ASK FATHER: Hand clapping during TLM

From a reader…


I’m unlearned in the extraordinary form, and the other day, I saw the MC clap his hands when the servers were supposed to kneel. Is that common? I thought it was a little odd.

Yes, a handclap is a typical signal given by a Master of Ceremonies. It shouldn’t be loud, just loud enough to be heard. Some MCs will have a different number of claps for different movements, but that seems unnecessary to me: servers and sacred ministers should know what’s coming next.

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  1. Minister Itinerans says:

    They should know what’s coming next, for sure, but sometimes with younger servers it’s good to have a framework in place to guide them in case they get confused. :)

  2. One of those TNCs says:

    At the Latin Mass here in Phoenix, a finger snap is used. Discrete; barely heard.

  3. Uxixu says:

    Fr. Fortescue said clapping or snapping the fingers was “repugnant” and advised softly speaking.

    FSSP generally don’t seem to like it.

    I like any chance for “Flectamus Genua” myself. 0:)

  4. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    Thank goodness that the traditional Dominican Rite has no MC. If there were one, he would have to trilocate or more since the major ministers are nearly always doing different things simultaneously, and the servers etc. are themselves comonly off on their own doing their own tasks as well.

    Having been to several Roman Rite solemn and pontifical Masses lately, I did get a powerful reminder of the hand-clapping. I prefer no hand-clapping at Novus Ordo Masses too . . .

  5. Pastor in Valle says:

    I first encountered it among the FSSP, at Wigratzbad. I thought it repugnant, too, and much prefer the English custom of the MC quietly saying ‘genuflect’. It was also the Roman custom to use the quiet voice, usually in Latin: ‘reverentia profunda’ or whatever. The clap sounds irreverent, and will distract the congregation since a noise like that will both startle and carry throughout the church.

  6. Phil_NL says:

    Sometimes an MC may be unavoidable, but these kind of things are exactly why I rather not see them. Such actions suggest the MC is in charge, calling the shots, the captain of the ship, as it were. That also suggests the MC is the most important person in the action. Thereby it detracts from the priest(s) and the holy sacrifice they perform.

    Much better to train everyone so they know what’s done anyway, and perhaps have some older servers with the experience and brainpower to set things right discretely if their younger counterparts lose the plot for a second. That’s also a distraction of course, but it will be a rare one.

  7. Peter in Canberra says:

    the hand clap, or finger snap, or quiet voice may (may …) avoid the Mexican wave effect when the party of clergy and servers genuflect. Personally I favour saying something in a low voice – often at a sung/solemn Mass this will be covered by the singin in any case. However bitter experience has taught me that some servers, and on occasion clerics, are slow to pay attention …

    Re Phil_ML’s comment – no the MC isn’t in charge but has a role to try to direct traffic. In an ideal world, which we certainly don’t have, everyone would know what they are to do next and have no lapses of memory (or getting lost in prayer, or simply distracted/daydreaming). I see the role somewhat like that of an RSM – regimental sergeant-major – definitely not in charge but with some delegated authority to keep those on the parade ground moving as they should. And very often the sacred ministers will be facing in a direction where they don’t have a view of the servers, or each other, but the MC does.

    And in this modern era where many priests may not be schooled or practised in all the ceremonies it may in fact be the case that the MC does have a very good knowledge of all of the ceremonies and perhaps greater than that of the ‘clergy of the day’.

    In that ideal world, the role of MC would also be taken by a cleric …

  8. Mike says:

    Although I haven’t yet seen it done during Holy Mass by an MC, I have found striking (so to say) the use of a single or double knock at other times, e.g., by the server at the entrance procession of Low Mass in the absence of a sanctuary bell, or at the end of one of the hours of the Divine Office. Such a gesture, resonant of Apoc. iii.20, seems a timely caution against Laodicean equivocation.

  9. Imrahil says:

    The altarboys normally know what’s next, at least roughly. If not, a stare or a held-up hand will do. If not that, imho the MC should go to the altar middle and genuflect if changing side is necessary, then approach the respective server and tap him on the shoulder. And that’s (roughly) how it seems to be usually done, too.

