ASK FATHER: Is it OK to clap at the end of the recessional hymn at Sunday Mass?

robotic applauseFrom a reader…


At our Sunday Masses there is instantaneous applause at the end of the recessional hymn. Is this OK? I have sent many emails to the parish priest and he agreed that this is not correct but he is not doing anything to stop it.

First, two anecdotes.

John XXIII went to a parish in Ostia, just south-west of Rome. The throng of people who came to see him burst into applause.   However, the Pope said, and we have a video of this:

“I am very glad to have come here. But if I must express a wish, it is that in church you not shout out, that you not clap your hands, and that you not greet even the Pope, because ‘templum Dei, templum Dei.’ (‘The temple of God is the temple of God.’) Now, if you are pleased to be in this beautiful church, you must know that the Pope is also pleased to see his children. But as soon as he sees his good children, he certainly does not clap his hands in their faces. And the one who stands before you is the Successor of St. Peter.”

Another, future-Pope, Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his Spirit of the Liturgy (US HERE – UK HERE):

“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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. ” (Spirit of the Liturgy p. 198)

Simply put, Mass is not entertainment, some sort of show.  Such a view of Mass, and such behavior at Mass, reduces the moment and venue to a merely human undertaking.

Also, there is a question of decorum and of our society’s decent into mediocrity.  It seems these days that any ol’ performance gets a standing ovation.  Seriously?  Also, we find less and less decorum in society at large.  This is, per force, slithering into church as well.

Part of the problem is that regular applause could reflect the sad fact that people have been feed a constant stream of human-centered “worship”, with nary a suggestion of the transcendent in sight, that they just don’t know any better; applause for human accomplishment seems apt.

His dictis, there is a difference between routine, mindless, undiscriminating applause in church that stems from a lack of a sense of the sacred and, on the other hand, a sudden and spontaneous outburst of joy or of approval.

For example, although this didn’t occur inside a church and it was, technically after the Mass, I recall the explosion that erupted at the end of the funeral Mass of St. John Paul.  As a matter of fact, the hair rises on my arms when I remember that electrifying moment which manifested something human, yes, but also what could have been the movement of the Holy Spirit.  For another example, sometimes at an ordination, when the names of the ordinands are called, people will applaud.  On some occasions it has happened to preachers in the pulpit who have done a good job and/or who have delivered a stem-winder with good content to hungry people who have been waiting to be fed.  That has happened to me on occasion.  I find it disconcerting, but it is not the same as the routine recognition of merely human effort: it is appreciation for what God has given, in Holy Church, delivered in clarity.

So, the pastor would do well to rethink his neglect of action in this matter.  It may be that he has lots of changes to make and that this isn’t the hill he wants to charge at this moment.  However, it could be a symptom of deeper problems of Catholic identity.  Sometimes the cure can be hard.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Lepidus says:

    I would be happy if the applause waited until AFTER Mass. When I get stuck at a Mass with the kiddie choir, they always do a “reflection” after the Communion song. (I hesitate to use the word “hymn”). This is a piece just for them to sing, usually while the priest and people sit there. Somebody will always start clapping and the sheep will join right in. On some occasions the priest will make some comment like “thank you for that beautiful reflection” and then pause to give the doofus the chance to start the clapping.

  2. dbonneville says:

    It’s going to be extremely difficult to NOT clap after the 12:05 Mass today at the Cathedral in Providence, where Bs. Tobin is saying Mass ad orientem today. I will clap internally, at the least.

  3. Tom A. says:

    Bishops and Priests not only tolerate the clapping and other abuses at mass, many actually encourage them while others are too fearful of upsetting the parishoners. There is only one way to get their attention and that is too stop supporting them financially.

  4. JMGcork says:

    At Masses with a choir or cantor on Sundays their is without fail a round of applause once they have concluded the recessional hymn in my Parish Church. On special occasions the priests even encourage it.

    I remember one time I heard an excellent sermon at a Latin Mass and just managed to keep myself from breaking out in applause.

  5. MissBee says:

    My son is 21 months and breaks into applause after the final blessing. We’re not sure where this came from. Ours is also the Ad Orientem mass, so it’s hard for people not to hear it….

