Bottom line: Applause focuses attention on us rather than God. But when we put Him first, good things follow.
Welcome to Advent. The prophet Isaiah (in the first reading) invites us to climb the Lord's mountain to worship God. In one year we will have something to help our worship - a new translation of the English Missal. On a much smaller scale, I made a request with a similar goal: to better focus our worship. In my first homily here, I asked you to not applaud during Mass. Some of you found this difficult. Others welcomed the change. With good humor, one guy said, "Father, when you announced that, I wanted to applaud!"
As we begin Advent, I would like to explain again the reason for the request. The basic reason is this: When we come to Mass, we want to focus on God, what he has done and what he is doing for us. We are here to celebrate Him, not ourselves. Applause tends to focus attention on us, what we do. Regarding applause, Pope Benedict made this comment:
"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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.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 attractiveness fades quickly--it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits..."
As Pope Benedict observes, applause indicates that we have strayed from the basic purpose of the Mass. I do not want to exaggerate this. Applause is not a sin. It sometimes will happen. For sure there will be applause this Wednesday at Archbishop Sartain's installation Mass.
In normal Sunday Masses, however, we should avoid applauding. When you think about it, applause puts the emphasis in the wrong place. If we were going to applaud at any point during the Mass, we ought to do it after the Consecration. At that moment, ordinary bread and ordinary wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus - by the power of the Holy Spirit. Music is important, the homily is important, presentations about parish activities are important, blessings at Mass are beautiful - but none of them can compare the miracle that takes place on the altar. To applaud secondary activities takes the focus from the primary. Or to put it in a better way: the homily, the music, parish activities and blessings - they should highlight the central mystery of the Mass.
I know that some see applause as a way of affirming and building community. That may well be, but there are other ways: For example, approach our musicians after Mass, tell them how much you appreciate their work and how their music inspires you to pray or to be a better person. That is worth much more than applause. Let's face it, in recent decades applause at Mass has become routine, even mechanical. We need something more to build community.
The greatest community builder is worship itself. Perhaps you have heard about the meeting between King Louis IX and St. Giles. King Louis travelled all the way to Perugia (Italy) to meet the saintly Franciscan Friar. When King Louis dismounted, he embraced Brother Giles and then the two knelt to pray. After an hour of prayer, the king went on his way. The two never spoke a word, but they had formed a profound bond.***
I have seen that happen in silent retreats. Once I made a thirty day retreat with a group of Sisters and priests I did not know. As the days of prayer passed, I felt a beautiful closeness to those people. Common worship builds community. If we focus on God, he will do amazing things.
Refraining from applause does require discipline and I thank for that - even if you are not a hundred percent in agreement. St. Mary of the Valley is a wonderful community. I am greatly blessed to be with you. By always focusing first on God, we will not only receive blessings, but they will flow through us to others who need God. That will happen when we put God first.
Once more, here is my main point: Applause focuses attention on us rather than God. But when we put Him first, good things follow. As we begin Advent, we want to climb the mountain of the Lord to worship the one true God. The new translation will help us do that. The discipline of refraining from applause will also help.**
After the General Intercessions, I will bless the Advent Wreath. It reminds us that Jesus came to bring light - and that through Him we worship the Father in the Spirit. Together we climb the Lord's Mountain - to the source of all blessings. Amen.
*Here is the more complete quote:
It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy "attractive" by introducing dancing pantomimes (wherever possible performed by professional dance troupes), which frequently (and rightly, from the professionals' point of view) end with applause. 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 attractiveness fades quickly--it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation. I myself have experienced the replacing of the penitential rite by a dance performance, which, needless to say, received a round of applause. Could there be anything farther removed from true penitence? Liturgy can only attract people when it looks, not at itself, but at God, when it allows him to enter and act. Then something truly unique happens, beyond competition, and people have a sense that more has taken place than a recreational activity. None of the Christian rites includes dancing. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 198-9)
**To fellow pastors: If you have not yet made this request of your parishioners, I encourage you to do so. You, of course, will have to be attentive to the times when people have become accustomed to applauding. Ask them to welcome a speaker with a prayer in their heart (rather than applause) and to thank musicians by prayer and words of encouragement. And suggest more effective ways of building community such as meeting a new person and learning a new name each Sunday.
***Illustration about St. Giles and King Louis IX (better known as St. Louis) taken from Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi.
From Archives (First Sunday of Advent, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Parish Picture Album
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
(Pilgrimage to Molokai)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated November 2013)