Dance!

The prophet Miriam danced in celebration of the exodus from Egypt, “while all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing” (cf. Exodus 15:20-21). King David danced before the ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14). Psalm 150 enjoins us to “give praise with tambourines and dance” (cf. also Psalm 149:3). As the prodigal son returned home, he heard the sound of music and dancing (Luke 15:25). In Seville, six choirboys dance before the Blessed Sacrament on Corpus Christi.

This video recently made at the St. John’s Abbey depicts a journey to attain tranquility through the vehicle of dance. The dancers begin at the baptismal fount and make their way down the aisle as they search for peace. It’s quite beautiful – give it a look.

OK, I’ll be honest. Dance in church really isn’t my thing. Do you suppose I can appeal to cultural context, since we didn’t do that sort of thing where I grew up in southern Minnesota? Or should I ask myself whether people who believe in the incarnation and the goodness of all creation including the human body shouldn’t get over their discomfort, and examine their conscience for traces of Puritanism or Jansenism?

Maybe we should have more dance in the liturgy. Maybe the young people in the video could lead the newly blessed water into the sanctuary at next year’s Easter Vigil.

Whaddayathink?

awr

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81 comments

  1. Fr Ruff

    The problem with this as a form of “inculturation” is that dance in white, non-Latino American Catholic culture is not what it may be in other cultures. It’s not even what it once was – the communal nature of dance has largely been lost or ghettoized into square/contra-dancing niches, and that leaves the romantic nature of dance (a pale echo of what it once was) and what might be called the atomized nature of dance (which is what largely remains). I don’t see those having much merit in being inculturated in the liturgy.

    What you describe is not really inculturation, but more properly aspiration: the desire to recover something that was lost or to even add what was never there in this culture, appropriating it from cultures where it is much more vital thing. I am strongly sympathetic to the aspiration, but I’ve grown to doubt that the liturgy is the vehicle for initiating such aspirations. I think it has to start in the culture first, and become truly vital and broad-based there, before it can be brought into the liturgy without it becoming merely theatrical.

    1. Very well put, Karl. I think of the reports that my grandfather on my Irish side, whom I didn’t know, would dance a jig when visitors came, and sometimes again as they were leaving. That sort of thing is long gone by now.
      awr

      1. Funny you should mention that. I was thinking about the Irish (my maternal grandmother, born in Leitrim in 1890), who once had such a musical and dancing culture. Before the Great Hunger, Irish Catholicism was not the odd copy of bourgeois Victorian Protestantism cum devotions that it became by the policy of the Irish episcopate (Jansenism is typically mis-blamed in this regard). But that old culture faded into a narrower thing even in Ireland. The people who benefitted most from Irish (and Scottish) musical culture were the American popular music makers, who in melding it with African and Yiddishkeit cultures created the great American culture of popular music.

    2. I agree with you that liturgical dancing has to emerge from a culture of secular dance. I know that I don’t understand most forms of dance, so I have difficulty appreciating it in any context, whether it be at Mass or at the ballet.
      I did take lessons in Irish dancing as a kid, and did appreciate the dancers at the Offertory last St. Patrick’s Day. Even so, it seemed more a performance than an integral part of the Mass.
      Still, if we are to learn and grow, we have to be willing to try new things, if only to find out that they don’t work out quite as planned. A little more charity for those willing to try new things would be a boon for us all. Harping on about clown Masses forty years on is just plain nasty!

      1. Brigid

        My own observations come from the perspective of having been enthusiastic for it, and open to experiencing it. Over many years, I can only count one instance of liturgical dance in my culture that was not gimmicky in some important way. I certainly don’t condemn (let alone mock) those who experiment for the sake of experiencing and coming to their own judgments, but with the proviso that such experimentation has to be done transparently and with accountability to the larger community: that is, it can’t simply be imposed from above or inserted from within, and then justified pre hoc – rather, there needs to be a hermeneutic of humility rather than grandiosity. “We’re just experimenting with this, so that we all can experience and share our observations about what is or is not meaningful or appropriate to this liturgical context about it” et cet. Be prepared to distinguish inculturation from aspiration, for example, and have objective, not self-referential, criteria for evaluation.

    3. I think Cardinal Arinze put it best…

      “Those people discussing dance in the liturgy would be better off spending their time praying the rosary or reading documents by the Pope on the Holy Eucharist.”

  2. Yes – in my view it would be wonderful to have more dance in the liturgy.

    I assisted with the music at a Nigerian community celebration Mass some years ago, and was astounded by how naturally liturgical dance come to people of all shapes and sizes.

