I remember during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, someone would come out before Mass began (in the Vatican) and instruct the congregation that there was to be no applause, please turn off cell phones, etc. etc. I’m not sure if they still do that at the Vatican or not. But it made a big difference. Mass is not a show.
A lot of people nowadays like to stay around after Mass to applaud the musicians. Sometimes I am tempted to join in, particularly if the organist has played a rousing postlude with skill. But even though Mass is technically over, it’s not a good idea: the musicians are not there to put on a show. They should be singing and playing as an offering to God, and we should help them make it an offering to God, not put the attention back on them. Applause in church is just not a good idea, whether during or after Mass!
Here is a good (and well-circulated) quotation from Cardinal Ratzinger on the subject, from his magisterial work, The Spirit of the Liturgy:
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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.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. (pp. 198-199)
I’ll never forget a certain Mass when I was in seminary, when the schola sang this piece rather flawlessly – when sung well in the right setting at the right time, it will take your breath away; we were all pretty much agasp. You could hear a pin drop; the silence afterwards was poignant – and beautiful. Thank God no one applauded! It would have ruined that moment, taken our attention away from the beauty that entered deeply into our souls, diverted our attention from the Lord we had just received in Holy Communion, and turned the whole thing in on ourselves and the musicians.
When you’re tempted to applaud at Mass or afterwards, stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God instead!