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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.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