    The offertory dance was stunning! – What a contrast to the muted liturgies I normally attend.

    1. Nice. But I am not Nigerian, no is my congregation. Appropriating Nigerian culture would be a form of cultural imperialism/consumerism for us.

      1. Have you never heard of cross-fertilisation?

        A few generations after the Norman invasion of Ireland (1169) there was so much intermarriage that the Normans themselves were described as Hiberniores Hiberniisque.

        The result is most Irish people today have Norman blood in them.

        Perhaps in a few generations time it will be Nigerian blood.

      2. When it happens, call me. But I suspect the Irish circa 1200 would not have considered Norman culture their own, would they, and would have done worse than laugh if someone told them they needed to assimilate it?

      3. In Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries the church did its bit to Normanise the country.

        For example, Cistercians in Ireland were forbidden to accept a novice who could not make confession in either Latin or French. If Irish was the candidate’s only language he wasn’t accepted.

  3. Get over it.

    Sorry, depends upon the community ‘ “that sort of thing is long gone by now”?? With a stretch, couldn’t you say the same thing about scholas, large choirs doing classical music?

    Look at various catholic universities, high schools, almost any celebration by Hispanics for the Feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe, any Black Catholic church, etc. –

    What’s wrong with aspirations? And your comment – “the desire to recover something that was lost or to even add what was never there in this culture, appropriating it from cultures where it is much more vital thing”

    Isn’t that what catholic liturgy has been doing for centuries – absorbing and christianizing the local indigenous customs (i.e. pagan)? Isn’t that what “ressourcement” is all about?

    Example:

    http://ncronline.org/news/people/florida-catholics-celebrate-black-history

    Can still remember my 94 year old grandmother one Christmas when the new pastor re-established an “old” parish practice of singing Silent Night in german as children processed up to side chapel where the nativity scene was. This is a German Catholic rural parish established in the mid-1850’s and the present church was built in 1921. German was eliminated by Irish pastors because of WWI which created sadness in my grandmother.

    Liked it, Fr. Ruff – what’s wrong with liturgy being a little challenging; even discomforting?

    1. Except this isn’t a local indigenous custom. Yet. When it is, I will be thrilled to consider inculturation.

      PS: My father’s family is all of German ancestry. They had their own German national parish. All of his older brothers and sisters learned their prayers in German. That was before World War I. My father, born after that war, long after his 5 older siblings, did not, but homilies were still in German at one Mass until the 1930s. World War I though generally marked the amputation of German culture in the US from its cultural continuity. The Irish power brokers in the Church weren’t too unhappy about that, though they tended to be anti-British during that war for obvious reasons…. As you can tell from my earlier comment, I am of German and Irish ancestry (all of my father’s siblings married Irish, funny to say….and the differences in the Catholicisms have remained a source of frequent commentary over the decades since).

    2. For me there is something inherently liturgical about this movement. When we call it dance people respond from their own experiences. We have long embraced processions and movement in the liturgy. I really like it. We still have not come to FACP when it comes to our bodies. The Catholic African-American community has a lot to teach us white folk in this regard.

  4. I think it would be a wonderful idea for them to bring in the newly blessed water at the Vigil! They did a beautiful job. It was very well choreographed, very well danced, and very prayerful. The dancers are obviously trained well – something that might be easier to find in a college community.

    There is a fine line between trite and artful and it takes a very sesitive choreographer to know what will be appropriate for a given liturgical moment. I have found that to be a challenge in parish life. At my first post as a Music and Liturgy Director, I was approached by a woman who wanted to start a “Dance Team” for the liturgy. I doubt it would have looked anything like the example here.

    Thanks, Fr. Anthony, for sharing their work!

  5. My first Gaudete Sunday as a priest in 1980, my pastor who loved liturgical dance and he was ordained prior to Vatican II, had a dance troupe of young girls, about 30 or them in tutus do a “liturgical dance” at the offertory and after Holy Communion to “canned” music. I concelebrated the Mass to see how it would go.
    While we didn’t wear rose vestments, the color of my face made up for it. He had them do it a couple of times later until I persuaded him that it really seemed out of place to me during Mass and all the kids were doing were performing a dance, bless their little tutus.

  6. Or should I ask myself whether people who believe in the incarnation and the goodness of all creation including the human body shouldn’t get over their discomfort, and examine their conscience for traces of Puritanism or Jansenism?

    Surely this is the problem. If it requires “getting over” these things (a consequence of the associations of these forms of dance with the romantic/erotic in our culture) then it’s not inculturation.

