Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, listener Ann called into the show to ask Patrick a question about a simple issue that nevertheless seems to be polarizing within the Catholic Church: clapping at Mass.
As Ann explained, the congregation at her local church finds a reason to clap several times at each Mass, whether it be after the choir finishes singing, after a homily, or during a joyous announcement. She finds it disturbing and distracting and asked for Patrick’s opinion because she understands that the sanctuary should be silent out of reverence for God’s presence.
She added that her bishop was present at Mass this past Sunday and during one of these rounds of applause, he joined in, adding to Ann’s confusion about the proper piety that should be shown during the Liturgy.
“Well, I understand what you’re saying,” said Patrick. “I can understand if people feel exuberant during Mass because, after all, we’re there to worship God, but there is a certain decorum and a certain reverence that is appropriate at Mass. We don’t want it to be a house of confusion.”
Patrick referenced the writings of St. Paul in which he talks about the necessity of order in the assembly when Christians gather for worship, and encouraged Ann to take a look at these passages. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” (1 Corinthians 14:33)
At the same time, there are times when clapping might be appropriate within a church. For instance, after a wedding, the celebrant will often announce, “I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Smith!” And the newlyweds will turn to the congregation as they receive a round of applause. The joyful and divinely ordained union of two people is a great cause for celebration. Clapping can be appropriate in settings like that when the congregation is showing their genuine love and support for something extraordinary.
But in general, clapping is not appropriate at Mass or in a church, and some very high-profile people have spoken about this topic. For example, the late Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote the following:
“Wherever 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.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy)
And from a speech from Pope St. John XXIII:
“I am very glad to have come here, but if I must express a wish, it is that in Church you should not shout, that you not clap your hands, and that you not greet even the pope because the Temple of God is the Temple of God.”
And from Pope St. Pius X:
“It is not fitting that the servant should be applauded in his master’s house.”
Who is the “master”? God. And who are His servants? Every human being on earth is called to know, love, and serve God. That includes the priest, the deacon, the altar servers, the choir and the musicians, the cantor, the lector, the ushers, the ministers, and the whole congregation. It is not fitting or appropriate that we allow the Mass to be turned into a performance, whether that be through the music, the homily, or the announcements.
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