    The idea to handclap when bells aren’t available seems good to me. After all, the Holy Thursday “clappers” don’t sound entirely different.

    The handclapping, where it does occur, generally serves another purpose though (or so it seems to me): it’s to tell the congregation “now stand up”, “now kneel down” etc.

    I don’t really like that, for two reasons:

    1. One of the nice and even peculiar things about the EF is that the congregation is not governed by rubrics.

    2. Imagine the end of the Mass: clap-clap “get up”, Dominus vobiscum, oremus, Postcommunion, Dominus vobiscum, Ite Missa est, clap “get down”, blessing, clap-clap “get up”, Final Gospel, clap “get down”, et Verbo caro factum est, clap-clap “get up”, clap “get down”, weather blessing, clap-clap “get up” (and this is not hyperbole!).

    It does get on one’s nerves, and you just sigh “we know all that”…

  10. Andrew says:

    I go way back to long before the Novus Ordo and Vat. II and in all those years I never heard anyone clapping or snapping.

  11. Dick Verbo says:

    Like Andrew, I, too, go back a long way, but I DO remember snapping, and even clicking on something like a “cricket”, those metal noise-makers that children had around Halloween time in the 1950’s.

    The sound was used only for group genuflections, in processions, etc., to “avoid the Mexican Wave effect” as Peter in Canberra says so cleverly . It was never used repeatedly throughout the Mass, as Imrahil fears. I see nothing wrong with the quiet clap that our MC uses.

    I once had a non-Catholic friend say that, yes, our Mozart Mass was beautiful, but most astonishing were the eighteen little boys all behaving perfectly and in unison. “What are they on?” he said. It was another opportunity to repeat our belief in the Real Presence.

  12. Matt R says:

    Andrew, before the changes, people breathed the liturgy without thinking. Most people alive now who go to the traditional Mass have only gone to it since the motu proprio. For servers and the congregation (at Requiems, most Ember Days, some vigils, this is necessary), I use my hands. Flicking upwards or downwards usually gets the point across. I discretely clap when facing the altar at the Epistle and Gospel to avoid everyone moving at different times. My snap is not quite loud enough to be used consistently.

    Phil, an MC is as Peter says is only a liturgical traffic cop, but he is in charge of the ceremonies. Hence his title. He is the only one with a bird’s eye view. The celebrant needs to pray in a particular way, and that does not involve coordinating everyone.

    Peter: indeed. And even in a modest sanctuary the music covers the voice, and one cannot conveniently signal servers across the sanctuary without the hands (the stare and flick way, no snaps or claps here…).

  13. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I have seen this done discreetly, as well as obtusely (if that’s the correct opposite). The best MC’s I’ve seen communicate soundlessly — but not necessarily gesture free — and use the communication to coordinate, not create the gesture.

  14. jazzclass says:

    Okay, maybe some of y’all are looking a little too much into this. Firstly, if your MC is clapping loud enough and frequent enough for it to be distracting, then he’s not doing it right. Secondly, there should only be a few times when he is doing this. He doesn’t have to do it anytime there is a genuflection or a point where someone kneels. I only do it in the missa cantata when the servers receive communion, for the sake of uniformity. I do it more often in the high mass when the Celebrant, deacon, subdeacon and I approach the altar and also after the gospel when everyone is lined up at the altar to genuflect. Stop looking so deeply into this. Appreciate how the boys in yourparish have taken time to memorize prayers and actions to serve the TLM.

  15. Michaeli says:

    As an MC for the (OF and) EF in our local community we use snaps. Typically all EF MCs I’ve talked with has some form of audible and inaudible communication. Audibly I use a single snap for a group to genuflect and a double snap to kneel. The snaps are light and I’ve asked previously people in the first pew and they’ve said they can’t hear them. Inaudibly I use looks and minor gestures in front of my chest where the congregation is blinded to.
    As an MC our work is not to be a boss but to make sure the servers and ministers are doing the correct gestures, motions, movements and saying the proper things at the proper times. While we may be taking charge of different things, our role is never to take away from our Lord.
    While many Priests are well trained to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, it is always helpful to have a well trained MC helping out with servers and other details.

  16. Uxixu says:

    Doesn’t detract from the celebrant or sacred ministers at all, but allows them to concentrate on the Sacrifice and make sure everything is running smoothly.

    Some sort of signal is needed to coordinate uniform genuflection at Communion of the servers and exit procession. The latter is usually the harder in my experience, since the choir is singing and harder to hear.

  17. Imrahil says:

    I.m.h.o., the genuflection is (after all, it’s altar boys who know what they’re doing) uniform enough, if only it is clear who is the “leader” of the genuflection, i. e., all look to the MC and genuflect precisely when he does.

    O.t.o.h., for the only claps I have heard myself yet (viz., to direct the Congregation as opposed to the altar boys), the claps have to be loud.

  18. WGS says:

    I never attended a parochial school, but I remember the nuns in the ’40s and early ’50s using some sort of a clicker gadget to coordinate the activities of the students. I’m not recommending that usage, but in my mind its use was not as intrusive as a hand clap.

  19. I’ve seen MCs be of great use to the priest saying the Mass – pointing out the spot in the book – especially with the rare confusing Commemoration, guiding around the altar – especially if its an aged priest, speaking quietly to a visiting priest for cues in the liturgy in an unfamiliar parish. So MCs aren’t just for the altar boys. The last thing ya need is a Liturgy being a distraction when mistakes are made – and that can embarrass a reverent priest.

    Clapping, snapping, clicking – all should be done surreptitiously but then there are the clueless ones that need to be hit over the head, so what are ya gonna do?

    Liturgical training ain’t what it used to be – its far less rigorous and kids seems to mind less and less. Unusual liturgies that happen once a year or entail unusual types of Masses are hard to prepare, especially in an environment where the complexities of the Tridentine Mass are so infrequently encountered.

    I once noticed an MC staring hard at an altar boy trying to get his attention first, and then the MC moving his eyes to the target, back and forth, [like go get the censor or book or something] – the inattentive boy finally ‘got it’ but not before I noticed the bulging eyes of the silent MC. lol.

  20. Cantor says:

    WGS – Indeed, our nuns used “crickets” – the same devices used by allied forces on D-Day for recognition – to guide students in the pews to stand/sit/kneel for daily Mass. (I heard stories of a ‘clicker war’ when a student brought his own along and competed with the nun, but I know nothing…nothing.)

    As altar boys we needed no such guidance, because the selfsame nuns had trained us well. When more than one of us genuflected, the man on the right controlled the action of all by his movements. There were many extra hours of practice to be on wedding and funeral details, and even more for First Communion, Confirmation, Holy Week, and the like. Perhaps a return of such training could help eliminate the clap-on/clap-off liturgy.

  21. kimberley jean says:

    If you have the time to be offended by the MC then you probably need to practice the eyes-on-your-own-missal trick the rest of Mass.

  22. Wel, I’ve done both sound, and soundless cues as MC, I prefer soundless cues..I have a teacher habit of using my hands.

  23. Vincent says:

    As far as I’m concerned, everyone should know precisely what they’re doing; that way few gestures are necessary. But clapping is hardly scandalous – let’s not overthink this. Sometimes nothing, sometimes a gesture, sometimes a clap. I don’t agree that a cleric *should* be the MC. If you have highly trained servers, they’re actually often more certain of what they’re doing than the clergy…

    Serving is for the greater glory of God. A nice chance for the laity to be involved with the Mass in a much more intimate way, and something which encourages vocations. Pray for servers! (and therefore me!) :)

  24. Phil_NL says:

    Peter in Canberra:

    The difference between a regimental sergeant-major and an MC is that no RSM would think that he is in command of the regiment (even if he runs the show), nor would anyone with a faintest knowledge of the military hierarchy confuse him with the commanding officer. In the Church, we’re not so lucky on either front. There’s some risk attached to positions like MC, director of religious ed., choirmaster etc. – they tend to attract people who think its up to them to shape the job. If we use the comments on this site as a gauge, such attempt to mould the parish/Mass are almost never improvements, and rarely is the priest capable of setting things straight, especially if said persons have gathered a clique around them.