    And I’d emphasize that the problem with “liturgical dance” is really only with a) certain genres of modern dance that go under that label and b) the appropriation of foreign cultural practices. Certainly there should be much movement in liturgy. Many choreographed liturgical practices are arguably dance of a sort. (I think I owe this idea to Thomas Day in Why Catholics Can’t Sing, but I don’t have a citation handy.)

    1. Samuel J. Howard :

      Many choreographed liturgical practices are arguably dance of a sort.

      Samuel, you are correct in saying that “choreographed liturgical practices are arguably dance of a sort. The processions we do both at Mass and at other devotional practices are good examples. They have a cadence and a rhythm. It saddens my heart that at my parish the communion processions on Sundays look more like traffic jams rather than a prayerful and reverential approach to the altar to encounter the eucharistic Presence of our Lord. All processions ought to move like ocean currents.

  7. They have a very active dance ministry at St Sabina in Chicago.
    The dance is limited to entrance procession but it is very uplifting to watch!
    The parish is African American and pastored by Fr Michael Pfleger. It is an
    extremely vibrant and unique parish!

  8. It may help to broaden our definition of liturgical dance. For example – at my old parish, the custom on Epiphany was to have three members of the First Communion class dressed as Magi process about the church as the congregation sang “We Three Kings”. (The kings were chosen by pulling names out of a hat.) At my current parish, when a child is baptized, at the end of the ceremony, the pastor raises the child up to present him/her to the congregation.

    1. Once, when we were rehearsing the song “Somebody’s knocking at your door”, I suggested we knock on our wooden chairs as we sang about knocking. But everyone was against it.

      1. I’ve certainly had my share of liturgies where the congregation was choreographed; not quite as vigorously as in the video, but pretty thoroughly.

        And it was the subject of sniggers ever after for about 90%+ of the congregation. This is part of what has informed my sense that dance does not, in the anglo-American Catholic culture for lack of a more accurate yet felicitous handle, flow out of us in an authentically incultured way. Jealousy and appropriation of cultures where it does so flow is not the ticket. In this culture, dance is something more beheld than overflowing from us, and on the rare occasions it does overflow from us it’s often in an atomized, consumerist way that’s the antithesis of the liturgical spirit. We live in a post-industrial consumerist capitalist culture that militates mightily against the kind of culture where dance might authentically flow from us almost involuntarily the way it does in many pre-industrial cultures.

  9. Liturgical dance in the United States today is faithful to our experience here, of dance primarily seen as performance. We don’t have the habit of breaking into spontaneous dance, as one commentator above reported about his Irish grandfather’s habit of doing a jig when welcoming guests.

    I would like to see a practice of liturgical movement evolve, where the assembly would be lead, perhaps, by a few dancers but with the intention that all be involved in some way. An analogy might be listening to the choir sing a Bach cantata vs. the assembly joining the choir in a spirited rendition of Come, O Long Expected Jesus.

    1. I’d love to see that, but there are still a lot of people who don’t want to hold hands at the Our Father, so care must be taken to allow people to join or not as they wish.

  10. “Or should I ask myself whether people who believe in the incarnation and the goodness of all creation including the human body shouldn’t get over their discomfort, and examine their conscience for traces of Puritanism or Jansenism?”
    Perhaps for many the cause of the discomfort is the incarnation itself, and the farther we run from it the happier they are. Signs of this discomfort abound, whether it’s touching the hand of another human being or liturgical dance or music or words that engage anything but the “pure intellect” during the sacred liturgy. If only the otherworldly can be sacred, then what is embodied will always be suspect.

    1. That’s a pretty good summary of my feelings about the new translation and the attempt in many quarters to impose silence in church at all times!

  11. I would argue that this IS inculturation. While FOLK dance may not be a part of contemporary American-anglo culture, dance (lyrical, ballet, modern) is certainly a part of many major secular celebrations and is a widely accepted and respected art form. I have worked in parish youth ministry for more than 20 years and for many young people dance is the height of their creative expression and one of the ways they communicate the things that matter most to them. Just because it wasn’t part of the liturgy of their own younger years should not mean that one demographic group gets to define anglo-American culture once for all and say ‘absolutely not’ to dance as a form of prayer in the liturgy. Not everyone is an organist and yet we have organ music. Not everyone is a dancer but should that preclude the art form of dance as an expression of prayer in the liturgy, particularly when the way it is used-processions, reflections, as part of rites that already include movement-lends itself to participation by a small group of highly skilled and well rehearsed liturgical ministers of movement or dance?

