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Liturgy: Liturgical Dancing

10/6/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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With a Key 1975 Article

ROME, OCT. 6, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Is so-called liturgical dancing allowed in English-speaking countries where traditionally dancing is not regarded as culturally proper? Can it be carried out during solemn occasions such as the celebration of the Mass? -- F.Y., Auckland, New Zealand

A: The document that comes closest to being an official commentary on this theme hails from an essay published by the official organ of the then Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Notitiae, 11 (1975) 202-205.

This article is labeled as a "qualified and authoritative sketch." It is considered by the congregation as "an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter." Therefore, it is commended for study by diocesan liturgical commissions and offices of worship. (The English translation below first appeared in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp. 78-82.)

The article was later republished with permission in the April/May 1982 Newsletter of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which consequently published directives that "all dancing, (ballet, children's gesture as dancing, the clown liturgy) are not permitted to be "introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever."

Although not specifically mentioned in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," dance can be included in the overall prohibition on introducing elements not contemplated by the liturgical books.

On some recent occasions a certain form of dance has been introduced within the context of papal liturgies on the occasion of regional synods of bishops or canonization ceremonies. But these were usually associated with elements of African or Asian culture and are to be considered as special exceptions in virtue of the Pope's universal mission.

On recent occasions Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, has publicly criticized certain forms of introducing dance into Western liturgy especially in forms which reduce the sacred rite to a spectacle.

I am also aware that he has reiterated these criticisms privately to the bishops of several countries during their five-yearly "ad limina" visits to Rome.

The 1975 article from The Canon Law Digest follows:

-- The Religious Dance, an Expression of Spiritual Joy --

The dance can be an art: a synthesis of the measured arts (music and poetry) and the spatial arts (architecture, sculpture, painting).

As an art which, by means of the body, expresses human feelings, the dance is especially adapted to signify joy.

Thus, among the mystics, we find intervals of dancing as an expression of the fullness of their love of God. Recall the cases of St. Theresa of Avila, St. Philip Neri, St. Gerard Majella.

When the Angelic Doctor wished to represent paradise, he represented it as a dance executed by angels and saints.

The dance can turn into prayer which expresses itself with a movement which engages the whole being, soul and body. Generally, when the spirit raises itself to God in prayer, it also involves the body.

One can speak of the prayer of the body. This can express its praise, its petition with movements, just as is said of the stars which by their evolution praise their Creator (cf. Baruch 3:34).

Various examples of this type of prayer are had in the Old Testament.

This holds true especially for primitive peoples. They express their religious sentiment with rhythmic movements.

Among them, when there is a question of worship, the spoken word becomes a chant, and the gesture of going or walking towards the divinity transforms itself into a dance step.

Among the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers and in the conciliar texts there is mention of dancing, an evaluation of it, a comment on the biblical text in which there is an allusion to the dance; more frequently there is a condemnation of profane dances and the disorders to which the dances give rise.

In liturgical texts, there are at times allusions to the dance of the angels and of the elect in paradise (cf. "Among the lilies thou dost feed, surrounded by dancing groups of virgins") in order to express the "joy and the "jubilation" which will characterize eternity.

Dancing and worship

The dance has never been made an integral part of the official worship of the Latin Church.

If local churches have accepted the dance, sometimes even in the church building, that was on the occasion of feasts in order to manifest sentiments of joy and devotion. But that always took place outside of liturgical ...

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