  6. Bthompson says:

    I have been caught on a hot mic more than once huffing. “It’s NOT a concert!” as a congregation has applauded the Choir after the final hymn.
    -Fr Thompson

  7. Benedict Joseph says:

    “…deeper problems…” Indeed.
    What could possibly possess a congregation to display such a gross lack of reflection?
    Could it be all that happened before? What was the comportment before the recessional?
    I have the sense that the clapping at the end of the recessional was the least of it.

  8. Poor Yorek says:

    Vis-a-vis clapping, or any other liturgical abuse (improvising words of absolution, say), perhaps father might show the congregation this Bob Newhart video:

    STOP IT!

  9. Tom A. says:

    Please instruct your congregation to refrain from clapping. And talking, and to dress appropriately. I can no longer attend a NO parish mass due to all the abuses and novelties. It is up to the priest to enforce the proper conduct and decorum. For the good of their souls, step out of your comfort zone and denounce this practice of applause.

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Most choirmembers and church musicians dislike applause in church. It “breaks the spell,” so to speak, and brings us abruptly back to earth after being close to Heaven.

  11. majuscule says:

    I just had a thought…have you ever heard clapping after the recessional at a funeral? I’m trying to remember. (I should also add, after a “celebration of life”…which might be more likely!)

  12. AnnTherese says:

    Maybe it’s simply… joy. (Ps 47.1)

  13. Knight from 13904 says:

    This quote from Pope Benedict really hit the nail on the head.
    “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. ” (Spirit of the Liturgy p. 198)
    Try bringing this topic up to your average NO “participant” and they will look at you like you have two heads!!!

  14. Knight from 13904 says:

    Here is the question to ask the typical NO parishioner, if you were standing at the foot of the cross at Calvary when Our LORD died, would you clap then???
    When I finally understood that we are at the foot of the cross at Calvary, that the Mass is outside of time and space, or what the OT Jews understood as “ziccaron”, the scales few from my eyes. I think it is important to remember how poorly catechized the average Catholic is. Even weekly Mass going Catholics.

  15. rcg says:

    applause is tacky. it is sort of like the banal music that gets played and people seem to love so much. Why not go to the parish hall afterwards and sing tunes and clap?

    I will admit that two weeks ago we had a visiting priest (FSSP) who had a marvelous laconic speaking style that drew you in. His timing and ending statement had me wanting to shout, run outside and mount my horse to battle!

  16. VexillaRegis says:

    Exactly, applause is tacky.

  17. jdt2 says:

    In the church I attend, the pastor gets a round of applause every week after his sermon. It has been going on for so long I rarely take note of it

  18. pelerin says:

    Thanks to ‘poor Yorek’s’ link I have ended up Ash Wednesday by laughing out loud. (Not sure if this is allowable or not!). I had forgotten that we once heard Bob Newart’s ‘Driving Instructor’ sketch some years ago on the radio and we had found it particularly amusing. After the ‘Stop it’ sketch the next one was the ‘Driving Instructor’ and it was a treat to see Dean Martin dressed as a granny seemingly trying to stifle his laughing while pretending to drive. American humour is often difficult for us in Britain to understand but this particular comedian managed to bridge the gap.

    I can think of two occasions where I was pleased to clap in church when it was announced that a young man was leaving to go to a seminary and when someone was received into the Church – otherwise no.

  19. Michael in NoVA says:

    There is a solution, should you have the right resources (which sadly omits many parishes).

    The organist should play an appropriate postlude after the final hymn concludes. Started a few measures after the final hymn concludes, the postlude quickly drowns out any applause that may have started and the conversations that start social hour. The postlude, because it does not have words or a distracting melody/refrain, allows individuals of the congregation to peacefully conclude their silent post-Mass prayers of thanksgiving before joining the social hour outside the narthex. There may be a few clap-happy enthusiasts who stay to clap after the postlude, but most will leave to start socializing.

