Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Rant: Clapping at Mass and Secularized Music

I don't know about you guys but my newest pet peeve is clapping in church. It gets on my very last nerve. I want to scream "DON'T CLAP THIS ISN'T A PERFORMANCE HALL!"

I am not alone in this sentiment. According to Catholic Answers Apologist Michelle Arnold:
"Applause that is meant to critique a performance is
inappropriate at Mass because it gives the impression that
the Mass is a performance offered to them for their approval
rather than worship that is offered up to God for his glory."

Pope Benedict XVI had this to say while writing as Cardinal Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy in 2000:
“Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence
of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a
kind of religious entertainment. Such attraction fades
quickly – it cannot compete in the market of leisure
pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various
forms of religious titillation.”

I don't know if it's more prevalent now or if it's just recently started to truly get to me, but within the last year I'm seeing it more and more. It's not only in my parish but other parishes as well. At the end of mass, a holy sacrament, people clap after the recessional. What is with that? The mass is NOT done for your entertainment. The music is not meant to be enjoyable it's meant to praise God.

I think the false impression that the mass is their for entertainment may stem from the fact that the music tends to have an underlying contemparary/pop music tone to it. I feel that Protestant praise and worship songs DO NOT belong in mass. They do possibly belong as an alternative to the secular cultures idea of music. I would prefer to hear Christian music over the majority of the immoral pop and alternative music being blared on the radio waves.

If you would have told me three years ago that I would be pleading to hear chant I would have told you that you were crazy. More recently, I have discovered that chant is a very nice alternative to the poor and often heretical things being sung during the majority of Catholic masses and practically all "teen" masses. I am not saying that Chant is the only form of music appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but I am saying that it was written specifically for the Mass with the idea of praising God as it's sole purpose.

According to Sacrosanctum Concilium from Vatican II:
"The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things
being equal, it should be given pride of place in
liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony,
are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30."

I think if chant was done more often during mass we would have less clapping for the sheer reason that the congregation would be more inclined to exercise fear/ awe of the Lord, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. I know that I feel much smaller in comparison to the greatness of God everytime I hear chant during a mass. At those masses you could hear a pin drop. Even the young children tend to feel the difference.
In comparison, at my local parish I wait to see how many people will clap this week. It is disappointing, the numbers grow every weekend. I am unsure if people are just ignorant of the inappropriateness of their actions, or if we as Catholics have stooped so low to think our approval is needed.

More disturbing to me is the clapping and dancing in the pews at many "teen" masses. I know I was guilty of this as a teen because it was almost expected at my former parish. I always felt that it was wrong but was already enough of an outcast that I didn't want to dig myself in farther by not "participating." Now, that I am a more informed Catholic adult, I realize that we should have left such actions for the Protestants, dances and parties. Cardinal Francis Arinze, former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, talks about the inappropriateness of such actions in the western Latin rite mass and the reasoning against it. Hear what he has to say by watching this YouTube Video. I have to totally agree.

I am now getting off of my soap box. Please comment. I want to hear what my readers have to say.


  1. Interesting that you specify "Protestant Praise and Worship". How about Catholic Praise and Worship (see: Matt Maher)?

    The form of music is very important to people. I'm in my early 20s and have been selecting music for/running a youth choir for 5 years. Maybe you have more ideal hymnals, but ours are chock full of odd music composed between 1970 and 1995. There's that swingy style (where you can lean LEFT-two-three, RIGHT-two-three), found in songs like "Rain Down" and a version of "Taste and See". There are songs that ask ridiculous things of the congregation, such as "Take Christ to the World", which throws in a bunch of sharps in the verses that only confuse people. Then there are songs that the coordinators at my parish call "youth-y" that only a few people over 16 really find stimulating on any level, but they insist we sing them because they fit what THEY think people our age should be singing. They once gave us a wretched song that sounded more like "She'll Be Commin' 'Round the Mountain" and wouldn't listen when we said it was an abomination. Yikes.

    The problem with painting all praise and worship music with one brush is that they can serve different purposes. Yes, some of them are clearly NOT Catholic, and most probably shouldn't be played during a mass. Then there are some that do fit Catholic teaching, but don't really feel like they belong at mass. Would a youth/young adult based adoration event be more suitable for this type? There are some, though, that, through a combination of form and content, really reach the heart of younger people, in particular, and draw them to God. It's hard not to long for songs that do that, especially when you do go to mass and they're singing something that rings hollow.

    I'm not necessarily saying that they belong in mass as they are. I'm not sure about the ones that they play in your area; they might really be wretched. And obviously, should a select few end up in mass, they had better complement the rest of the service and any other styles of music accompanying it. But I want to point out that for many of the young people I know it's not about being entertained so much as it is about singing songs that draw people nearer to God, that draw them to His presence in wonder. Personally, I like chant and traditional styles, but not every young person who is trying to figure out their faith on their own can easily connect with it right away. Some type of intermediate step might be in order.

    Point being: not all contemporary Christian music is entirely unsuitable for mass. Some of it might even be preferable to the strange swing-y alternatives.

    As far as clapping goes, I'm with you 100%. What REALLY gets to me is when the priest stops before the final blessing to thank the choir and have everyone applaud them. You couldn't even say "Well, it's technically outside the mass" like you could when they applaud after the last song. It's right there IN THE MASS. It's probably just a lack of instruction issue, but I doubt they'd appreciate it if I grabbed the mic and told them to stop.

  2. Oh my goodness - My husband and I are ALWAYS the ones just sitting there with our hands in our laps. Now that we have 2 babies, we can pretend that we're not clapping b/c our hands are full.

    My home parish has a very practiced and talented choir. The woman in charge of music for the parish is a no-nonsense lady who gets the job done. For about 2 years, a sweet and wonderful gentleman joined the choir with a very robust voice. He was often "featured" drove me NUTS!!! Every time I heard him go off on a musican "tangent" I just KNEW I would hear clapping at the end of HIS song. And sure enough, at the end of mass, everyone would break into applause. I actually felt like leaving mass early just to be spared the rock concert.

    He has since left, but everytime the choir does a special closing song, the parish feels the need to clap. And I have to attend confession for the thoughts swirling around...again...

  3. It drives me crazy. We loved our last priest, but he started each homily with at least one joke, sometimes more (occasionally, I kid you not, a "fart" joke) and usually there was hysterical laughing and clapping that was so loud my oldest daughter who was around two, would burst into tears and have to be taken out. This was very frustrating since she would sit and behave for the rest of Mass. But the applause would be so thunderous that she would literally be trembling.

    I'm feeling hopeful because our parish has a very Protestant feel and our brand new priest is very traditional and is correcting the incorrect rubrics and fixing everything. It's been a little tense, but also thrilling to see happen!

  4. Went to the Anglican Use mass again today. What a breath of fresh air!

  5. I agree! You won't see that at the Extraordinary Form where Mass is said in Latin, but there's not usually a parish like that close to most people, and we are stuck in the same situation at Mass with clapping, although it sounds to me like you hear it every week (which would drive me nuts!)...we only get it once in a while. I get mad that I have to explain to my kids why we don't clap at Mass though, there's enough I have to teach them myself, I wish this was something I didn't have to worry about, but then again, that's also my philosophy on Children's Liturgy of The Word when all the kids get to go play during Mass instead of learning how to behave and what to do, our daughter is almost 3 and we'll have to fight that too. Aside from those things, our parish is actually quite good, the pastor gives excellent homilies, I'm not sure about the director of Religious Ed. though....

  6. PS! I have seen the Cardinal Arinze video above and am a fan of his =)