  12. From the comments it seems a large number of anglos who are Catholics (tricky word there…I do not mean Ango-Catholics) are really trapped in an anti-dance before God culture. In fact, pretty much anti-dance though at athletic contests athletes and “spectators” engage in all kinds of dance. Joy always erupts into dance and if it can during sports why not at Mass…at least if the Bible is to be believed.

  13. I’ve seen a few instances of liturgical dance and they have all felt like an insertion of a performance into the middle of the Mass. Singing is meant to involve the entire congregation, but it’s pretty hard for dance–at least in our culture–to do that. Given the difficulty that many parishes have with providing high quality music for the liturgy, I think the obstacles to high quality liturgical dance would be even higher.

  14. “Maybe the young people in the video could lead the newly blessed water into the sanctuary at next year’s Easter Vigil. Whaddayathink?”

    Hey, why not? What better place than St. John’s Abbey, a thousand miles north? Works for me! A thousand miles south would work just as well. Either way, the inculturation of the natives in those remote climes is their problem, not mine. (Unless, of course, they’re planning an EF solemn high Mass of the Nativity of Our Lord, as are we, in which case a greater sense of liturgical propriety and solemnity would be indicated.)

    1. True, Mr. Edwards – you can factor in the EF liturgical dance; Burke, Slattery, or Pell with cappa magna; plenty of lace; altar boys and sub-deacons out the kazoo; visiting clergy in lace cassocks and surplices with birettas and mass prie-dieus in the sanctuary each with its requisite server, etc. Now that is “real” propriety and solemnity.

    2. Why do a get the feeling that there are many things you would banish to 1,000 miles away? And that even from that distance, your anger and sarcasm would be felt?
      awr

      1. I think I’m 1500 miles away and felt the heat too! And some of them wonder why progressives mistrust them.

      2. Not sure who “them” is here. Perhaps I am the “progressive”. Inasmuch as I am deeply committed, both spiritually and intellectually, to both the older and newer forms of the Roman rite, and truly love them both. Intellectually, I am more a student of the OF than the EF (certainly, as a translation wonk). Spiritually, I glory in both the ritual and ceremony of the EF and the textual richness of the OF (readings, propers, and prefaces) as provided by the Roman Missal of Paul VI. Therefore regretting keenly that the praxis in the OF too often seems unworthy of the rite itself. When a well celebrated OF Mass is available to me, I frequently choose it in preference to an equally convenient EF Mass. (Before the recent reassignment of a local priest who celebrated daily EF and OF Masses back to back each morning, I regularly attended the daily OF.)

        Because of the afore-mentioned textual richness, I choose to pray the divine office in the ordinary (LOH) form, both privately in Latin in its entirety, and publicly in the vernacular as a daily morning prayer leader at my local parish. Though personally grateful to Summorum Pontificum for the restoration of the EF itself, I realize its main purpose is to guide the re-grounding of the OF more successfully as the normative form of the Roman rite for the overwhelming majority of Western Christians for the future. While I myself am in a tiny minority of folks who would like to see some “mutual enrichment” of the EF by the OF. Hmm . . . Really, does it get any more progressive than this?

  15. I guess that my question on this topic would be: where in the history of the Roman Rite did such dance have a place and why “inculturate” it into a liturgy now? To some it maybe in fact be quite beautiful, while to others it is a distraction and leads to confusion. But either way, is dance as performed in church today authentic to the Rite and what is the purpose it serves in the Liturgy? And since it’s being called “liturgical dance,” is it in fact, liturgy?

    I would posture that in today’s revised Rite where it is taboo to have a choir sing an anthem or a choral setting of the Mass ordinary because it excludes or diminishes full and active participation and turns the Mass into a performance and not prayer, why is it totally acceptable to encourage and allow modern interpretive dance into the ritual where there is no real precedence or rubric for such movement, and effectively turning Mass into a performance anyway?

    I would put forth the point that we did have “dance” in the Roman rite, in the form of processions. Not just the abbreviated movements we now see, from the back to the front of the church and reverse by the altar party, or the movement from the Chair to lectern for the Gospel, or even the movement to and from Communion, but full blown processions about the church on holydays. And stretching farther back, before or after the principal Mass on Sundays, or stretching even farther back, from one church to another where the liturgy would finally be celebrated.