    Unfortunately, this requires a parish with an organ (pipe organ is best!). It does not work with a piano, keyboard, or tambourine. The organist must possess skills that exceed those required by the latest drivel from Haugen-Hass and be willing to use them. Finally, there could be a conflict with the pastor. For this last (and notably significant hurdle), perhaps the organist can use a bit of social justice jiu-jitsu. The organist should claim that he/she feels persecuted by not be permitted to actively participate in the liturgy celebration in this manner. (The type of pastor who objects to postludes is likely the type of pastor who would encourage all types of active participation, so you may be in luck.)

  20. iamlucky13 says:

    Most parishes where I witness unnecessary applause seem to have more pressing matters to deal with. Not that those hills get charged, either, but that’s beside the point.

    Some of those matters, if addressed, might naturally diminish the urge to applaud for any lay person doing something out of the ordinary, especially cultivating the understanding that the Mass is God-centered, not human-centered, as you say.

    Pope Benedict’s comment about religious entertainment doesn’t resonate much with me, because I generally don’t find the things that are applauded at Mass entertaining. That’s not to say that a beautiful liturgy does not evoke a sense that could to a cynical person be considered a form of entertainment, but a priest closing his homily by singing a song while playing an out-of-tune guitar (as we experienced this past Sunday) is not exactly entertaining in my mind. I did not feel inspired to clap by the performance and the fact that it even crossed my mind was due to the awkward sense that clapping was expected of me as a social norm.

    There’s a limited degree to which I agree with Marx’s cynicism here more than Pope Benedict: Turning the Mass into a mere opportunity to feel good about ourselves and congratulate one another strikes me more as an opiate than entertainment.

  21. marthawrites says:

    In our parish, the congregation frequently applauds the speaker who presents special announcements, either before Mass begins or right before the final prayer. I find this bizarre. However, once at Mass I did applaud and did not feel it was inappropriate to do so. That was on Holy Thursday when our priests were concelebrating. This was at the height of the sexual abuse publicity, and the homilist spoke about the dignity of the priesthood, the goodness of most priests, and the deep sense of betrayal they felt at the news of the abuses. At the conclusion the ENTIRE congregation rose to applaud all our priests who stood with tears streaming down their faces in thanksgiving for our support. The Mass continued with such subdued solemnity that it seemed the parishioners were one body at the foot of the Cross realizing the priests were truly in persona Christi.

  22. Jenson71 says:

    Thank you for the post. Applause at the end of Mass is cringe-worthy. My dad does it, despite my protests.

  23. Orlando says:

    This is not difficult , NO CLAPPING EVER! No swaying or shaking your booty in the pews to John Denver-esque hymns and no, no , no fist pumps or high fives during the “offering of peace”. All clear? Spread the word .

  24. eamonob says:

    I can’t stand the applause at the end of Mass. It’s always for the choir, or for someone who makes an announcement for crying out loud.

    Once a month our parish gives a blessing to the couples who vertebrate their anniversary that month and typically there is some appraise after. That I don’t mind, because it is the recognition of a sacrament. I will also applaud an ordination or confirmation. But I will not be standing and cheering for a choir. I will also not be holding hands for the Our Father, by the way ;)

  25. eamonob says:

    Haha, celebrate their anniversary, not vertebrate! Darn phone keyboard!

  26. Gabriel Syme says:

    I go to the TLM for worship, but attend a few Diocesan novus ordo masses per year in order to make charity appeals (for donations) for a catholic charity I am involved in.

    After making my address from the lectern, (as is usual practice for charities here), it is common for the congregation to burst into applause. I know they mean well, but with my TLM-mindset I find it excruciating (indeed I dislike even having to enter the sanctuary to reach the lectern – I am not supposed to be in there).

    To be honest, it would probably be best to have these charity appeals completely separate from the mass but that’s how the clergy like to do it and I don’t like to criticise, given they are providing us an opportunity and their congregations are very generous towards us. Some sneaky clergy put the charity appeal in place of them giving a homily, which I don’t think is right at all.

    At the TLM, they allow charities to visit too, but that involves standing outside with a bucket as the lay people are exiting and collecting donations that way. They will permit a speech in the church hall, outside of mass, too.

    Imo it would be better for the modern mass to have the appeal separate from mass too – a speech in the Church hall afterwards. There, applause – which isn’t necessary at all – wouldn’t seem so bad.

