Q: I can’t find anything in the GIRM or Canon law that addresses applause during the Mass. I know many frown upon the practice of applauding after a Homily, for the choir or a person doing an announcement. I assume it is a different situation for the newly baptized/ Confirmed/married. Can you weigh in please?
A: Here’s a bulletin insert I wrote some years ago. It will be included in a collection from LTP sometime next year:
A round of applause in church can express the unity of the people, the greatness of God, and the enthusiasm which underlies our faith.
Applause entered Catholic tradition with apprehension. For hundreds of years, many Catholic congregations did not even sing, much less applaud in church. People attended Mass as a collective private prayer. Choirs and clergy made all the noise. Now all the parts of the Mass are distributed among those who attend, and the people of God have a responsibility to express their faith in word, action, and song.
Applause also carried secular connotations. Since we weren’t applauding in church, the primary place to experience the sound was in the field of public entertainment, sport, and celebrity. Applause would run contrary to the efforts of common prayer if it reduced the activity to something we came to observe for fun.
Gradually, though, applause has found a fitting place within our worship. In fact, the rite for the ordination of a priest invites the people to give their assent to the choice of these candidates for service “according to local custom.” Well, everybody applauds. The action celebrates God’s choice, the church’s unity, and the candidate’s spiritual discernment.
Other occasions merit the same response. Applause can often be heard in support of a newly married couple. It congratulates a couple on their anniversary for the witness they give the community. It affirms a homily. It rejoices with children on their first communion day. It thanks a choir for uplifting our hearts in prayer.
Applause serves best when it expresses our unity in faith. It ultimately is directed toward God, the creator of all, the one responsible for all human accomplishment. It does with our hands what we do with our voices whenever we shout praise.
“Clap your hands, all you peoples,” acclaims Psalm 47. “Shout to God with loud songs of joy.”