Applause at Mass

I read this in the most recent Homiletic and Pastoral Review:

In The Spirit of the Liturgy Benedict XVI treats of the subject of applause during the liturgy in the same section in which treats liturgical dance.  He provides a negative appraisal of both.  Within the context of dance performance the Pope states: “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because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and has been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

The author of the article goes on to comment:

Applause in most cases, if not all cases, is completely out of place in sacred worship.  The Mass is not about us.  The ritual itself exists to draw our attention away from ourselves.

I have a couple of quibbles here.  First, Joseph Ratzinger wrote The Spirit of the Liturgy, not Benedict XVI.  So the Pope doesn’t say these things; Ratzinger said them.

Second, I hope that Ratzinger was not universalizing what seems to me to be a rather German sentiment. To universalize why he thinks people applaud at mass seems rather dangerous.  Or rather, I should put it this way: Ratzinger warns against applause that is “because of human achievement,” and then the author of the article seems to assume that all applause in the liturgy is because of human achievement.  Maybe that is where my quibble is.

I go to an African-American church on Sundays.  There is a lot of applause, and I am part of it.  I also grew up going to masses in Mexico and on the border, all of which were filled with applause (and liturgical dancing for that matter, though I hate the term).  But I think the author of this piece may be too sharply distinguishing grace and nature.  Applause can sometimes be just for the “human achievement.” Fine, now the mass has become a concert.  And then sometimes the priest will say, “Let’s give God a hand!” and that kind of applause is for God (which I don’t think our author would like).  But sometimes applause breaks out, and it is both for God and for the choir who sang to God and for the whole experience.  I often feel that I am applauding both the choir’s effort to praise God and God himself at the same time.  Grace and nature overflow into each other.  Nor have I found that the spirit of the liturgy is broken at my parish because of this applause.  The consecration is very somber.  So is communion time, even with all the clapping. Sometimes clapping is just another way of praising God.

35 Responses to Applause at Mass

  1. Marc Dillon says:

    Nathan, you’re sounding more and more like a Jesuit all the time

  2. Henry says:

    My quibble with your post is that you are not keeping the cultural context in mind. In my experience, clapping is NOT just another way of praising God in a Western (not just German) context but rather a way of praising the ability of “man” (in the inclusive sense). After all, when we clap at a play, concert, etc., are we also thinking, “Yeah, I’m thanking God for giving this person this great talent?” I strongly doubt it!

    In fact, in my parish the alternate singer thinks he is on stage and waits for people to clap after he sings Ave Maria – pathetic. In a parish in Manhattan that I attend when I want to do penance for a friend, the piano player/singer thinks she is Mama Kats in a cabaret and my only thought is: “get over yourself.”

    Now, if we lived in a culture that had a profound awareness that all our talents are simply gifts from a beloved Giver, then I’d agree with you, but that’s not the culture I interact with daily. No, my culture barely acknowledges God, except as a quaint superstition that only the uneducated believe.

    Lastly, I posit that introducing this innovation (or any other innovation whose goal is to animate the poorly catechized “spectators”) into a typical American and/or Latin Rite Mass (the ordinary form) will not eliminate the vapidity that most people already feel. No, I think it will only further it. I think we should focus on educating people on the beautiful changes to the Mass that will go into effect in 2011 – that’s what I am doing in my parish.

    Pax Christi,


    • Context is important. But good catechizing can help. So because the priest I grew up with knew that Mexicans like to clap and dance, he simply catechized them on how to do it for God. If clapping is a human response of appreciation, then why can’t we appreciate God? I definitely think we can applaud God. But black and hispanic cultures do it more naturally and better than we do. So I’d probably agree we should keep it out of a lot of suburban parishes. But I sure love clapping and dancing a little with black folk on Sunday.

      • Henry says:


        When it comes to matters of style, it’s almost impossible to affirm that one style is better than another, but should the Mass be a place to play with style? I agree that a person can praise the Triune God by clapping, singing, dancing, etc., especially if well catechized, but I don’t think that’s the problem.

        It seems to me, however, that there is a question that’s not being looked at: When it comes to the Mass is unity expressed through uniformity?” I know it’s a hot button question but it seems to me that many documents, starting with Sacrosanctum Concilium (see #22.3) certainly seem to imply that. Additionally, Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Redemptionis Sacramentum seem to say the same thing.

