After moving to our current city, we visited several parishes before settling in at one. We quickly became aware of a local tradition at one of these parishes: clapping after Mass — and not just the kind of clapping reserved for special occasions such as First Communion or Confirmation Masses — the parish clapped after nearly every Mass. The practice surprised me at first: This is a little odd. But like a sheep, I fell in with the rest of the flock and began clapping. And it didn’t feel wrong. I was thankful and joyful. Wasn’t my clapping an outward expression of what I was feeling?
As time passed, I noticed the level of enthusiasm of the applause correlated with the energy of the music during the Mass, as if it were some sort of performance. The more “uplifting” the music, the louder the applause, and vice versa. One time I actually heard someone let out an Arsenio Hall style “Woot!” That’s when I knew this outward exuberance might be misguided.
I once heard Father John Riccardo opine the following in one of his podcasts: what a powerful witness it would be to our Christian brethren if, instead of leaving Mass early, we all stayed through its conclusion whereupon we would fall to our knees in reverent, prayerful thanksgiving.
Sounds kind of utopian, right? That’s what my husband and I thought. Not so fast — read on!
We travel to Conception Abbey & Seminary College in Missouri one weekend a month for Joel’s diaconate formation, and we often attend Sunday Mass at Saint Peter, a small parish near the Abbey. During our first visit there, the parishioners surprised us when, after the Mass had ended, they all in one great synchronized motion fell to their knees and immediately started praying. And I mean everyone. On their knees. No applause. No idle chit-chat — just solemn reverent prayer.
Praise God! There are parishes where the faithful actually do this!
We were once again at the Abbey for deacon formation this past weekend and attended Mass at Saint Peter. After Mass I felt moved to tell the priest how appreciative I was of their local tradition. Father Sebastian told us it all started about 20 years ago when the pastor at the time saw a growing number of parishioners leaving Mass early, typically immediately after Communion. So the priest challenged them to get on their knees at the end of every Mass and pray one Hail Mary and one Our Father for the next person in their parish who will die.
Not sure how much grumbling it took, but 20+ years later, the folks at Saint Peter in Stanberry, Missouri wouldn’t think to end the Mass any other way. We informed the priest that in our parish the custom is to applaud. He replied, “Applause? What kind of theology is THAT?!”
Good question. According to one esteemed liturgical scholar:
“Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has disappeared.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in The Spirit of the Liturgy.
Imagine the pastor at your parish making the following announcement: “We are going to start a new tradition here at Saint XYZ Parish. After the Mass has ended, I would like us to kneel and pray one Hail Mary and one Our Father for the next parishioner who dies. You don’t have to take part, but remember, the person who everyone else is praying for just might be you. And you just might be glad they were praying!”
Seems like a pipe dream from most parishes. But if my parish and your parish could begin a new tradition like this, we could, collectively, really change lives. And I mean that with total sincerity. Granted, a good part of the people who could really benefit from hearing this message will have ducked out early. Rest assured, the rest of us would be praying for them!