    Frankly, I get the impression the ideal parish is staffed by a priest, a sacristician and a treasurer who knows a bit about real estate and its maintainance. Toss in a small set of altar boys and a choir, and done.

  25. Former Altar Boy says:

    Being in high school before the Burger King (“we do it your way”) Mass was forced on us, I attended 58 Mass times or more annually for 17 years, including 5 years as an altar boy. I never heard a clap at my home parish or during any of our travels (no travel dispensation in my family!) My FSSP pastor defends it.
    I agree with you, Father: [it] seems unnecessary to me: servers and sacred ministers should know what’s coming next. Goodness, if the Marine Corps Silent Drill team can do an elaborate ballet of marching and rifle handling for a 15+ min. without one audio cue, I think elementary and high school boys can learn when to genuflect at the right time. Lord knows my generation could do it (and Sr. Florian was always watching to make sure we did!)
    Altar boys, just watch the MC or the priest — even if it’s with your peripheral vision. When he starts down, you instantly follow.

  26. wolfeken says:

    Although the original question referenced when the servers are to kneel, it should be noted that MCs sometimes employ clapping for the congregation when needed. One clap for stand or sit, and two claps for kneel.

    For instance, the Institute of Christ the King did this during their Lourdes pilgrimage, where hundreds of pilgrims from around the world attended huge TLMs. I’ve been attending the TLM for 20 years in the U.S. and will admit I had no idea when to sit/stand/kneel according to French customs (they hardly kneel, FYI).

    So, in this case, it was very useful (although not ideal) to a universal gathering — like a common language such as Latin. I would like to see this done at TLM weddings and funerals, which have a 95% chance of being a congregational posture disaster.

  27. APX says:


    At least where I am, the MC’s for Mass are chosen on a rotating schedule from the more senior altar servers. Generally speaking, I don’t believe any of them see themselves as “in command”.

  28. If you’re Traddy and you know it, clap your hands!

  29. Michaeli says:

    The problem with everyone comparing mass to the military is that in say drill team marches, they is NO change from the routine EVER. As for a priest, a LOT of things can change depending on the parish, the altar, the sanctuary, the vessels and “hardware” available, etc etc…, thus a well trained MC is an invaluable resource.
    Fortunately for our Lord, we are not in a field twirling a baton, streamers, and rifle.

  30. Imrahil says:

    At Philippa:

    clap! clap!

  31. John Nolan says:

    The Oratorians (in England at least) are liturgically competent to the nth degree and yet their Solemn Masses always have an MC (usually a priest).

    In a Missa Cantata the MC’s role is even more crucial, and the celebrant’s role is more taxing in that he has to sing the epistle and gospel.

  32. Uxixu says:

    Imrahil, both of those occasions have lines where the MC often can’t be seen except by one of two servers and the genuflection would be in sequence instead of in unison.

    As with everything, practice and repetition make perfect, but that’s harder with younger servers, as well as newer or those unfamiliar with the rest.

    Probably why the minor order of acolyte had to be 22.

  33. Why not go the technological route and use wireless earbuds and throat mikes?

  34. Stephen Matthew says:

    As of a few years ago the MC at the FSSP parish in Omaha had very, very, audible snaps.

    The last people I would ask about hearing would be those in the front pew, usually that is where the aged whose hearing has already gone are sitting. Ask a young person who has not yet destroyed their hearing with loud and profane music.

    Then again, in most church’s I can hear the A/C cycle on and off, or a lady on the far side unclasping her purse.

    Uniformity is good, military rigidity is not necessarily appropriate. However, even in the military, silent drill on the parade ground, and silent hand signals in the field are greatly valued. If your servers are intently listening for a snap/clap to execute an exactly timed maneuver, they are paying primary attention to that, not the action of the liturgy, so it would do no harm to use a low key hand signal instead (or relax just a hair and leave room for a bit of prayerful participation). Or just train a lead server that will signal the others. There are lots of ways of doing this, several of which I have experienced in various ceremonial settings outside the liturgy. The “wave” isn’t ideal, but greatly to be preferred to the interminable distraction that is clapping or snapping.

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