Wednesday, February 26, 2020 - Updated: 4:01 pm
QUESTION: I attend Mass frequently and find it annoying when people clap following a choir piece. Is that really appropriate?
ANSWER: Applause in church takes place more often than one might expect. In some faith communities, it would be unthinkable not to clap. In Catholic churches applause is often associated with introducing a newly baptized infant or an entire confirmation class. At an ordination, the assembly is asked to show its approval of the candidate(s) by a spoken response, which almost always is followed by the congregation applauding. When the pope enters a church, he is usually greeted with applause.
In current liturgical books there is no direction for the congregation to applaud. But it happens. The question is when is it appropriate and when isn’t it?
It seems to me that there are at least three categories of “church applause.” One involves occasions of God’s activity through sacraments (ordination, baptism, first Communion, confirmation, etc.). The second is related to ministries at Mass. The third takes place at more unusual occasions such as the visit of a pope or the dedication of a church building. Each one is important, but each one has its own dynamic.
When certain sacraments are celebrated, they mark special moments in the life of the church and the life of individuals. These sacraments mark the community’s joy at incorporating new members, welcoming young people to the Lord’s Eucharistic table, or celebrating the gifts of the Holy Spirit either at confirmation or ordination. All these occasions seem to imply that the joy of the community should be demonstrated in some way. In our culture, that usually means applause. It seems that this human gesture is appropriate even in church.
Ministries are ways in which members serve the worshiping community. For me, it always seemed awkward to single out one ministry for applause and not others. For example, when the choir gets applause and other ministers don’t. What does that say about the ushers who take up the collections or servers or lectors or even the maintenance people who keep the church clean?
Admittedly, the choir has a unique liturgical role in assisting us in our worship, but so do others. It is especially awkward when the choir completes a beautiful piece of music following Communion only to have many in the congregation burst into applause. What seems missing is that the point of the choir piece was to help us to pray and not to provide something to applaud.
There are milestones in the life of every community. The visit of a church leader or the dedication of a new church are such milestones. There is joy in such moments of acknowledgement or accomplishment. Again, in our culture, those moments of celebration are marked with applause, and it seems appropriate.
There are no easy answers to the above question. But it is critically important to consider that every celebration of the Eucharist is an act of worship. That’s why we are there: to worship God and give thanks. That should be the fundamental principle as we consider the appropriateness of applause at any Mass.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.