        In fact, this is what Redemptionis Sacramentum states:

        [11.] The Mystery of the Eucharist “is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured”. On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ’s faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal, but are detrimental to the right of Christ’s faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church’s life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God. The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ’s faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of “secularization” as well.

        I, like most of the people who read your blog, have been to so many “illicit” Masses that “clapping” seems like nothing compared to some of the things I’ve seen. (For example, scantily clad “liturgical dancers” jumping around the altar – which is a clear violation of liturgical norms because liturgical dancing is NOT permitted in America! Of course, if the dancers would ask for the “presiders” head afterward it might make things more interesting.) So, would I have written an entire article about the “dangers” of clapping – probably not. Would I write an article stressing the fact that the Mass is a “communal” prayer and not a moment for individualistic innovations? Yes.

        Pax Christi,


      • Qualis Rex says:

        Yes, Mexicans like to clap and dance. And they also like to eat tamales and take a swing at the pinata. And of course they are too stupid to distinguish which are appropriate in a festive setting as opposed to the divine liturgy, so let’s all dumb it down for these particular people. Same with “black folk”. Cuz they be havin’ rhythm, yo.

        Can you hear yourself? I’m embarrassed for you.

        • The breakdown of civilized discourse will facilitate the onslaught of barbarism in our culture. Not knowing your interlocutors does not make it permissable to be rude to them. If we cannot engage in civilized dialogue, what hope does the world have? Please change the tone of your remarks, or you will no longer be able to post here.

      • Barbara says:

        The Pope Speaks, and speaks well! No Clapping during the liturgy. We aren’t there for entertainment, adjulation, but for God. These new orders, some older traditional orders are truly our hope for the future; to bring back what has been lost.

        Thank you Holy Father for the Summorum Pontificum, may all those priests, pastors and whoever else, stop being Disobedient, and stop giving a the people a hard time, or just plain excuses for not having the traditional Latin Mass in OUR Churches.

  3. I agree with respecting customs of others, but one must educate themselves properly as to when to do what and when and where. Obviously following some customs would constitute blasphemy or heresy, so one should weigh their actions very carefully. But aside of that, I must disagree with your views of applause at the Sacrifice of Mass.

    Here is a scenario that illustrates what seems to be happening: People who are unaware of a classical piece at a concert will often applaud before the whole piece is over, this embarrasses the person (an unaware person, innocent but ignorant), those with the person (they are guilty of bad instructions to the errant clapper), the conductor and the players (they often see it as amusing). It is due to lack of education, not the fact that the piece is great. Now, was the errant person applauding the composer, the work, the orchestra, or the conductor? If a person gets applause at Mass, is the Creator or the created being honored here? Some may say both, which would be placing the created on the same level as the Creator.

    But Mass is Mass, and applause is for secular concerts, great speeches and circus performers who make it across the tight-wire. I have been in some of the more liberal parishes and it is not just the occasional applause that wrecks the solemn air of Sacrifice of the Mass (if it is even present), but a great deal of many other things. It is modernistic practice and places the vanity of honor upon a person, not on God. It mistakenly places attention on the person being applauded as being set apart. As we cannot speak for what God thinks of such actions, it is safer to be silent than presumptuous.

    There is plenty of time to praise a great choir or priest for a fine homily or sermon after Mass. Just because it is a “cultural” thing to act in a certain manner in one place does not make it proper for another. Why the papal position distinction? I would hope that the same person who is the Pope still holds fast to what he said when he was a Cardinal. Everyone has a right to change their opinions, but sometimes common sense needs not to be explained or a law written for it. Actions should never be dictated by the “spirit of the people”. There are just some individuals who must always be corrected and once so, we can hope they realize the value of the correction.

    Hopefully, the new changes to the NO Mass will further prompt more necessary reforms. Pardon my bluntness, but no priest should ever condone such activities as being any less than demeaning to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It sends out the wrong signals.

  4. “It is a modernistic practice.”

    No it’s not. Plays during mass as well as applause were common in medieval liturgies.

    “Applause is for secular concerts.”

    Again, that is your cultural opinion, just as you claim that applause is the cultural custom of others.

    “As we cannot speak for what God thinks of such actions…”

    Or any other actions that we do for that matter, except from Scripture and Tradition.