    1. A couple quick responses:
      1. The history of dancing in the Roman rite is quite extensive. For a short intro, see chapter 8 in Lawrence Johnson, The Mystery of Faith. The Ministers of Music. There may be good reasons against dance in the Roman liturgy, but lack of historical precendent isn’t one of them.
      2. It’s not at all taboo to have a choir sing an anthem or a choral setting of the Mass (or at least selected movements of it) – this is quite clear in documents such as Musicam sacram and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and also US documents such as “Liturgical Music Today” and “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.” There may be good reasons against dance in the liturgy – but it being a performance done by specialists isn’t one of them.
      awr

      1. There may be good reasons against dance in the Roman liturgy, but lack of historical precendent isn’t one of them.

        I don’t think anyone’s made that argument. There is not, however, any precedent for modern interpretive dance, which is what John Kohanski seems to be saying:

        allow modern interpretive dance into the ritual where there is no real precedence or rubric for such movement

        As for the performance aspect, I think a choir anthem is performative in a different way than an modern dance, which takes a foreground visual as well as aural position, and threatens to obscure rather than accompany the liturgical action.

      2. a modern dance, which takes a foreground visual as well as aural position, and threatens to obscure rather than accompany the liturgical action.

        Good point. Maybe the right place for modern dances would be liturgies in which the priest faces away from the people: then the dance would not obscure anything.

      3. I think SJH has a valid point that an aural performance, like a choir anthem, might not detract from silent ritual action (like, say, preparing the gifts) in the same way that a visual performance, like a dance, would. A dance performance during the preparation of the gifts would be akin to a choir anthem during the first reading.

        Of course, this might still leave places where a visuale performance might fit in. so maybe the question would be, where?

  16. Karl Liam Saur :

    Brigid
    My own observations come from the perspective of having been enthusiastic for it, and open to experiencing it. Over many years, I can only count one instance of liturgical dance in my culture that was not gimmicky in some important way. I certainly don’t condemn (let alone mock) those who experiment for the sake of experiencing and coming to their own judgments, but with the proviso that such experimentation has to be done transparently and with accountability to the larger community: that is, it can’t simply be imposed from above or inserted from within, and then justified pre hoc – rather, there needs to be a hermeneutic of humility rather than grandiosity. “We’re just experimenting with this, so that we all can experience and share our observations about what is or is not meaningful or appropriate to this liturgical context about it” et cet. Be prepared to distinguish inculturation from aspiration, for example, and have objective, not self-referential, criteria for evaluation.

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Excellent points all, but especially about not imposing from above!

  17. When dance and gesture was part of the Ontario Liturgical Conference Summer School for Liturgical Musicians, one of the guiding principles was: participation by the whole assembly. Though processions were the domain of those trained for that ministry, acclamations and refrains were for whole assembly. A trained person might simultaneously interpret the psalm verses, but there was never pure solo perfromance.

  18. Much of the discussion seems to be predicated on the notion that if there is going to be dancing in the liturgy it will be at the Eucharist, even at the Easter Vigil. And so we are back into those tiresome discussions on this blog of everybody competing to say what will or not take place at the Eucharist. Many people being disappointed that the Mass does not meet their expectations. People at odds with other people over their preferences. .

    Movement has often been a part of my celebration of the Divine Office at home. When I still worked, I would put on my liturgical music collection when I came home and let it and the natural rhythms of evening meal preparation begin Evening Prayer. One of the things I like about DivineOffice.org is that as an aural text, it frees me from a book, and being in one place.

    Particularly when I get up in the morning I often integrate routines of stretching and exercises into morning prayer. Sometimes these take upon a dance like quality in the sense that they get integrated into the shape of the prayer, or the prayer shapes them, or whatever. Since we don’t have Latin or chant in church anymore, I often conclude the psalmody of morning prayer with one of the Gregorian Glorias integrated with movement.

    I happen to like to dance to Kitaro’s music, especially the Silk Road, for an example see

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ulc51ZOGQk

    One of the tracks of one of his CDs became the background to the prayer-dance of the Lord’s Prayer, especially at Evening Prayer for a number of years.

    Another thing I like about Divine Office.org is that one can pray the office while walking on the treadmill. I have always played my music collection on headphones at the local fitness center. I often pray the psalms while walking at the lake.

    At the Easter Vigil, the local parish with the best liturgy invites people during the Gloria to walk to the baptismal font to bless themselves. No choreography! A great way to celebrate!

  19. Psalm 30:11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy

    or for the MRIII crowd who might like a fancier translation:

    “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness”

    Appropriate for Christmas and Easter!

    1. I just flashed on the image of dancers accompanying the Lighting of the Easter Candle as it is brought into the Church. Given the right choreography, it could be fantastic!

