May We Applaud?

Q. Please address the question of why more and more pastors are allowing the faithful to indulge in applause as praise for choirs and certain individuals in attendance. A few weeks ago, in our parish, a birthday was announced before dismissal, and the congregation not only broke into applause but sang “Happy Birthday” in the person’s honor.

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:

If the activities to which you object took place after the final blessing, then, technically speaking, they did not occur during the Mass itself. But that does not excuse the rapid change in the minds of the worshipers from what it should be as they leave the nave.

Think of it! We who leave the celebration have just received the greatest gift God can give us. We have been literally, physically, united with our risen Lord and Savior. Ought we not file out of the church in a grateful, pensive frame of mind? Having to holler a “happy birthday” greeting just before we leave Mass surely tends to detract from, if not wipe out, that proper mindset. And, by the way, the same can be said in criticism of the outburst of loud greetings and conversation which break out immediately after Mass ends. Have you ever shared in a Mass after which people quietly filed out, waiting to speak after leaving the nave?

Though it’s difficult to justify congregational birthday greetings, applause during the liturgy may be appropriate. In the celebration of the Easter Vigil, for example, it is customary to applaud those who have just been baptized and confirmed. In that context, applause can express not merely congratulations. It can also be an act of thanksgiving for the new members who have been grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ.