Clapping at Mass; scattering cremains

| Father Kenneth Doyle | December 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

choirQ. I have noticed that when the choir does a piece of music differently or performs a song especially well, someone inevitably starts to applaud, and the rest of the congregation follows suit. I think this detracts from the mood that the music has just created and interferes with the solemnity of the Mass. Is it just me, or should applause be reserved for musical performances outside of Mass?

A. The Church has no specific “rules” for or against applause at Mass, so we are left to reason for ourselves according to what comports with the purpose and spirit of the liturgy.

Fundamentally, I agree with your observation. Music during Mass, whether sung by the choir or by the congregation, is not a performance. It is meant to glorify God and sanctify the faithful. It is a form of prayer and should draw those present into deeper contact with the Lord.

All of which inclines me in the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI), who in the year 2000 wrote in “The Spirit of the Liturgy” that “whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

There are moments in certain liturgical celebrations when applause is welcomed, although not explicitly called for. For example, in the ordination of priests, there is a point at which the congregation is invited to give its approval to the candidates “according to local custom,” which in the United States usually results in applause.

Apart from such instances, it seems inappropriate during Mass to break the flow of the liturgy and spirit of prayer by clapping. Having said that, we are properly grateful to musicians and singers for adding beauty and reverence to the celebration of the Mass. Perhaps that gratitude could best be expressed once the closing hymn is completed — either by applause or by taking the time to compliment members of the choir personally.

Q. I understand that, as Catholics, if we choose to be cremated, our cremains are to be treated with dignity and must be buried or entombed. My husband and I have two family members who have asked us to arrange to have their ashes “scattered.” One is a Catholic, one is not. Does our duty to follow Church teaching on this matter override the wishes of our family members (even of the non-Catholic one)? I am uncomfortable with one day having to carry out their request, but I’m unsure as to how to respond.

A. You are correct on the Church’s teaching.

Although the Vatican in 1963 lifted the ban on cremation, the Church specifies that cremated remains are to be treated with the same reverence as the body of a deceased person. This means that the cremains are to be placed in a worthy vessel and, following the religious services, to be buried or entombed in consecrated ground. They are not, for example, to be kept on a mantelpiece or scattered in the deceased’s favorite park.

Your duty as faithful Catholics overrides the desire of your family members. I see no philosophical justification for distinguishing between the Catholic relative and the non-Catholic. The Church’s reverence for the remains of each of them is equal. (My guess is that you would also buy yourself some extra family trouble if you distinguished.)

I think this is a “teachable opportunity” for you. You should tell each of the two that, as a faithful Catholic, you would feel (in your words) “uncomfortable” carrying out their wishes and then go on to explain to them the reason for the Church’s guidelines (i.e., reverence for the cremated remains).

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Category: Focus on Faith