Anyone who is an organist is familiar with the Latin phrase, “Soli Deo Gloria” which means “To God alone the glory.” It’s the motto of the American Guild of Organists, but more than that, it was the way that Johann Sebastian Bach signed his cantatas, using the initials S.D.G.
As I’ve written before in this blog, one of the ways we observe the penitential season of Lent at LCH is to forego organ postludes at the end of the service. Not only does this mean that I have six weeks of not having to prepare a closing voluntary, but it also means there’s no applause at the end of the service. I’ve discovered that applause after the organ postlude happens in many churches, both in the United States and Europe. And in many churches, people applaud after the choir anthem. After all, the psalmist wrote, “Clap your hands, all you people.” People don’t know how else to respond.
We’ve had this discussion a number of times in Worship and Music committee, admittedly upon my suggestion. I believe postludes are offered in the same spirit as the choral anthems or hymns — they are in essence offerings to God — that is, prayers, even if they get kind of loud sometime! At Iolani School where I am the Chapel Organist, we are trying to teach our children that applause is not necessarily an appropriate response — especially after the reading of a lesson. (Yes, students were applauding after scripture readings in chapel!)
The subject of applause in worship has even been discussed on the national level by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and you can find an excellent article here. I was particularly drawn to this paragraph:
We live in an entertainment age. The liturgical church, with its emphasis on participation by all, offers a countercultural alternative to worship that is cast as entertainment by a few for the many. Worship planners need to look critically at our secular culture, constructively use what is good. In a secular setting, applause may not be a weakness. When transferred to worship, however, it may not function in the same positive way.
It’s something to think about.