be made between “clapping” and “applauding.”

I believe it is proper (if it is the custom of the assembly) to clap during the Entrance/Recessional chant—a common occurrence in Hispanic parishes or at Charismatic Masses. In the scriptural passage above, the clapping is directed to God. This type of clapping is an expression of worship and the hands are simply being used as percussion instruments.

“In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem…But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship…only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.”–Sacrosanctum Concilium 120

The intended purpose of clapping at this time is praising God, and I believe it to be in line with Sacrosanctum Concilium.

But does this provision include applauding the soloist who knocked the Ave Maria out of the park, the celebrant who gave a rousing homily or all the ministers who rehearsed tirelessly? I don’t think so.

Mass is worship offered up to God. It is praise from us creatures to our Creator. Some describe it as a vertical movement—from us on earth towards heaven. The Mass is not entertainment for the assembly. When we applaud the soloist, choir or acolytes, the vertical movement is replaced with a horizontal one. The wrong axis is emphasized—applause focuses attention on us rather than God.

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Applauding is an expression of approval

Applauding is a way of positively critiquing a performance. According to Wikipedia, clapping indicates “the average relative opinion of the entire group; the louder and longer the noise, the stronger the sign of approval.”

So what if the applause degraded into something else? What if it turned into cheering which then begets whistling and calling out. Wouldn’t these be called for if the assembly approved vehemently?

What if the opposite were true? What if the assembly disapproved of the celebrant’s homily or of the soloists singing? Could they boo? Hiss? How about heckling?

As we have said, the Mass is not a show and the ministers are not performers to be critiqued (favorably or unfavorably) by the assembly. This is not to say that we do not appreciate the choir, soloist, acolytes, lectors, celebrant, etc. We most definitely do. The question is if the Mass is the right time to express that gratitude. I say no as do two Popes:

“It is not fitting to applaud the servant in the house of his Master.”–Pope St. Pius X

“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.”–Cardinal Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI

But still, some maintain that applause is simply a spontaneous gesture like laughter. If the priest were to begin his homily with an anecdote or joke, are we forbidden to chuckle? Isn’t that too a sign of earthy approval? For these people, applause is simply a way of building community, a way of nurturing fellowship, a way of being warm and inviting.

When I spoke with my mom about this week’s topic, she said “son, don’t you have something more important to talk about?” Do you agree? Is this topic too legalistic? Is this a trivial technicality—liturgical hair-splitting or is it something more? Is this the tip of a huge, slippery iceberg? If you disagree with applause at Mass, should we fight tooth and nail, write letters or just suck it up?

Should the Church specifically address clapping at Mass in her liturgical documents or should it be left to the celebrant? What do you think? What does your parish do? Share and let’s learn together.

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27 Comments

  1. Trish

    June 10, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Many of the events or people we wish to acknowledge in our community of the faithful can be done after the Mass. Perhaps this would encourage some of those who “skirt out” after Eucharist to stay. They may be one who the community would be acknowledge. IF it is changed, then it needs to be in a Liturgical document so that all our Bishops and clergy are on the same page. We are ONE church with a Magisterium and that will help the consistency and understanding for all attending the Mass.

    • Dan Gonzalez

      June 14, 2016 at 11:31 am

      Absolutely Trish! At the beginning of Mass at our parish, someone makes an announcement to turn off all cell phones and to “silence beepers.” I don’t know of anyone who still uses beepers!

      At any rate, perhaps that would be the time for a tasteful request not to clap with just a sentence or two explaining that Mass is not a performance for the people, but worship toward God.

  2. Terry

    May 27, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Clapping at our parish started slowly for the choir, then visiting clergy requesting donations for their congregations. Last weekend they clapped for a visiting priest’s homily. The clapping often starts before one has a chance to get lost in prayer after receiving Communion. On one occasion the congregation broke into applause while Communion was still being distrubuted. The Eucharist Ministers paused until the applause completed itself. It start by one person’s clap. Immediately another claps and soon the applause takes over. Mass is not a place for a rock concert venue. Your Mother is not correct. If you say nothing now it will only get worse. When that happens we will act shocked that the Church LET this happen. Remember these words…”First they came for the crippled and I said nothing. Then they came for….” Then it was too late.

    • Dan Gonzalez

      June 14, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Thank for reading this post, Terry. I agree, clapping is contagious. Even some who do not feel they should clap, do so because they would feel awkward if they didn’t since “everyone else is doing it.”

