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because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and has been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”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