Monday, July 01, 2013

Excuses for Liturgical Dancing

Liturgical dance. Though just one of many abuses, it serves as a fitting representation of everything wacky in modern Catholicism. Despite years of teaching that this is utterly foreign and unacceptable in Catholic worship, liturgical dancing continues. It had reared its head almost immediately following the Council, prompting the CDW to issue a statement in 1975 that bluntly stated, "The dance has never been made an integral part of the official worhship of the Latin Church" and forbid it outright. Yet it continues, and is even promoted by certain bishops and diocesan liturgical experts. It is like Catholicism's dirty little secret, something everyone knows we should not be doing but yet occurs all over the place.

Defenders of liturgical dancing have come up with several lame excuses of why this practice is not really as horrendous as we think it is. Let's look at these lame excuses and examine why they are so lame.

First, the lame excuse that liturgical dancing is fitting because David once danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant 3,000 years ago. Never mind the fact that liturgical worship in the Jerusalem Temple never featured dance; David did it once and therefore Christians ought to do it for all time. This excuse has been thoroughly debunked here.

Some, however, have suggested that the complaints about liturgical dance are overblown. Yes, liturgical dancing exists, and yes, it is not traditional to the Roman rite, but it is primarily happening in mission territories - areas that have only been Christianized for a very short time or are only partially Christianized. In these places, liturgical dance is a form of "inculturation", whereby the native customs and practices that are not incompatible with the Faith are incorporated into Catholic life and worship.

However, our friends at Rorate Caeli have recently compiled a Hall of Shame of liturgical dancing from all over the Catholic world, all of the videos taken from thoroughly Christianized countries. In one case, the example comes right from the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Clearly, nobody can claim that these are "mission countries" or that there is any element of inculturation going on here. What we have is liberal nonsense introduced into the Mass with deliberateness and in direct contradiction to the dictates of the Church. The Church says while it may be appropriate there, it is never appropriate here; yet experience shows that it is most rampant here and not there. This is not inculturation. This is insubordination.

Some have said that while liturgical dancing is not fitting in the Latin Rite, it is common in other rites of the Church. Thus, we cannot be too quick to condemn the practice since it is a valid liturgical act in other churches in union with Rome. A prime example is the Ethiopian Catholics, where liturgical dance is said to be a time-honored custom. Even CDW document cites Ethiopian Catholic's "ritualized dancing" as an example of some cultural contexts where dancing might be appropriate given the particular customs of an area.

Well, in the first place, all of the examples linked above are in the Roman Rite, so this excuse about other rites is irrelevant.

But more importantly, it is not true that liturgical dancing is common in other rites, much less the Ethiopian. The Chaldeans use instruments such as cymbals and tambourines in their liturgy, but they are very specialized liturgical instruments, used only by the ordained, and in the same restrained manner that bells are used in the Roman Rite. There is certainly no dancing of any sort.

The alleged "dancing" of the Ethiopian Christians is not dancing either. It is actually a very elaborate processional. To see what I am talking about, take a look at a Timkat (Epiphany) procession in Addis Ababa. The best view of the procession begins around 2:00:

This is the much touted "liturgical dancing." This is clearly not the same thing as the phenomenon we are witnessing around the world in the Roman Rite, such as here, for example. Notice also, that this Timkat procession takes place outside the Church, in the open streets. Though this is a devotional act, it is not a liturgical one, properly speaking, since it does not take place in the context of the Ethiopian liturgy. It is extra-liturgical. Thus, by definition, it cannot be liturgical dancing. This is also why any dancing that occurred in the context of medieval passion plays, which were sometimes held inside churches, is not liturgical dancing, properly speaking.

Dancing in church has always been condemned. Secular historian of the Roman Empire Ramsay MacMullen, who certainly has no axe to grind in the liturgical dance issue, notes that the Fathers of the 4th century frowned upon the practice of dancing in Church because they viewed it as a hold over from paganism:

"Ambrose up in Milan witnessed his congregation dancing during times of worship. He was shocked. Such conduct was pagan. In southern France, the bishop Caesarius [of Arles] castigated "the wretches who dance and caper about before the churches of the saints themselves...and if they appear at church as Christians, yet they leave the church as pagans - for that custom of dancing is still with us from pagan ritual." In the eastern provinces, Bishop Basil reproved the dancers in the very chapels of Caesarea...everywhere we look we find the problem" [Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire: 100-400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 19840, pg. 74-75].

St. Augustine mentions liturgical dancing in his day, but he says it is an abuse that crept in from paganism; the Synod of Laodicea (365) discouraged Christians from dancing at wedding liturgies, but to act "as is becoming Christians." Dancing inside Church was also prohibited by the Quinisext Council of 692 as an activity not befitting Christians and having too much in common with pagan extravagance. So, while we see that dancing was sometimes allowed in extra-liturgical circumstances, it was never encouraged within the context of the liturgy itself. The CDW document quoted above echoes this fact: "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." What we have today where men and women dance in the sanctuary during the Mass is utterly foreign to Christian Tradition, in every rite, and has always been opposed whenever someone tried to introduce the custom.

But such a festive culture as we see among the Ethiopians, surely their liturgies must be equally celebratory and contain some sort of rhythmic movements? Not so. While they may dance and cheer outside the church, here is what the liturgy looks like once they get inside:

No dancing. They might dance around before Mass begins or in extra-liturgical celebrations, but the never introduce it into the liturgy itself.

If this is true of Ethiopia, how much more in the west? The CDW states that there is never an excuse to incorporate dance in the Latin Rite:

"[T]he same criterion and judgment cannot be applied in the western culture [as in Ethiopia]. Here dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling 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."

There is simply no excuse to ever introduce liturgical dancing into the Mass in the Latin Rite. Ever. Period.


Anonymous said...

Was there dancing girls at Calvary?


End of story.

God bless!


dave b said...

Satan danced around a bit in Mel Gibson's movie.

Unknown said...