      1. My parish has a wonderful Easter Vigil custom, which is the only liturgical dance I’ve ever really enjoyed watching: the new fire is kindled in a bowl at the entrance to the dark church, and a black-clad girl dancer (usually a teenaged parishioner with some ballet training), carries it high into the church, dipping and swirling it around in the darkness. The fire pauses at various “stations” around the church while the Genesis Creation account is read, and as the reading is interspersed with a sung refrain, the fire continues to “dance” around the church, held high by the nearly-invisible dancer. I can’t remember if the candle is lit before the dancing or when she finally brings the bowl to the front of the church.

  20. I recently learned (from a very reliable source) that Lady Gaga did liturgical dance for mass when she was in high school.

  21. 1st goal should be getting the American “white” assemblies to clap on the right beats (2 and 4) of any hymn/song with a back beat, that would be a definite step in the right direction of liturgical movement!

    This whole idea of dance brings up a very important point. With the church moving southward rapidly (is it by 2050, 75% of Catholic will be south of the equator?), if we do not universally embrace the legitimacy of dance in the liturgy then we will be in trouble — I’m sure the evangelical churches in Latin America and Africa will. My concern is that Rome seems certain to curtail this activity as well.

    As far as the video- well done- but I do agree that this type of dance does not seem “organic” to our culture, or any other as well. A “hip-hop” version of the Good Samaritan story would catch my attention!

  22. Dance is intrinsic to the Roman Rite: choreographed movement, postures and gestures, often accompanied by music. I think the question is whether the nature of the “dance” detracts the baptized from or draws them into the ritual (there are many “dances” prescribed in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary form Missals which could be argued either way). After all, the Roman Rite is the dance we do.

  23. I’ve celebrated the EF Mass three times now in its most solemn form and that is a dance if there ever was one in terms of the detailed choreography with altar servers, deacon, sub deacon and the other “ritual” dances involved. Even the High and Low EF Masses are dances in the figurative, religious sense and thus very much a part of our Catholic patrimony in terms of dance understood in the broadest sense. The Ordinary Form of the Mass has that potential but so many have become so sloppy and made its movements so utilitarian that no one really thinks of its celebration as a “dance” but simply getting things done from point A to point B. But that need not be the case if attention to detail, movement and choreography takes place. In other words, there is no need to impose a secular model of dance upon the Mass. The Mass is the dance! It is like music at Mass, do we chant the Mass which itself is the “song” or do we simply sing some songs at the Mass? One is intrinsic the other superfluous.

    1. Your response gave me a chuckle this morning padre! I remember the asperges and the double crossover we altar boys had to make behind the priest when the asperges first began and when it ended before removing the cope. We called it the “switcheroo” and ALWAYS messed it up. You’re right, it was a dance. And I also agree that the OF movement has become utilitarian. However, a well done OF, w/ choir, cantor, and a presider who cares what he is doing is in my opinion (and preference) a slam dunk over the EF.
      Interestingly, you use the term “altar servers” for the EF, are girls serving?

  24. I think we need to recognize that there is a difference between might be termed “liturgical dance”, which is what we see in the Collegeville clip, and “liturgical stylized movement”, which is shown in the Seville extracts.

    The Collegeville performance seems to me to demonstrate everything that the detractors of liturgical dance dislike: (a) body movements which, while beautiful in themselves, do not seem to be interpreting what the theme is about, and rather more importantly (b) seem to have little or nothing to do with the music that is playing. I also (c) could not detect any connection between the music and the theme of searching for peace. So, while it may be aesthetically very beautiful, my question would be whether it actually relates to what it is trying to achieve. I think that if it were done differently, in a way that would be closer to mime, then it would have a chance of succeeding without offending those who dislike bodily manifestations in church.

    The Seville extracts, by contrast, are not balletic, but reminiscent of the stately minuets of former times, where arms do not move much if at all, and feet remain near the floor at all times. I am sure that this kind of thing is what happened when the Bishop (yes!) and liturgical ministers all “danced” on the Feast of the Circumcision in the Cathedral of Sens, France, as late as the 13th century. (Visit the cathedral and see the floor tiles where this actually happened.) I would tend to call it “stylized movement” in order to differentiate it from what we usually consider as “dance”. In the Seville extracts you can see the ritual movements being performed as if by marionettes — a complete contrast from the grand jetés, etc, of the Collegeville dancers.

