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Monday, November 10, 2008

Applause at Mass

Fr. Pelletier does it again, in his post Parish the Thought: Pope Benedict XVI quotes.

“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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.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 attraction fades quickly - it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation.”

This EXACT QUOTE came to mind this very Sunday at Mass. My parish is a good one, but there is this problem that seems to have insidiously infected nearly every parish in America...the idea that everyone who does what they are supposed to do must be thanked with applause.

In the case I will describe, it's slightly more understandable, but still denotes a disorder in the focus of of the congregation. You see, once per month, the children's choir performs at Mass. (No, I did not use that word by accident.) They do a good job, but the Music Director thinks it necessary to bring certain "soloists" to the forefront, in order to "highlight" their "talent" during the Mass. Now, mind you, this is not the same thing as using a Cantor as a soloist during the Psalm, which is entirely appropriate. No; I'm speaking of almost every song being used as a type of obvious performance.

In Liturgy, there is a difference between "leading worship" and "performing". Our Music Director is leading the children to believe that this is a "performance", for the attention is being called to them, and away from God, through both the type of music being used and the apparent need to "highlight" them. And I have to say, at my parish, several of the musical groups seem to have the idea that this is a "performance". I'm not entirely certain that our own Musical Director has ever learned to lead worship; her own strength seems to be in performance, and that seems to be where she belongs.

Unfortunately, that attitude does NOT belong in the Liturgy.

I don't fault the children; they are doing what they are told, they are having fun doing it, and musical abilities are being encouraged. These are all very good things. As a former child/teen cantor and musician, and knowing what such experience did for me, I can't entirely condemn it, and in fact, I do encourage the idea of children's choirs at mass. No problem.


Again, speaking as a former teen Cantor and musician...I also know the mindset. Children, such as those exploited at Mass on Sunday, are entirely innocent. But they are being taught an ultimately terrible lesson, one that feeds into the very poor theology being taught by some schools; the lateral kind. The "It's all about me and us!" kind. The "Let's celebrate ourselves!" kind. The kind that takes the focus from God and places it on us.

After Mass on Sunday, before the final blessing, Father thanked the Children's Choir and LEAD applause! And of course, after the "Final Song" (What they now call the Recessional).

I understand why he did it, because, of couse, he wants to encourage the children. And they SHOULD be encouraged!

On the other hand, this Priest, who I know to be a very holy priest who has seen much suffering in his life and has great devotion to Jesus, may not realize that this applause, along with the way the Music Director is going about her "ministry" is actually teaching the children, AND everyone present, that Mass is just another type of performance, and that human effort is to be applauded.

Yes, I am an authority on this topic because I inadvertantly received this kind of "education." I have always loved music, and began using my talents at the parish in which I grew up in a very humble and innocent manner. However, as my talent grew, so did my responsibilities...and so did my "fan base". When I played my flute, especially if the Recessional was musical, people would feel obligated to remain behind and applaud. In the choir, we were often applauded....pretty much every Sunday we sang. And in my own mind, I began working on my nerves by thinking of Mass as another "performance'.

My initial use of the idea of "performance" was actually pretty innocent; it was all about my nerves and taking on another persona in order to talk myself into professionalism (and out of fear!). But the applause actually fed my ego, and over time, I developed this idea that Mass WAS a "performance venue", and that's how I responded. I EXPECTED applause. It was no longer about was about ME.

It made me a Liturgical Diva.

So it is that, having gotten away from this and grown up, I am concerned about the use of applause during Mass, or even after Mass. If we are applauding people, then it means we have taken our focus from God, and as our Dear Pope Benedict XVI has noted, it has placed it on human achievement.

Let us realize that applause has NO PLACE at Mass....during or after. Mass is NOT about us. Mass is SACRED, it is about God, and if applause is necessary, it can be done in the "gathering space" when Mass is over. Or if people need to thank the children, they can do so discreetly. (I also know from experience that this type of thanks means a LOT MORE than mass adulation, but doesn't have the same detrimental effect.)

Even now that I work in a parish, it is one where the Pastor feels the need to thank people during Mass. He wanted to do so last spring after First Communion, and I said nothing because my catechists (major volunteers who carry the program on their backs) thought it was nice that Father thanked them publicly. I knew that if I asked Father not to mention us, my Catechists would take it the wrong way; and so I was silent. Father himself is very orthodox, but has been, like so many of us, affected by the culture of latitude, and I think he feels PRESSURED to lead applause.

People have come to expect it. They think that if Father doesn't publicly lead applause, that their work isn't appreciated.


It is Christ's words that reveal where our souls and virtue must lie, if we would only listen. We are all asked to exercise our talents without applause. The Master does not come into his home and applaud the servant; rather, He arrives, sits down and waits to be served. The Servant does what he is asked; how is it right for him to demand or expect adulation for carrying out his expected duties?