    Some of the best priests I’ve known have condoned such action.

    “Actions should never be dictated by the ‘spirit of the people.'”

    But that is what teaching on the “sense of the faithful” means. Or what else does it mean?

    My point is that what he says as Ratzinger in a book that is not a Church document is different in authority than what he says as Pope. And my second point is that I think the author gets his point wrong.

    But thanks for your thoughts.

    • I debated on posting this reply, but the very subject, and your watered down response, required my defense of my comment. The thoughts I presented are not entirely my own, but I observe and communicate, in many places, many who feel the very same way, but I claim not to speak for them here. Your reply is incomplete and side-winding–which is a bad quality to possess as a priest. Please do not feel you are personally being judged here by me, it is only a general observation from many years of experiences with different parish priests in the past.

      I hope you never get into the “formulated” mindset that keeps the priest’s mouth open and their ears closed. Many do this as a defense mechanism to keep from going mad, and some give up all together and close their mouths, ears and eyes. Considering what people say to you is a great defense against such a lukewarm attitude towards your parishioners.

      I know you know how to better refute and debate when such arguments are presented to you. You seem to be missing my point, but yours is obvious. I am not going to even start wondering about your obvious assessment of how prudish a German supposedly is or how a black person is expected to act in certain situations. I hope I am just reading your statement wrong. I am going to overlook those errors, as they are often common with people of your age, but as a priest, they would be considered questionable.

      You lead the reader to believe that Ratzinger is actually presenting a “dangerous German” idea. Ratzinger is saying what seems to be very sound and is concerned with the very essence and holiness of the liturgy. I am uncertain as to where your mind is, even reading the blog. It could have been more elaborate, but brevity attracts the mind today, does it not. Brevity tends to be safe, but can be oftentimes rather incomplete and confusing. As you are a priest, surely you understand that all you profess is scrutinized very closely by people, both high and low, in the Church.

      “But thanks for your thoughts” is a rather blank defense to your thin arguments against my seemingly pointless “thoughts”.

      Two things (among the obvious use of refuting my meanings out of both context and definition by sheer avoidance of the rest of the paragraph and it’s deeper meaning) that strike me a uncomfortable, considering your position as a priest. Firstly, you misunderstood my use of the word, MODERNISTIC. It probably should be read as MODERNIST. I am not speaking of history, but of the secular mindset that is rampant in the liturgy today. That was very clear in the sentence and the content of the sentence says a great deal itself.

      Secondly, are you actually ask me to explain “spirit of the people” when the word “actions” begins in the sentence? The Pope speaks clearly as to what is and what should be, and most certainly what should not be.

      Are you new to the priesthood? A young priest? If so, your rather idealist attitude is understandable. I don’t mean to sound hard, but remember you are responsible for saving souls and people will look to you for advice. Experience is wisdom, no matter how book learned one is, and I can almost guarantee that you will look back in your later years at some of these blogs you wrote and wonder “what was I thinking then”?

      I enjoy many of your (and others) blogs here, and you write well. Your insightful, but lack life experiences that make you credible to others. Combine that with words in a blog, and you may be placing yourself in situations where a reprimand will be administered only so many times. Remember that what you write today will be with you tomorrow. Defend your position with the aspects of unity, not so much opinions, and certainly not with such indifference. Priests should have opinions, but be aware that not all of them are necessarily benefit the Holy Mother Church, which they are responsible for defending against errors.

      In my personal experiences, some of the best priests I know, shy away (by the exercise of both humility and prudence—prudence is the key word here) from giving personal opinions. They do, however give very sound advice when they lack giving opinions, and for very good reasons no doubt. Dominus Vobiscum.

      • Nathan, Thank you for clarifying that in the most simplest and patience manner–you were being to the point and expressing a personal opinion in your response to my first post. I should have left it at that. Since you are not a priest, I see them differently. I broke the rule of presupposition in a vulgar manner. I acknowledge my mistake in presupposing it to be a personal attack and please accept my apology for what is a classic “fit” of passion I am too often prone to–and something I am learning to control as I make more stupid mistakes(the best method I know still to this day)… I have to at least say I learned something today, I just did not realize my own words were going to be the lesson today. Blessings in your work.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Plays and applause during medieval mass? You are so off here. Please provide ONE (just ONE will suffice) first-hand account of a play (note: not reenactment of the passion or nativity) where a “play” was given DURING mass. And double-points if this account specifies said play is followed by applause.

