Sunday Mass was coming to a close, and the children’s choir belted out the Recessional Hymn in fine style. When the last note concluded, most of the folks still left in the pews offered up heartfelt applause for the musical tykes. As the clapping subsided, a woman in the pew behind me muttered, “There should NEVER be clapping at Mass! It’s offensive to God.”
Wait. What? Did she really say that? Letting the children’s choir know that we appreciate their hard work is offensive to God?
Later that day, out of curiosity, I did a Google search and typed in the phrase, “Is it OK to clap at Mass?” Wow, I didn’t realize this was such a volatile topic. There were over 600,000 search results. Many of the links brought me to website articles with titles such as, “Flawed Applause,” “Wrap the Clap!” and, “Confessions of a Conflicted Catholic Clapper.”
Is it possible that God is offended when parishioners express thanks to a group of youngsters who worked hard to prepare the music for Mass? After all, the Bible clearly says, “All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries” (Psalm 41:7). It doesn’t seem that there’s anything wrong with clapping.
However, there is a strong sentiment in the Church that frowns on clapping during Mass. And the person cited most often by these folks is Pope Benedict the 16th. Before he became pope, back when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he said, “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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”
Hmm, it seems it all depends on why we’re clapping. The verse from Psalm 41 clearly indicated the clapping is directed toward God. Clapping and shouting to God is rarely done in suburban U.S. parishes, but in many Catholic communities—for example, Hispanic parishes and Charismatic groups—clapping and shouting are quite common expressions of praise and worship to the Lord. But the clapping is not “applause,” in the sense of offering approval to other people.
“Catholic Answers” is a terrific website with information about all things Catholic. The following question was sent in: “When is it appropriate to applaud at Mass? To do so appears to reduce the Mass to the level of entertainment, but so many people do it nowadays that I’d like to know if the Church has any teaching about it.”
Here is the answer they offered:
There is no Church document specifying applause as an appropriate liturgical response to music, singing, homilies, or announcements of gratitude by the presider.
Although the Church does not explicitly state that applause is inappropriate at Mass, that may be because such a stricture used to be enforced by Western society. As a matter of traditional Western etiquette, it used to be severely frowned upon to applaud in church because church services are worship offered up to God and not entertainment to be critiqued by the assembly.
Now that society has generally lost the sense that applause is inappropriate in church, I suspect that the Church may soon have to speak on the matter before people take the idea to its logical conclusion and begin to boo when they are insufficiently entertained at Mass.
Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it? It never dawned on me that people might boo something they don’t like at Mass. But the way our culture is going nowadays, with college students being encouraged to throw hissy fits whenever they hear an idea they don’t agree with, I suppose booing at Mass could happen.
So I’m not quite sure what to think about clapping at Mass. All I know is, those kids worked really hard and sounded so nice when they sang. And I suspect if Jesus were sitting in the pews that Sunday morning, He would’ve clapped heartily, no matter what was muttered by the lady in the pew behind Him.