    And I have been part of liturgies where the entire assembly, or large proportions of it, have moved in this stylized manner, and they found that it contributed to the celebration and even was an integral part of it. Imagine, for example, a kind of restrained circular movement to the Taizé chant Salvator mundi, salva nos during a Lenten penitential service. That kind of thing can speak to people in a way in which a “performed dance” with leotards, hose and bare feet, in which the assembly are mere spectators, does not.

    (The Taizé community, by the way, have always been extremely wary of liturgical dance being associated with their chants, precisely because they envisage the Collegeville type of movement rather than the Seville type. I think if they ever had the chance to see the assembly moving in the way I just described, they might change their minds. The problem is with the word “dance”.)

    So I would say yes to leading the newly-blessed water into the sanctuary at the Easter Vigil, but do it in a different, non-balletic style, equally beautiful and which draws attention to the primary symbol of the water rather than to the dancers themselves. And how about involving a substantial group of members of the assembly too? At the least, anyone who is to be baptized, together with their catechists and godparents, but preferably a large group of people bringing the blessed water forward to be used. The movement could continue during the rite of sprinkling as the group gradually finds their way back to their places.

    1. Thanks Paul for moving the discussion forward by contrasting “liturgical stylized movement” with “liturgical dance” and celebration by the congregation with celebration by a ministerial group.

      I think the “rhythm” of the chanted Latin Vespers during my undergraduate years was the likely catalyst to the incorporation of movement and rhythm into my personal celebration of the Divine Office. I liked the rhythm of standing before the Gloria Patri of each psalm, bowing, singing the antiphon and then sitting, as well as the rhythmic alternation of the verses of the psalms among participants.

      The rhythmic alternation of posture (standing, sitting, kneeling) naturally progressed to incorporation of various stretch postures that I had learned from exercise books, and from there to developing a more complex postural vocabulary (often spontaneously improvised) that corresponded to the prayer content. Note the assumption of unity of movement with content similar to unity of music and content.

      Of course, my prayer also elaborated the rhythms of the chanted Latin Vespers since I often inserted a track from my extensive liturgical music collection between psalms. I like rhythmic alterations in liturgy very much (e.g. psalm and antiphon, lesson and hymn, litany intention and response.).

      So perhaps behind the question of dance is the question of rhythm. Have we got rhythm?

      Is this something that is being neglected in liturgy? Maybe if we had more rhythm in the liturgy, dance would arise? Maybe the Divine Office rather than the Eucharist is a better place to explore rhythm? Could we develop a rhythmic vocabulary of movement as well as a music vocabulary?

      While I am much in favor of introducing movement options for people and more rhythm into the liturgy, they should be optional, preferably in optional services like the Divine Office, para-liturgical devotions, weekday Masses or one Mass on Weekend clearly labeled.

      1. Jack Rakosky said: “Is this something that is being neglected in liturgy? Maybe if we had more rhythm in the liturgy, dance would arise?”

        I’d rather phrase this: Maybe if we had more of the “liturgical stylized movement” carefully and beautifully executed, there would be no need for such dance (as pictured in the video) to arise.

        My opinion is that in the many of OF Masses, movement is not carefully considered, or prayerfully and gracefully done, or just down right eliminated for the sake of expediency or simplification. As someone else said, it’s “just moving from one place to another” rather than adding beauty to the liturgy.

    2. For what it’s worth–and, admittedly, it’s not much–the film maker did not intend for this to be liturgical dance. He does find it humorous, however, that such a lengthy discussion is being had. Also, that commenters on YouTube seem to be offended by the idea of dancing in a Roman Catholic Church (though one commenter said, “Is that really even a church anyway?” I suspect that commenter mind find some curious bedmates on this blog.)

      On another note, as loathe as I am to admit it, I like this liturgical dance and song: http://youtu.be/4KtN2IDGYl8

  25. Response to John: “I think the question is whether the nature of the “dance” detracts [or distracts?] the baptized from or draws them into the ritual…” Excellent question!
    This leads to a deeper question: does the ritual of the Eucharistic liturgy take place as a detached and sublime event outside of everyday human experience, or is it a mindful extension of Rahner’s great ‘liturgy of the world’? The challenge to connect or disconnect what occurs in ritual with what occurs in our lives will lead us to different choices in movement and music. What is holy? Where do we look for the sacred? And do we as Catholics have a coherent and unified answer?