  5. Jason says:

    I think it’s also important to distinguish between so-called liturgical dance as found in American and European contexts, a kind of choreographed quasi-ballet, and dancing during liturgy as encountered in cultures, as in Africa, where dancing is a culturally normal form of praise and worship, and is often an action not distinguished from singing.

  6. Father Joseph Leppard says:

    There is a time and place for all things . . I was a pastor for many years at predominantly Mexican parish in Houston, Texas and I am attempting to recall a time when they clapped. Sing yes, they did not dance. .so, I guess it depends on the disposition of the community and as they look upon their own way of worship and prayer.

    I am not too sure anyone is wrong in all of this. . prayer is spontaneous, I would hope to demonstrate our interior dispositions. I think on the pastoral level that probably we should be more concerned if there is a transformation happening within our liturgies; and internalization of the Spirit of God within us and in turn demonstrated through our actions during the day.

    Enjoy your articles, Nathan.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Father – I fully appreciate your sentiments with regard to spontaneous prayer and internalization of the Spirit of God. But do you not also feel that if you take away the sacraments, then we are left without a major vehicle of obtaining grace? The liturgy and the sacraments go hand-in-hand, do they not? If you do not provide a solid structure around the liturgy for the people to fully experience and understand the sacraments, how can they be expected to internalize the Spirit of God?

      The church fathers constructed the liturgy for a reason and followed a very specific formula. Modernist tendencies towards deconstruction and “personalization” of the liturgy to conform with specific parishes who are deemed too ignorant to fully comphrehend the Universalal meaning without attaching novelties and innovations is a very VERY egregious trend. One which I might add, was dealt with very effectively at the council of Trent.

  7. Qualis Rex says:

    You have a “couple of quibbles” with the Holy Father of our church who is far superior and vastly a better man theologically, morally and canonically than you will ever be? Wow! Big surprise there. Whoda thunk? Only a couple?

    Then Cardinal Ratzinger was obviously speaking of the Latin Rite liturgy, which in many cases has become bastardized beyond recognition in many parishes to the point where it is indistinguishable from some Protestant mess due to the parish priest in question building some cult of personality as opposed to focusing on the Liturgy. I have attended mass in Africa probably more times than you will in 3 lifetimes. Not once have I ever witnessed applause during the liturgy. Is there clapping? Yes. Is there dancing? Yes. Because that the norm of the local culture. It is NOT the norm of the American Catholic church, and DEFINITELY not the norm of the Latin American Catholic church. Just because something is done at some egregiously modernist Protestant-like parish to parrot evangelicals that you experience does not make it a norm NOR does it make it appropriate.

    St Ignatius of Loyola, pray for your wayward aspirants and make them good priests.

  8. Thanks Jason, I agree with your distinction. That’s why I tend to cringe when I hear words like “liturgical dance.”

    Henry, I absolutely agree with you. “Individualistic innovations,” especially on the part of the priest (which I think is the main concern of Redemptionis Sacramentum) are to be scrupulously avoided. But if some customs of a local community help them to worship God in the mass, I think they can have a place. Of course, the “unity of the rite” must be preserved, and so I always ask when I see these things if main moments of the rite are being overshadowed or not. But at least in my current black parish, while raised arms, clapping and other such gestures are a regular part of all of the songs, during the Readings, Eucharistic Prayer, Consecration, Communion, the Church is silent. The unity is clearly displayed in the midst of diversity, and I suppose this I find acceptable.

    Well, I think I made it clear Qualis that my quibbles are actually with the interpretation of (NOT the Holy Father) Ratzinger that the author gives. His problem is with applause BECAUSE of human achievement. Maybe we can just direct it at God though.

    • Henry says:

      Perhaps my experience is different than yours but in my city, especially in Manhattan, I have to be very careful about which Mass I attend so I don’t participate in an “electric” Mass – that is, a Mass in which I am so shocked that that’s all I can focus on.

      For example, in one parish, I feel as if I am at a bad Pentecostal rally (and I’ve been to an authentic one so I know the difference); at another there are so many innovations that the only thing that hasn’t been changed are the words of consecration; at a third, “Bob”, “our presider”, for some reason is trapped in a time zone and he thinks we are still in the 60s, and on and on and on.

