Clapping at Mass



Editor's note: Catholic News Service is repeating this column. Father Doyle is now retired.

Q. I have noticed that when the choir does a piece of music differently or performs a song especially well, someone inevitably starts to applaud and the rest of the congregation follows suit. I think that this detracts from the mood that the music has just created and interferes with the solemnity of the Mass. Is it just me, or should applause be reserved for musical performances outside of Mass? (Lilburn, Georgia)

A. The church has no specific "rules" for or against applause at Mass, so we are left to reason for ourselves according to what comports with the purpose and spirit of the liturgy. Fundamentally, I agree with your observation. Music during Mass, whether sung by the choir or by the congregation, is not a performance. It is meant to glorify God and sanctify the faithful. It is a form of prayer and should draw those present into deeper contact with the Lord.

All of which inclines me in the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI), who, in the year 2000 wrote, in "The Spirit of the Liturgy" that, "whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment."

There are moments in certain liturgical celebrations when applause is welcomed, although not explicitly called for. For example, in the ordination of a priest, there is a point at which the congregation is invited to give its approval to the candidate "according to local custom," which in the United States usually results in applause.

Apart from such instances, it seems inappropriate during Mass to break the flow of the liturgy and spirit of prayer by clapping. Having said that, we are properly grateful to musicians and singers for adding beauty and reverence to the celebration of the Mass. Perhaps that gratitude could best be expressed once the closing hymn is completed -- either by applause or by taking the time to compliment members of the choir personally.