What Kind of Theology is THAT?!

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!

Comments

  1. Joel Schmidt says

    How to implement this at such a large parish? I can think of several things, each of which should be diligently implemented at every Mass for at least one month:

    1) Mentioning the practice in/after homilies;
    2) Bulletin notices;
    3) Announcements;
    4) Pew notifications (on the seats, not in the pockets where they might be missed).

    In addition, reaching out to parishioners who would likely be receptive to the practice and getting them to commit to starting it at least a month beforehand would likely be very helpful.

  2. says

    That is awesome that the one parish was able to accomplish that! Yes, prayer after Mass, making your thanksgiving, is nearly a lost tradition at every parish…but clapping????!!!! At Franciscan, just about everyone would pray after Mass for just a little bit. That’s because it was encouraged by the priests. I miss that.

    Regarding clapping, I have a quick story. Once at Franciscan, Fr. Benedict Groeschel was giving a homily. He said something that stirred everyone (as he often does) and all the students started clapping. He stopped them right away and said no one is allowed to clap for him in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament! Truly a very telling example!

    • says

      Marc,

      Thanks for your comments. I love that story about Father Groeschel!

      I’ve heard a lot of feedback from fellow parishioners who love the idea of kneeling and praying after Mass. I’m hopeful the practice of clapping will fade away in due time! I may have to pull the Fr. Groeschel card one of these days if not! :)

  3. says

    I think many churches have the some problem too. There is a church here that is a bit too… innovative. The church would invite a famous Catholic singer or band to perform DURING a Mass, with full music… drums, saxophone, and all. And of course everyone’s attention would be directed to them. And there WILL be applause. I’m very sad when this happens. I think the church may be doing everything it can to keep its parishioners, and maybe to attract newcomers, because the church is located in a strongly pentecostal area. But still, I think it’s wrong. We can’t compromise God.
    I’m glad that my parish church stays true to the liturgy. If anything it becomes even more “traditional” (I hope I’m using the right term here), with frequent use of Gregorian chants and Latin prayers. I’m optimistic that there are churches out there who also stay faithful.

  4. says

    Clapping in response to a performance is one thing. I’m not so sure that most church clapping isn’t an alternate definition: an affirmation for the overall experience of liturgy. I’ve been in churches where the choir was routinely applauded. But I’ve had a good sense of churches where the applause is after the last song–and clearly not applause for performance.

    Sure, it has an association with secular culture. But you also see it on weepy talk shows and such: people supportive not of the person’s awkward and tearful sharing, but of the spirit and courage behind it.

    Applause is less a function of theology and more of language. Or where language fails to provide adequate expression for what people want to say. Or pray.

  5. Karey says

    Lisa, At St Pius many people kneel and say a short prayer after the closing song, but I’ve never heard any specific instruction as to what prayers or it is for the next person to die. I think it is just a general thanksgiving, although I generally say the St Michael prayer because I heard that it was an old custom to say that at the end of mass. That said, it is not unusual for people to clap in appreciation for the music, which makes me uncomfortable.

  6. Melanie says

    I moved to San Antonio about 6 years ago, and I have yet to go to a parish where there is no clapping at the end of Mass. It drives me crazy!!! I’ve asked my students what they are clapping for…..the response is usually “the music” or they are unsure. Disturbing if you ask me,

  7. Marilyn Klein says

    Check out Saint Joseph Church in Winterset! The Mass is ended, we kneel, we pray, we leave. And almost nobody leaves early. Ask our longest-standing parishioners when it began and they say it’s always been that way. At Masses where we have lots of visitors (Christmas, Easter, and Covered Bridge weekend) our pastor makes a quick announcement before Mass to alert our visitors to the tradition so they don’t “stick out” by remaining standing at the end of Mass.

  8. says

    AMEN!!! I love that comment by Pope Benedict. How true! It is so easy to lose sight of the liturgy in our urgency to reward some human feat. Both I and my husband are in our church choir, and we must constantly remind ourselves that it is NOT a performance, it is praise and honour of our God.

    Thank you for this post.

    Kathleen

  9. Jim says

    Honestly, one of the things that kept me out of the Roman communion was the clapping, and other stuff like that in the Mass. I was a catechumen, but could not get past the irreverence, triviality and silliness that went on in almost every Mass I was in. (The final straw was a Mass in which the priest — in lieu of a sermon — invited everyone to search under their seats for a tiny stuffed sheep that had been strategically placed. I’ve never been back to a Roman Mass since then).

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