  3. Bob Bird

    December 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    My wife’s incredible efforts brought the Christmas Eve Mass up to the level of sacred. She works tirelessly for 6 weeks with the choir; spends more hours with soloists; arranges non-Catholic brass musicians and pianists to supplement the choir. There is a music selection that includes 3-part harmony, the classics, sacred medleys with portions of Handel’s Messiah, and chant. It truly lifts us into the position of worshipping GOD.

    Then, the priest SHATTERED the Mass at the end by calling up a young soloist to the front of the altar, Why? She is leaving for Ireland, and needs a “send-off blessing”.

    Naturally, this leads to … guess what? … APPLAUSE.

    Then, finally a flawed blessing: “May Almighty God bless us …” It should be “May Almighty God bless YOU …”

    Otherwise, it is not efficacious. Words have purpose in the liturgy, and no priest can licentiously change them at whim. It is not an oversight. They have been asked, they will not do it correctly.

    It is not “pharisaical”. The PRIESTS who do all these things are the Pharisees. They are too proud to be obedient to the Church. They are their own mini-Magisterium.

    Then, he had an afterthought: “And let us not forget, before we go, all the efforts made by those in the choir …” [Despite my wife’s request that this not be done].

    More applause.

    Then, the Recessional.

    And another, this time spontaneous, round of applause.

    In the predictable cacophony that ensued, with Christmas Catholics and their children happily running, shouting and laughing, I expressed my disdain. The fellow choir member next to me said, “Are you alright?”

    I said, “NO! Applause at Mass makes what we have done here entertainment, not worship.”

    “Well, at least it gets the church filled.”

    “Yes, so that all these Christmas Catholics can fall into sacrilege when they receive communion.”

    And I might have added, “Is filling the church the purpose for Mass?”

    No, I am NOT judging the Christmas Catholics. Only God can do that. If you knew our weak RCIA and FF, they have likely never been told the minimum requirements, and may be under the “invincible ignorance” umbrella.

    But SOMEONE is responsible.

    But I can, and do, judge the action.

  4. Jen

    October 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I am a former protestant. I was raised that you do not clap in church. For many of the same reasons that you all have mentioned that’s the way I understood it. I always sing for God when I sing in church not for other people. There are plenty of other ways to be friendly rather than applauding.

  5. Caroline

    March 16, 2015 at 5:08 am

    Hi! So I was in mass today, when two people were received fully into the Church. When the priest congratulated them on becoming Catholic, the parish roared with applause (and some unfortunate yelping and banging on the pews– It was the college student mass 😉 and those aspects are clearly not ok) but is applause acceptable for that instance, people entering the faith or receiving sacraments? I was definitely distracted by all the applause!

    • Dan Gonzalez

      March 26, 2015 at 12:24 am

      Thanks for writing Caroline! I am by no means an authority, so when you ask “is applause acceptable for that instance” I can only give my opinion 🙂 What a beautiful event—when people are received fully into the Church. It seems from your description that it wasn’t the celebrant who asked the people to applause, but it was a spontaneous reaction from the assembly. Either way, I don’t think it is OK. If they could only wait till right after Mass and have a wonderful celebration with coffee and donuts or a cake, a celebration with applause and cheering!

  6. John Bryan

    October 18, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    As a music director, I am very uncomfortable with applause after the choir has sung after communion. It takes our act of worship and turns it into a performance. However, I’m not so “black and white” with regard to applause.

    I think applause is appropriate to welcome our catechumens into the Church at the end of the BAPTISMAL LITURGY during the Easter Vigil. I seem to recall a story wherein a father threw a lavish party when his son rejoined the father’s family.

  7. Arnie

    October 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    There’s a lot of comments and speculation. I’ve asked friends and fellow parishioners why they applaud at mass. I’ve inquired and the responses were:
    Everyone else is doing it. They don’t know. Everyone else starts clapping so they do so as well.

    That’s it: Following the crowd.

  8. Geraldine Duddleston Young

    June 18, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Well, I suppose if they understood what had happened they could applaud since it would be in appreciation for the work of Christ. However, if they were applauding the Roman soldiers who crucified him, or other people who helped, the applause would have been misplaced. The cantor, choir, etc. are there to assist the faithful in worshipping God. They are not there to perform. By thanking them during mass, it gives the false impression that the mass is a performance. If the priest wishes to thank them, he can do so after mass.

