Hold the Applause: Confessions of a Conflicted Clapper

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because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.  

The above words were penned by our Holy Father Pope Benedict the XVI, (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) on p. 198 of his book entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy.  I first read this book before our Holy Father became pope.  The book did three things to me.  First, it made me acutely aware that there was much about the meaning of the liturgy to which I was blind.  Second, it deepened my love for the liturgy.  Third, it put me in conflict with respect to how I needed to approach Mass.  One area of conflict was in clapping at Mass.  

Having read Cardinal Ratzinger’s words on clapping, I wondered how I could continue to clap at Mass in good conscience.  As one who has been to Masses where there was clapping for just about everyone, from musicians, lectors, altar servers and church decorators to priests giving homilies and lay people giving testimonies, I began to wonder why we clap at Mass at all.

Some liturgical clapping proponents claim we clap because Psalm 47:1 tells us to clap: “All you peoples, clap your hands….”   But we Catholics do not interpret scripture independently.  We look to Holy Mother Church, and her 2,000 years of teaching, to ensure our interpretation is authentic.  The documents on the liturgy (the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Liturgiam Authenticum, and Redemptionis Sacrmentum) do not call for clapping at the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  They call for reverence.

Rome wants irreverence at Mass to a stop.  “…let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence…” (Redemptionis Sacramentum 183).  The key question is this: is clapping a reverent action, or does clapping break the liturgical spirit of reverence which Rome is calling us to protect? 

Cardinal Francis Arinze is prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome.  When His Eminence speaks about the liturgy, our ears should perk up and listen.  He stated that …when we come to Mass we don’t come to clap.  We don’t come to watch people, to admire people.  We want to adore God, to thank Him, to ask Him pardon for our sins, and to ask Him for what we need.”  [Adoremus Bulletin; Vol. IX, no.7, Oct. 2003]

I am a Roman Catholic.  I don’t make up the rules for my faith or the Catholic Mass as I go along.  I receive them from God, through His church, as a gift.  I have faith in God, His church and its teachings.  I believe God reveals His truths through those teachings.  For that reason I want to honor them. 

To honor those teachings, and thus honor God, I had resolved at Mass to hold the applause when I was there.  Yet, I must confess that sometimes when everyone around me is clapping, or when someone stands up at Mass and asks me to applaud for someone else, I still succumb to clapping — albeit half-heartedly. 

In the midst of the applause, our Holy Father’s words spin sadly around in my head, thus causing me grief and making for conflicted claps.  The hands that clap at Mass these days are distracted and bewildered hands that would find a sublime joy if only they might be permitted to simply fold themselves in prayer to our God on that one special hour of the week devoted to Him.  This is an ongoing struggle in my life that revisits itself often on Sunday.  But please don’t clap for me.  Instead, I ask “you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

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