      But it gets even better, the same situation applies with priests in the same parish!

      Thank Christ that you have found a parish where you are helped to worship the Father, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Many of us are not so fortunate and we are beseeching Christ and the Holy Father to help resolve this situation.

      After all, shouldn’t I be able to attend any Mass in any American city without worrying that I am going to be electrocuted?

      Pax Christi,


      BTW, I am Hispanic and many of the Spanish priests I know do not tolerate the nonsense that takes place in an “anglo” Mass.

  9. fka says:

    I’m not buying it. Spent 20 years at inner city parish where everything was clapped about…wife & I barely made it out with our faith intact. Maybe isn’t just the clapping but everything that usually goes along with it. no thanks. I’m sticking with the Pope, even though he wasn’t pope when he wrote that.

  10. Henry says:

    Hey Nathan,

    Speaking of liturgy, there’s an interesting post by Fr. Rutler, that you might find interesting. Here’s the address:

  11. Dan says:

    I entirely agree with Cardinal Ratzinger’s observation. Whenever I’ve witnessed outbursts of applause it has always been in parishes that employ “liberal” liturgical practices (you’ll never hear applause at a Latin Mass) and the applause has always been for the choir (I’ve never witnessed anyone who purported to “applaud God,” and the notion of congratulating God strikes me as deeply misguided). Clapping simply is not reverent. There is also the somewhat related issue of clapping to music — a practice that Ratzingerites (like me) detest. I have the impression that clapping along to music is a Protestant tradition, and the tradition of a very “low Church” Protestantism at that.

    • I have seen people applaud God many times. It happens. But that aside, none of the Churches that I have experienced applause in are “liberal.” They are actually all rather conservative. Just a warning that I don’t think equating “clapping” with “liberal” always works. I also detest many liturgical holdovers from the 60’s.

  12. Dan says:

    I would also add that I believe that clapping is associated with post-Vatican II liturgical developments and, if I am right about that, it corroborates my personal theory that the Johnny Carson show has been single greatest influence on the development of post-Vatican II liturgical developments. I’ve been at many Masses where the priest, apparently believing himself to be in persona Johnny, seeks to entertain the congregation with a comedy routine either at the beginning of the Mass, during the homily, or both. Often he exchanges quips with the cantor, much in the manner that Johnny used to joke around with Ed McMahon or Doc Severinson (sp?).

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Dan – my ONLY “quibble” (since we all seem to be quibbling on a topic as insignificant as the divine liturgy) is your Latin, which should have been “in persona Ioannis” (heavy sarcasm there, as your post totally made me laugh and was very well said : )

      And yes, I abhor this culture of “cult of personality” where the priests run their own parish like some talk/variety show. You were right on the mark there.

  13. Henry says:

    Well, it seems to me, that outside of your parish, clapping doesn’t seem to be appreciated by more people than I realized. So, thanks for the post – I learned something new. BTW, I am not sure that innovations should be deemed acceptable if they arise from the parishioners instead of the priest – just a thought.

    Pax Christi,


  14. crystal says:

    Before reading this post I had no idea there even was such a thing as liturgical dance. Looking it up I saw an interesting 2002 post at American magazine about it – Shall We Dance?

  15. I have one last thing I guess I really want to say. Let me give an example. At the black parish I go to on Sundays, I always sit on the right side of the Church near the front. I sit there for several reasons. First, an elderly black lady always has an extra tamborine, and she’ll often give it to me and I get to be part of the tamborine part of the Church and join with her in making a joyful noise. The other reason is that behind me sits two middle aged black women. They love to praise. And when they praise, their eyes are closed, they are clapping completely out of rhythm, and they are really really praying. I am drawn into the liturgy by sitting in front of them, not despite their bodily expressions or praise, but because of them.

    I fear a certain gnosticism in the liturgy that I run into a lot these days. This gnosticism seems to forget that the whole point of sacramentality and the liturgy is to incorporate the body into worship. That is the point of the smells and bells. Ritual provides a place for the body to be properly spontaneous, not a place where the body is put into a straight jacket so that the spirit can soar to heaven. Such a notion does not seem very Catholic to me at all. We should not be afraid of spontaneity. It is precisely because we have a ritual that has been passed down over thousands of years that we do not have to fear it. Without ritual, spontaneity would be fearful, since it would quickly descend into amorphous sentimentality. But with proper ritual in place, I don’t see how we should be afraid of it.

