There has been debate over whether or not this is permissible in the Church. Those possessing a more hard line approach to liturgical discipline tend to dislike this behaviour. Others who who have a more relaxed approach seem to think it’s fine and poses no theological threat at all.
I personally do not clap either a priest or a choir because I feel that praise and glory is always reserved for the Lord in his house. I do fight with myself over that view sometimes and this blog post is more or less me trying to convince myself I’m being a bit silly about it. I often think if clapping and applause is done out of a desire to encourage the priest or choir then perhaps that is not a bad thing?
Then there is the other argument that such applause poses a threat to the priest leading him into spiritual pride. These are strong arguments both for and against this practice. Priests need encouragement but also care must be taken our encouragement doesn’t all together lead to him to the flames of Hell as a result of spiritual pride. But isn’t that his own responsibility?
Writing in the latter part of the 4th century St.John Chrysostom seems to support clapping. In the quote that follows it’s obviously he’s not entirely explicit in his favour of it but the fact he doesn’t seem phased by it confirms his support for it.
On the subject of attention in hearkening it is superfluous to exhort you any more, so quickly have you shown by your actions the effects of my advice. For your manner of running together, your attentive postures, the thrusting one another in your eagerness to get the inner places, where my voice may more clearly be heard by you, your unwillingness to retire from the press until this spiritual assembly be dissolved, the clapping of hands, the murmurs of applause; in a word, all things of this kind may be considered proofs of the fervor of your souls, and of your desire to hear.St.John Chrysostom, Homily III, Paragraph 1, P.20
I read this in recent weeks and thought, “Hm. . . it opens up a new chapter for me on the debate in the Church surrounding the topic of applause in the house of God. I must blog about this at some point.”
Yes, John seems to imply that applause and clapping indicates the congregation are actually listening and not sitting back daydreaming otherwise they would be less likely to applaud and cheer. I like this quote because it gives the more rigid reader of mine a wake up call. Seeing as they like all things ancient and reject the more legitimate modern approach taken by the Church this is a punch to the gut surely?
Not only are they encouraging John with applause, but he likewise is encouraging his congregation by applauding them with words of praise for their eagerness to listen. I think with this in mind, we should not worry too much about clapping in the house of God as long as it is has a righteous end. What I mean by this is that applauding someone for uttering heresy has a much different flavour to it (one that makes us vomit) than the kind provoked by virtuous speech that has its origin in Divine inspirations.
It’s certainly a challenge to me and my existing liturgical approach. I know that just because the Early Church fathers supported it doesn’t mean that it’s theologically or culturally relevant today but it’s still interesting. The Early Church fathers are not a relic of the past, rather are an ever present source of usefulness to us all until the end of time. It’s up to us to make sure we read them with caution and don’t end up being deluded. What I mean by that is you can read their writings and forget you now live in 2021 not the year 387. In the Catholic faith theological and liturgical expressions are not stagnant and the Church always adapts with the times where permissible and reasonable.
But in the eyes of the more rigid souls it is stagnant and so this post is really for them to provide clarity on applause in the house of God. I want to show the more traditional type that their self styled theologians on YouTube are misleading them when they say that the more ancient path is better than the modern one. They usually quote scripture for that. “
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But the ancient path the Lord refers to is the one of simplicity in unity and love, not liturgical fashions and theological expressions. I wouldn’t consider myself to be in either the liberal or conservative camp at all yet I too struggle with this subject. Even weeks after having read the common sense of St.John I’m still unable to rise above my own rigidity and simply applause the choir for a job well done. Why? Because there’s much pride in me that’s why.
It’s a real tragedy how we get caught up on these liturgical rubrics and it’s evidence that our hearts are far from the Lord. This Sunday, I’ve decided to soften up a bit and have a good clap. . . What say ye? Are ye with me?