Skip to content

Liturgy: Liturgical Dancing

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 services.

Conciliar decisions have often condemned the religious dance because it conduces little to worship and because it could degenerate into disorders.

Actually, in favor of dance in the liturgy, an argument could be drawn from the passage of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium," in which are given the norms for adaptation of the liturgy to the character and the traditions of the various peoples:

"In matters which do not affect the faith or the well-being of an entire community, the Church does not wish, even in the Liturgy, to impose a rigid uniformity; on the contrary, she respects and fosters the genius and talents of various races and people. Whatever in their way of life is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error, she looks upon with benevolence and if possible keeps it intact, and sometimes even admits it into the Liturgy provided it accords with the genuine and authentic liturgical spirit." [1]

Theoretically, it could be deduced from that passage that certain forms of dancing and certain dance patterns could be introduced into Catholic worship.

Nevertheless, two conditions could not be prescinded from.

The first: to the extent in which the body is a reflection of the soul, dancing, with all its manifestations, would have to express sentiments of faith and adoration in order to become a prayer.

The second condition: just as all the gestures and movements found in the liturgy are regulated by the competent ecclesiastical authority, so also dancing as a gesture would have to be under its discipline.

Concretely: there are cultures in which this is possible insofar as dancing is still reflective of religious values and becomes a clear manifestation of them. Such is the case of the Ethiopians. In their culture, even today, there is the religious ritualized dance, clearly distinct from the martial dance and from the amorous dance. The ritual dance is performed by priests and levites before beginning a ceremony and in the open are in front of the church. The dance accompanies the chanting of psalms during the procession. When the procession enters the church, then the chanting of the psalms is carried out with and accompanied by bodily movement.

The same thing is found in the Syriac liturgy by means of chanting of psalms.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, there is an extremely simplified dance on the occasion of a wedding when the crowned spouses make a circular revolution around the lectern together with the celebrant.

Such is the case of the Israelites: in the synagogue their prayer is accompanied by a continuous movement to recall the precept from tradition: "When you pray, do so with all your heart, and all your bones." And for primitive peoples the same observation can be made.

However, the same criterion and judgment cannot be applied in the western culture.

Here dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with un bridling of the senses: such dancing, in general, is not pure.

For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever: that would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations.

Neither can acceptance be had of the proposal to introduce into the liturgy the so-called artistic ballet because there would be presentation here also of a spectacle at which one would assist, while in the liturgy one of the norms from which one cannot prescind is that of participation.

Therefore, there is a great difference in cultures: what is well received in one culture cannot be taken on by another culture.

The traditional reserve of the seriousness of religious worship, and of the Latin worship in particular, must never be forgotten.

If the proposal of the religious dance in the West is really to be made welcome, care will have to be taken that in its regard a place be found outside of the liturgy, in assembly areas which are not strictly liturgical. Moreover, the priests must always be excluded from the dance.

We can recall how much was derived from the presence of the Samoans at Rome for the missionary festival of 1971. At the end of the Mass, they carried out their dance in St. Peter's square: and all were joyful.

__________________________

Endnotes

Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 37; C.L.D., 6, p. 44.

In favor of the insertion of artistic dancing into the liturgy, reference can also be made to the text of "Gaudium et spes," nn. 53, 57, 58. However, the cited texts speak of manifestation of culture in general, and of art which elevates with the true and beautiful. They do not speak of dancing in a specific manner. Dancing also can be an art. Nonetheless, it cannot be said that the conciliar Fathers, when they were speaking of art in the Council, had "in view" also the reality of dancing.

N. 62 of the said constitution, "Gaudium et spes," can certainly not be appealed to in this instance. When such number speaks of the artistic forms and of their importance in the life of the Church, it intends to make reference to the artistic forms as relative to the sacred furnishings. The counter proof stands in the texts cited in the footnote: article 123 of the Constitution on the Liturgy and the allocution of Paul VI to the artists at Rome in 1964 (C.L.D., 6, pp. 64 and 735 respectively).

Contact

Catholic Online
http://www.catholic.org CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000

Email

info@yourcatholicvoice.org

Keywords

Liturgy, Dancing, Mass, Priest

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity
DAN SHEA

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Catholic Online MasterClass
Learn from experts

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Catholic Media Missionaries
The New Evangelization

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.