    But the problem there is that, at the novus ordo (in my area anyway) significant numbers of people start exiting the Church from communion onwards and so much less people would hear the appeal, if it was done after mass.

    Many times, before introducing my appeal, the priest has to stand up and bellow “Stay where you are! Stay where you are!” to stop people leaving early, and then he has to give firm assurances that the appeal will only take a couple of minutes. Its sad that people are so keen to leave the House of God.

  27. frmh says:

    I’ve done talks and sermons for charismatic groups and they tend to “give a mighty hand to the Lord” at the end of these events, sometimes the priest organiser particularly emphasises that this applause is not about the priest that has just spoken….. perhaps clapping can be a way of gesturing praise to God.

    I remember an African religious novice sister who had newly arrived from Nigeria (perhaps) had a funny custom of doing a slight clap as she genuflected prior to Holy Communion. She didn’t continue it after a few weeks because it was weird to all the people around her but I guess that applause was directed to the Lord and common in her own community.

    With regard to the end of Holy Mass it seems very easily to eliminate the “spontaneous applause”- -no final hymn, just organ voluntary
    -a very sedate hymn that does not lend itself to an applause.
    -immediate rosary or leonine prayers lead by laity

  28. DavidR says:

    “It’s a custom at our parish to welcome visitors; do we have any visitors?”
    Clap, clap, clap.
    “How about birthdays?”
    Clap, clap, clap.
    “How about wedding anniversaries?”
    Clap, clap, clap.
    “Joe Blow will make an announcement.”
    Clap, clap, clap.
    UP. A. WALL!

    Yeah. Try telling them that it’s not about them.

  29. frjim4321 says:

    Sometimes I wonder if Catholics really believe that there is an incarnational dimension to Christianity?

  30. The Egyptian says:

    ” Try telling them that it’s not about them.”

    when the priest is facing the people?

  31. Imrahil says:

    Dear Gabriel Syme,

    Many times, before introducing my appeal, the priest has to stand up and bellow “Stay where you are! Stay where you are!” to stop people leaving early, and then he has to give firm assurances that the appeal will only take a couple of minutes. Its sad that people are so keen to leave the House of God.

    Frankly, they aren’t (necessarily) keen to leave the House of God, although leaving the House of God after Mass is over is a Christian’s right, and depending on life circumstances, possible duty.

    Of course Mass is not over immediately after Communion; there’s a postcommunion prayer, a blessing afterward and then – though technically this already is after the end of Mass – perhaps the beautiful and heart-uplifting custom of a final hymn.

    They aren’t there – at least not under Sunday duty – to be subjected to monetary exhortations, least of all by laymen with vested interest, however honorable the charity is. So, what happens is that once the priest invites a speaker for such a charity up to the lectern, they consider that Mass is over; and frankly, while we may debate whether such talks are either good style or allowable in general, at the least they should be preceded by a “I’d like you to stay for this appeal for worthy cause X, but of course if you don’t want to consider your Sunday duty fulfilled”.

    People are in Church to give God his due, which they do by attending a Mass celebrated by a priest according to the Roman (or respective) rite. That does not entitle the priest to do with his parishioners’ time whatever he likes, and it certainly does not entitle him to shame them into compliance if they resist.

    (And after all, how could you tell that they don’t immediately drive to a quiet chapel nearby to make their Communion thanksgiving?)

    Excuse the frankness.

    On the other hand, the lesser follows from the greater. So if it be okay to have this kind of talks in Mass, a fortiori it is obviously okay to clap after them, which in their nature demand a clapping afterwards.

  32. einkleinerknabe says:

    I had almost forgotten about applause at the end of mass, it’s been quite a while since I’ve heard it. Even at a more happy-clappy parish in the area, the pastor explained the traditions at the parish did not include clapping at the end of the “eucharist.”
    My current parish would certainly frown upon it — the appropriate Marian antiphon is sung immediately following the recessional hymn.
    During Lent, there is no recessional hymn; we leave the church in silence — our prior pastor once scolded the congregation for being too loud while leaving.

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