    Two more bits:

    First, not everyone needs to worship bodily in the same way. What works for me may not work for you. I think that is ok, that is why we go to different parishes. We do need to be cautious of treating parishes like gyms where we pick our favorite spiritual guru, but the fact is that many of us like to worship differently, and in an international Church, that is acceptable.

    Second, applause directed towards people, as a friend has pointed out to me, already has a place in Mass. A couple of examples would be after the rite of election in an ordination or when the Pope enters the Church for a Mass. So let’s be careful about the bans we impose on others.

    • Henry says:

      I’d like to make a few observations.

      I am not sure it is wise to assume that a person is *really really praying* if they are swaying back and forth, etc. While St. Philip Neri might have been very expressive when he prayed, the Little Flower apparently was not. Prayer is such an intimate thing and it’s external expression may or may not be an integral part of it. Yes, the body does pray at the Liturgy of the Eucharist (we stand, sit, kneel, etc.) but people don’t seem to realize that, so, catechesis is needed.

      It has always been difficult to determine if spontaneity is an organic development or an ideological tool and so that’s probably why a *wait and see* attitude is wise. Of course, a wait and see attitude should not be an excuse to quench the action of the Spirit but to assume that anyone who thinks we should wait is opposing the Spirit is just plain wrong.

      Lastly, I would modify your last sentence to read “let’s be careful about WHICH bans we impose on others” because bans are not necessarily bad. For example, if the entrance song is “Amazing Grace” and I feel like singing ‘How Great Though Art” I don’t think it would be wrong for me to follow the ban. In fact, I actually had this happen and when I asked the person to follow the leader of song he told me that I had no right to tell him how to praise God. Examples abound.

      Thanks be to Christ that there are many rites in the Church and that we are free to attend anyone of them. I often attend an Eastern Rite Church when I am fed up with the games played in the Latin Rite. Thanks again for bringing up the topic.

      Pax Christi,


  16. brettsalkeld says:

    At World Youth Day in Germany in 2005 I was at an English language Mass and catechesis session with many African pilgrims. Cardinal Arinze was the celebrant and catechist. During thew Q & A he was asked about the “liturgical dance” we had just experienced in the Mass he celebrated which occurred as the African pilgrims brought the gifts forth. I quote his response word-for-word because it stuck it my head:

    “Africans don’t dance [at liturgy]. They move because they’re happy.”

    Context indeed.

  17. Paul says:

    Thank you for the post, Nathan. An interesting conversation. My initial reaction to clapping in mass is a negative one, as I’ve witnessed too many occasions when clapping was a form of self-aggrandizement. Despite this initial reaction, I very much appreciate Nathan’s examples of legitimate instances of clapping. The obvious point of the post is that clapping is a practice that can benefit or hinder our focus on God. I wonder, however, if it might be the case that we can talk about the intrinsic nature of the practice, or perhaps the innate advantages or disadvantages that such a practice possesses, and thus we can better evaluate its appropriateness within the context of mass. Take the various media by which we communicate, for example, like a blog. A blog is a morally neutral means of communication that has inherent advantages and disadvantages, and that can be used well or poorly. The advantage of a blog is that it allows people to have ongoing conversations on important topics with people from all over the world. It gives the author a means to publish his or her thoughts on important topics in a timely and regular manner, and thus it encourages one to cultivate the habit of writing. The disadvantage of a blog is that because it allows one to post so quickly, it can lead to a lack of reflection – the author and the respondents might fire off knee jerk reactions rather than well-thought out posts. One could think of any number of examples along these lines. Facebook allows us to communicate in an important way with those far away, but it can encourage a kind of superficiality in our communication and perhaps egoism. Television is an important medium that can stimulate serious reflection, but it is inferior to books for communicating serious ideas and sustained arguments (Neil Postman is always fun to read on this). I wonder if we can think of liturgical practices in the same way. For example, what are the inherent advantages or disadvantages to clapping, especially as related to the purpose of the Mass? Bracketing for now the question of clapping, is it possible to say that there are forms of worship that are objectively superior for promoting the proper worship of God (e.g., Gregorian Chant over Glory and Praise), just as we can say that books are objectively superior to movies for communicating serious ideas, but given a certain person, culture, place, or time, the “lower” forms of worship are entirely appropriate and desirable?