If we are serving our parish, we need to be doing so with the proper perspective. We must not do it out of a desire for attention, but out of love for God. Out of a desire to use our abilities to glorify God.

If we are the ones being glorified, that is an indicator of disorder within ourselves, and within those seeking to glorify us.

We don't participate in our parishes in order to be loved; God is sufficient. It's not about us. All must be directed to God.

So please, to all you Music Directors and Priests, to all the Liturgical Directors, as a recovering Diva I IMPLORE you to stop this suggested and...dare I say it...forced...adulation of the different "performers" at Mass? Can we PLEASE be allowed to adore God without being forced to applaud those who are supposed to be pointing us to our Lord and not mere servantship?


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I agree completely, I hate applause during, before and After Mass.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading, long ago, a magazine interview with the late Rich Mullins. He talked about a time when he was a young boy and his piano teacher was preparing him to play during communion at his church. Afterward, she asked him how it went, and he said (paraphrasing here), "It went great, everyone said I did great." And she replied, "Well, then, you failed. Richard, when you play in church, your job is to direct people's attention to God, not to your playing." I've never forgotten reading that.

And yes, there is always applause for the "contemporary" group after Mass at our parish, every week. Sigh.

S. R. Piccoli said...

I couldn’t agree more with you. On the issue of applause & performance I just wanted to put an example in here of what I think about that matter: I once heard (live) a willing group of lay men who had also recorded some Gregorian Chant melodies. Well their “performance” was likely irreproachable from a “technical” point of view, but I was very, very disappointed … They had betrayed the spirit of Gregorian Chant. I left in disgust.

All the best

Cookie said...

I could've written this post. Not nearly as well as you, though :-)

I hate it when the priest, during his post-Communion, pre-closing prayer speech that has become far too commonplace, says "let's hear it for the choir!" and starts clapping. I'm ashamed to say I occasionally glare... :/

I used to be in choir, and now I know that I'm too distracted. God bless the people who can sing AND concentrate on the Mass. But let God bless them, not the rest of the parishioners.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

I've been a musician & choir member in church since high school. One choir director we had during college informed us that it was OK if the assembly did not know the songs we were singing at Mass, because "we're performing for God."
No, we're not. We're leading the people in SUNG PRAYER. It is a responsibility and a privilege to do that. We should not abuse it by feeding our ego with solos, etc.

Unknown said...

Modern churches have been designed with no choir lofts. That's where the choir belongs, where you only hear them.

And then you don't have to purchase expensive protestant-y robes for them either.

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen, amen!!! I've been a church musician and secular performer, and it annoys the devil out of me when people applaud at Mass. It happened at my former parish (which I left mainly because of conflict about performing vs. worship), and it happens at the parish I playorgan at now. Sad ... and I don't know how to address this. I have to tread carefully because of my previous experience, but the choir is deplorable , the music chosen is lousy, and the choir "director" sings along with the choir -- no cues or cutoffs, and the result is pretty sloppy. I don't think I'll return after Christmas. Perhaps it would be better to just be a praying body in the pew. And I agree with the Pope, definitely! Anything that takes the focus away from God isn't good -- but people don't seem to get this at all. When you bring it up, they look at you as if you've grown another 10 heads, and tag you as a liturgical fussbudget. TOugh to take.


Anonymous said...

I asked someone once after they applauded our choir: "How could you do that to us?"

They didn't understand so I explained: "My choir singing is a prayer. I expect that the prayer would gain me or a loved one a little time off in purgatory. By applauding, you "paid me here" and lost me whatever spiritual benefit I might have gotten. Please don't do that to me any more."

Andy said...

I've just had an epiphany...

oops, forgot what I was going to say... *cough*

Courageous Grace said...

I never quite realized that clapping for our organist after the postlude (and after the candles at the altar have been extinguished) was inappropriate. I always considered it a thank you for her hard work. Will definitely have to rethink that now.

I have a question along the same line though. There is a woman in our choir who once had a beautiful voice and is obviously trained. Suffice it to say that her voice is not quite as beautiful as it must have once been. I don't mind, when she sings I know she is singing and praying to God, not to us. However, there is one woman in our parish who complains about her to me every time she sings, and goes on about how she wishes I were singing instead (I am classically trained and sing solos often in our parish). What do I tell this woman who is complaining, without sounding rude?

Anonymous said...

CG ~ Good question...she's putting you in a very bad spot. But you could just say that you thank God the woman is willing to raise her voice and heart to God no matter what the consequences and leave it at that. :-)

I have a dear friend who can't sing a single note in tune, but when we are at Mass, she sings these bad notes as loudly as she can. If I happen to be the unfortunate person sitting next to her, I just try to thank God that she has a voice at all and He hears what we don't.