  9. Dick

    March 14, 2014 at 8:07 am

    The sacrifice of the Mass is the re-creation of the death of Jesus on Calvary. Clapping is no more appropriate today than it would have been then. When Jesus commended his spirit to his father in Heaven and expired, should those assembled at the foot of the cross have burst out in a spontaneous round of applause? To serve at the sacrifice of the Mass is to BE at Calvary, not at some seashore sing-along. We should experience a deep sense of reverence and thankfulness for our chance at salvation, neither of which should incline us to break out in applause.

  10. Jan

    March 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    We have all seen or perhaps spontaneously clapped our hands together rather than laugh or shout out our agreement when something touched us; when we felt connected with what was said or done. A way of showing our connection and gratitude for the opportunity to be touched in a certain way. Are we not doing the same thing when we applaud during a religious service. Some congregations shout out “Amen” as of way of showing their connection and agreement. As Catholics, we generally don’t shout out, we use applause as a way of saying “thank you.” Thank you to God for the gifts He has given us, whether it be a long married couple as an example to us all, a newly married couple as reminder of those feelings of intense love, the talents given to the people who help us worship God.
    Having said that, I know that many times applause creeps into our celebrations inappropriately, but for those times that our applause could be replaced by “Amen” or “Thanks be to God” we are worshiping God in a vertical way by thanking and praising Him with our hands.

  11. Jacquelyn Lynn

    March 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

    This is an excellent explanation of the distinction between applauding a performance and joyful worship with motion and sound. I’m a Presbyterian and our denomination, like others, is struggling with changes in worship style. But this isn’t worship style — it’s making sure we are directing our worship to God and not other humans.

  12. Louise

    March 9, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Thunderous applause is disrespectful. Depends on what people are applauding too. I went to a Mass in Melbourne where a priest literally lapped up attention from an adoring audience before he came out on ‘stage’ (Altar) They treated him like Elvis. His entrance was through a door but a huge curtain was hanging behind the Altar, so he would use his arm to swirl it to one side like a showman. It disgusted me so much! Suffice to say 6 months or so later that whole section of that Church burned down. Wonder why!

  13. Henry von Blumenthal

    March 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    So far as I know, applause in church was always reserved for the Holy Father alone.

    I cannot think of any other circumstances in which I would welcome it.

  14. Nellie

    March 7, 2014 at 5:12 am

    Thanks Dan, for bringing up this topic which is near and not so dear to my heart!! I totally agree with you….clapping is like being awakened from a beautiful dream! Yes, there are a few (very few) occasions that make it acceptable to bring hands together in ultimate glory to God but as a rule, we should keep our focus on showering God with Praise and gratitude.

  15. marci

    March 7, 2014 at 3:02 am

    So glad you have done much work and devoted a whole website to this important topic of the Mass. I am scratching my head to explain to parishioners why many practices or ideas they have at Mass seem wrong; now I have more of a language on why.

    I have been at Mass when a burst of clapping seemed so right; it was spontaneous and unanimous, and never over a well-done song or action. Maybe more like a heartfelt thank-you at a closing Mass with a holy missionary priest whom we wouldn’t see again.

    But I can see where it gets out of control in the hands of the congregation(so to speak!). And then, it is awful. It only disrupts the spirit of the Mass, interfering with the sense of recollection and awe we should be cultivating after Communion. I get so upset that we have to go to something almost banal in the middle of the sublime.

    Thank You again

    Marci

    • Dan

      March 7, 2014 at 3:39 am

      What a beautiful line, Marci:

      “I get so upset that we have to go to something almost banal in the middle of the sublime.”

      Amen! Sometimes after communion when the choir is singing, you can be transported to heaven. You’re contemplating having received the body and blood of your Savior. You have such a sense of gratitude and unworthiness! You’re contemplating God and it feels as if you’re in his presence. The choir intones the last note and you want to linger in the silence for just a while longer.

      Then…clap, clap, clap…It’s like having a beautiful dream only to be startled awake. The atmosphere the choir worked so hard to create comes crashing down.

      But, that’s just my humble opinion! I do wish the Church would mention clapping in the next GIRM! (General Instruction of the Roman Missal).

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      • Vlad GM

        August 25, 2015 at 5:00 am

        “I get so upset that we have to go to something almost banal in the middle of the sublime.”

        Lest we forget: the Eucharist, the Gospel, the Incarnation, the whole mystery of our faith hinges on the very fact that the most sublime became banal. Philippians 2:6-8.