  18. Paul, I think we can say there are “higher” and “lower” forms of praise. My one caution: The human person is made up of “higher” and “lower” elements as well. And each part of our being yearns to be satisfied by God. I believe this is why the sacramental system is so important. So while I agree with you, that is not to say that only “higher” forms are ever acceptable. I think that “higher” and “lower” forms of worship can blend with each other to fully express the person who is neither body nor soul but both.

  19. Jay Hooks says:


    This comment is late in coming, and only tangentially related to the thread’s main topic, but I think you’re on to something when you say:

    “I fear a certain gnosticism in the liturgy that I run into a lot these days. This gnosticism seems to forget that the whole point of sacramentality and the liturgy is to incorporate the body into worship. That is the point of the smells and bells.”

    I think that liturgical gnosticism, or at least the dualism it imparts, may be something to fear. We in the West aim at the brain by adding brief explanations to the Mass (before each reading, in some parishes), smatterings of mini-homilies (“Father, please just begin the Penitential Rite; we’ll hear all three readings in a moment”), worship spaces that display fewer and fewer works of art/images, the virtual obsolescence of the sung Mass, etc.

    Eastern Rite liturgies and churches, on the other hand, are full of movement, sung dialogue between priest/deacon/congregation, signs of the cross, incense, veneration of icons, bells, etc. The body and its senses are engaged in ways that we in the West often choose to omit. I say “omit” deliberately: structural differences between Eastern and Roman Rites aside, the options to widen the sensory appeal of the Roman Rite are at our disposal, even in the most standard and “post Conciliar” versions of the liturgy. Most parishes, however, choose not to take advantage of them: incense, kneeling, bowing at the mention of the Incarnation in the Creed, sung responses (and not just hymns), striking our breasts at the Confiteor and the Agnus Dei. I think this indicates a huge difference in priority between the Eastern and Western liturgical mindsets. (True story: A good friend of mine who grew up in the Eastern traditions walked into a Roman church recently and saw an icon that had been mounted on a wall. It had been made safe from all human contact by a sheet of plexiglass. He shook his head and said, “You all in the Roman Rite! An icon is meant to be approached and touched! It’s meant to be kissed!”)

    Other choices involve church décor and devotional practice: images and devotional spaces teach and inspire, and can become part of young Catholics’ experience of going to church and growing up in the Faith. But undoubtedly newer churches in the States are intentionally more austere than their pre-Conciliar cousins, and their art is often too abstract or spare to be inspiring. The aim, I think, is to take away all “distractions” from the liturgy. The frequent result is a huge, bare space that has little sensory or imaginative appeal.

    The formative power of images should not be overlooked: Why are people so tied to the Internet and TV? Why are trademarks protected by law? Congrats to McDonald’s and Apple for creating nostalgia, loyalty, and a sense of community by churning out looks, logos, jingles, apparel, and “feels” that capture the imaginations of generations of consumers (they’re not stupid: their primary targets are the young). Billions and billions happily indoctrinated. Why does the Catholic Church opt for worship spaces that barely reach the imagination, or liturgy that informs the brain… and little else?

  20. bill says:

    When Jesus entered Jerusalem in formal procession, the pharisees, who shortly after arranged his murder, were upset at the boisterous crowd. Jesus rebuffed their request for Him to calm them down. Having been a guitar-playing liturgical musician/vocalist for 30 years, and formally trained in Liturgy and Scripture, I never cease to be amazed at all of the Type-A pharisaical folks who strain at gnats. Clapping is first and foremost an act of gratitude. I am amused at how repulsed people, even Ratzinger, are at a simple expression of gratitude, when the eucharist itself is one profound celebration of gratitude for the Pashcal sacrifice. Within the liturgy itself, we have ample opportunities for expression of gratitude without clapping, and this is good; however, after its over, as people leave, or even after a prelude, applause in a spirit of gratitude is perfectly consistent with the essence of eucharistic worship, and with Jesus own example. Never forget, Jesus specifically singled out religiosity devoid of faith as the surest path to hell. I will always prefer to err on the side of gratitude rather than religious “order.”

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