Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. 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? (Lilburn, Georgia)

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because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”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 a priest, there is a point at which the congregation is invited to give its approval to the candidate “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. In the past, we celebrated every fall the feast of Christ the King. But I notice that now this feast is called “Christ, King of the Universe,” and that prompts my question. The Nicene Creed says, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” It seems to me that this makes God the Father the King of the universe, not Jesus Christ.

We know very little of what’s out there beyond ourselves in the entire universe. Are there other solar systems with living beings created by God? Did those planets and cultures need to be saved also, as Christ did for the earth’s inhabitants? What is the basis for expanding the title of this feast? (Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin)

A. You are correct as to the current title of the feast. In 1925, as a response to growing nationalism and secularism, Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King. He wanted to highlight the fact that the kingdom of Jesus was one not of pomp and power but of love and service. It was then celebrated on the last Sunday of October.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI gave the feast a new title and a new date. It is now called formally the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and is marked on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, one week before the first Sunday of Advent.

If you read further down in the Nicene Creed, it is said of Jesus that “through him all things were made,” which I would take as a warrant for calling Christ the king of the universe itself, not just the sovereign of our small planet.

But your question raises an interesting topic: the possibility of intelligent life in other parts of the universe. On this matter, the church has no fixed position, and the current name for the feast makes no declaration.

The matter of extraterrestrial life is a scientific question, not a theological one. Nothing in the Scriptures confirms or contradicts the possibility. The part that fascinates me is whether such beings would be fallen or unfallen? Would they need redemption? Would the Son of God have visited them as he came to live with us? We don’t know. What we know is that Jesus showed us how to live and offers to us a path to heaven.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.