        “We are reminded that in the day to day life of the first Christian communities, man’s encounter with God – the supreme act of the problem of life – and his participation in his being took place above all in situations we might call vulgar, in the most normal of suppers, a simple, shared meal. This was the context in which the deepest, most mysterious involvement with the Lord transpired, the communication of divine life with all its gifts came through eating bread and drinking wine. Certainly, man may well feel such a method to be the most banal of approaches; he may show a type of subtle resistance to God’s mysterious method of wanting to pass through human reality (while man, in contrast, tends to codify all his thinking and doing as divine!). However, this is the chosen method: God communicates himself in the human realm, even the banal and even the word that pardons sin (and who can pardon sin except God?) is a human word, channelled through a pathetic human voice. ‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained’ (John 20:33).”

        Luigi Giusanni, Why the Church, Page 126.

  16. Jackie Johnson

    March 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I think God would appreciate some applause and laughter. Are we not supposed to smile and be welcoming to visitors? Catholics are too conservative, are always stiff and unwelcoming. I have visited other denominations and they are not as serious. Some even call out in agreement during the service.
    What about community? Our community appreciates each other. Show some appreciation! There is nothing wrong with that!

    • Dan

      March 7, 2014 at 2:37 am

      Thank you for taking the time to write, Jackie!

      There is no doubt that humor is holy! I read a great book recently that I highly recommend. It’s called “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life” by James Martin. Should you have time for a fun read, I highly recommend this book.

      While I respectfully disagree with you when you say that Catholics are “ALWAYS stiff and unwelcoming,” I definitely believe that we can learn a lot from our Protestant brothers and sisters when it comes to creating a more welcoming environment.

  17. Denise

    March 6, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you so much for this posting, especially the quotes by Pope St. Pius X and Cardinal Ratzinger, both of whom nailed it. I also like the reference you made using vertical and horizontal worship; it explains so well the relationships between the assembly and the servers, including the Priest, who by the way, connects us in a vertical way to the Father – uniting Heaven and Earth so to speak.

    I agree with your article in its entirety, and I wish more Catholics were properly informed on the matter as I think it would serve everyone to understand the point of the Mass, and would definitely improve our worship. It would also alleviate church-hopping, in my opinion, of people who seek to be entertained – who attend at parishes based on their feelings.

    Honestly, whenever I have been at a Mass in which applause breaks out, I have always felt embarrassed, for the assembly and those to whom the applause is directed. It comes across as such an egotistical thing to do in the middle of worshiping God, which brings the focus to the horizontal axis, as you stated much better than I. There are plenty of other opportunities to recognize the contributions of others, outside of Mass in a more suitable setting.

    Thank you so much for this article, and the wisdom and charity with which it was written.

    • Dan

      March 7, 2014 at 3:17 am

      Thank you so much for writing, Denise, and for your kind comments.

      A great friend who is a music minister wrote to me:

      “No applause at Mass for the ministers, PULLEEEEZE! No clapping after the final song…. etc. (As a choir member and cantor, I can’t tell you how that makes me cringe… we don’t do it for the applause… or the kudos afterward. We put in those hours of rehearsal and preparation and do our best at Mass for God and for the people free-gratis… and we know our “reward is great in heaven.’)”

      Sometimes I think it’s our own guilt that makes us clap, as if we’d be rude not to. But here you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. They do not want it and cringe if we do!

  18. Daisy

    March 6, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    I think the church should concentrate more on our assembies holding hands during the prayer to Our Father instead. Many churches avoid the issue to avoid negative feedback.

    I agree with your mother. This issue is very small that you are mentioning. Sometimes we are introduced to a visiting priest working to raise funds for an orphanage, or thanking a seminarian on his departure to continue his studies in Rome, at the end of Mass. Here you ARE applauding God because this a GODLY work they do. Thanks are in order, especailly adding motivation and love for vocations.

    Beautiful APP.

    Yours in Christ,
    CLAP CLAP for the work you do for the Lord.
    Daisy Davidow
    Saint Brigid Catholic Church
    Johns Creek GA

    • Dan

      March 7, 2014 at 3:03 am

      Daisy:

      I have a list of controversial topics related to the Mass and holding hands during the “Our Father” is one of them!

      I too have been witness to the situations you mention. A visiting priest for missions week gives a stirring homily and the assembly responds with applause. When newly baptized infants are presented there is usually thunderous applause. At a wedding, when the celebrant presents Mr and Mrs John Doe for the first time, I’ve actually heard hollering! A couple renewing their wedding vows for their 50th anniversary is met with applause and cheers.

      I couldn’t agree more when you say that “thanks are in order.” In fact, I would be upset if they weren’t! I just believe these thanks should be given outside of Mass.

      Thank you so much for reading this blog and for taking the time to comment!

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