The Mass is the re-presentation of the same Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross being offered up to Our Father for the expiation of our sins. It is not a memorial. It is not a remembrance. We are in that moment. We are at the foot of the Cross as He is crucified. So why does anyone applaud before, during or after?
I have been to so many Masses where the people, spurred on by the priest, applaud, congratulating themselves and others on their contributions of musical talent, for being an altar “server”, for being a “Eucharistic minister”, for being the cantor, for being the organist, for being the sacristan, and for being in the pew. At other times, the applause can seem appropriate, such as the First Communion of children, baptisms, weddings, a priest’s ordination anniversary, or the 50th anniversary of a marriage. Yet, if we understood the Mass, understood that we are gathered at the foot of the Cross as Jesus is crucified, applause is the last thing we ought to be doing, unless we hate Him.
We should celebrate the milestones in our fellow parishioners’ lives. We should appreciate the musical talents of the cantor and the musicians. We should appreciate the contributions to the Mass and the parish of those who do so. But we should not be doing it before, during or after the Mass in the Church. At those times, we should be reflecting and praying our thanksgiving for what is happening for our salvation.
Do the angels applaud at the Mass? I have heard and read of the accounts of those who have been blessed with visions of the angels at the Mass. They are prostrate in prayer before the altar singing God’s praises in adoration. In the Book of Revelation, Saint John describes the Mass, and he does not discuss the outbursts of applause at any time, but he does discuss the angels ministering at the altar and bringing forth the prayers of the saints, and the prophets, martyrs and others in Heaven as falling down on their faces before the Lamb and God.
Does the Blessed Mother applaud at the foot of the Cross? Does Saint John? Who applauds at the foot of the Cross? Those who mock Him, wagging their heads, taunting Him to save Himself and to come down from the Cross, the thief hanging next to Him, and those afar off who had stood and demanded that He be crucified, those who deny Him, the devil and demons.
The Extraordinary Form of the Liturgy is not easy to attend where I am, but when I do, I never have heard any applause, and I can barely detect a low whisper before, during or after the Mass. At the Ordinary Form, there is regularly conversation, milling about, and laughter before and after the Mass in the Church, in front of the Tabernacle, and even during it to a lesser extent. I wonder if even a handful of people understand what’s going on, what they are participating in, what awesome spectacle they are present for. After Mass on January 1st, I knelt to pray, and noticed about five others also. Standing about, laughing and talking loudly were probably forty people, completely unconcerned about any decorum in the Church, or those who were trying to pray, the “freaks” these days like me. Finally, a man a few pews before me began praying the Rosary aloud, with six laughing people standing a foot away. None gave him a second glance or consideration, and they kept it up. I began to pray aloud with him, as we were celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, that day, and part of my prayers were in Her honor. Would they have acted the same way if Jesus was hanging bloodily on the Cross there? Some probably would.
A few years ago after Mass, the pastor came along as I rose from saying my prayers. The Church was abuzz with conversation and all the rest. I complained to him that people needed to be reminded of where they are and that they shouldn’t be so noisy in the Church. He said, “It’s too late. The cat’s already out of the bag.”
Why is it that the cat is still in the bag at the Extraordinary Form but not at the Ordinary? Maybe that does say something about what has been lost with the Novus Ordo. Yet, I place the blame on the nearly bankrupt education of Catholics by those charged with the duty to teach the Faith and on the people themselves, who make no attempt to educate themselves or their children. The cat can be put back in the bag and removed from the Church with even a simple announcement every week and a sign on the door that says “Silence”. Apparently, that still works at other Churches around the world and in the Vatican. But, the fact that a sign is necessary is an indication that something more deep has happened in the Church, something not good.
The action of a holy priest during the Mass can have a sobering effect on those present, even at the Ordinary Form. One priest I know takes the Consecration very seriously and takes several minutes where others rush through in seconds. I know that he knows what is happening and that he takes his role very seriously. When his Mass is concluded, a noticeable quiet overcomes the Church, without anyone having to be reminded. It’s not the form of the Mass, then. Priests should take note.
Hold the applause in Church, and save it for special receptions and secular functions. The world loves to be applauded.