  26. From the 2006 USA Random Sample of Congregations

    % Congregations where Adults Jump, Dance, Shout Spontaneously

    Denomination % Yes, Total # Congregations in Sample
    ROMAN CATHOLIC 2.4% , 90
    BAPTIST 26.4% , 452
    METHODIST 16.1%, 132
    LUTHERAN 0.0%, 65
    PRESBYTERIAN OR REFORMED 0.1%, 73
    PENTECOSTAL 70.4% 230
    OTHER MODERATE OR LIBERAL PROTESTANTS 14.3% 25
    EPISCOPAL CHURCH 0.0% 41
    OTHER CHRISTIAN, 7.8% 123
    NonDenominational? 30.4% 222
    NON-CHRISTIAN 3.4% 47
    Totals 25.8% 1503

    Jumping, dancing and shouting is very prominent among the Pentecostals. Although Black Congregations might account for much of the Baptist data, and some of the Methodist and Mainline data, I don’t think we can say that dancing in church is mainly an ethnic thing.

    Pentecostalism shows that it can spread more widely It has spread to a quarter of American Congregations. We don’t recognize this because it takes place less in larger congregations, e.g. Catholic. Only 17.2% of Americans experience it in their congregation on Sunday.

    The neat thing about this data is that although Catholics constitute 28% (420 persons) in the data, it tells you that Catholics represent only 90 congregations because we are a large size congregation denomination.

    1. Maybe the best argument in the data for the ability of dancing to spread is that 30% of the non-denominational congregations have it. In other words when the local people do the choosing, a fair number choose to jump, dance, and shout spontaneously.

      I also think that this question taps more into the “rhythum’ issue that I raised. The “liturgical dance” that occurs in Catholic Churches usually is not very spontaneous.

      1. The question that the data does not directly address is liturgical vs individual dance. Devotions are probably closer to non-liturgical worship than liturgical worship, so again, this may be one of the areas where elevating the liturgical to the summit over devotional exercises also had the effect of diminishing the likelihood of other forms of expression, et cet.

      2. People may not think in terms of the “liturgical” vs. “devotional” distinction at Worship which you, many liturgists, and even social scientists might use.

        Another question asked about this Worship Service was “Call out amen at this service” I think the researchers meant this as spontaneous (devotional) rather than liturgical but they did not explicitly say that so that almost half of Catholics responded Yes. I would say that about half of Catholics really do not make that distinction. Would not full, active participation be close to “calling out amen”?

        Denomination YES
        ROMAN CATHOLIC 44.5%
        BAPTIST 87.2%
        METHODIST 56.0%
        LUTHERAN 28.9%
        PRESBYTERIAN OR REFORMED 43.9%
        PENTECOSTAL 90.5
        OTHER MODERATE OR LIBERAL PROTESTANTS 58.6%
        EPISCOPAL CHURCH 24.6%
        OTHER CHRISTIAN, NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED 62.9%
        NON DENOMINATION 75.5%
        NON-CHRISTIAN 51.3%
        Column Totals 70.7%

        One of the things I like about the open response format of questions versus the pick among the categories provided by researchers, is that it can reveal that respondents really don’t use the categories of theologians and social scientists unless we force them to use them.

    2. Another argument in favor of rhythm in the liturgy is the “use of drums used at this (typical) service

      Denomination YES
      ROMAN CATHOLIC 11.4% up from 6 % in 1998
      BAPTIST 38.6%
      METHODIST 32.8%
      LUTHERAN 15.7%
      PRESBYTERIAN OR REFORMED 8.6%
      PENTECOSTAL 55.2%
      OTHER MODERATE OR LIBERAL PROTESTANTS 32.7%
      EPISCOPAL CHURCH 6.1%
      OTHER CHRISTIAN, NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED 15.1%
      NON DENOMINATIONAL 34.9%
      NON-CHRISTIAN 18.1%
      Column Totals 32.5% Up from 20% in 1998

    3. Another argument in favor of rhythm in the liturgy is the “use of drums used at this (typical) service

      .
      Reformatted Table for the Above
      ROMAN CATHOLIC……………………11.4%
      BAPTIST…………………………………38.6%
      METHODIST…………………………… 32.8%
      LUTHERAN………………………………15.7%
      PRESBYTERIAN OR REFORMED……….8.6%
      PENTECOSTAL………………………….55.2%
      OTHER MOD LIBERAL PROT…………32.7%
      EPISCOPAL CHURCH……………………6.1%
      OTHER CONSERVATIVE PROT………15.1%
      NON DENOMINATIONAL……………..34.9%
      NON-CHRISTIAN……………………….18.1%
      Column Totals………………………… 32.5%

  27. This is what the dourly Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine, had to say about dance: “I praise the dance for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community. I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul. Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling. Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his [her] life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego. Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates with equipoise of all his powers. I praise the dance. O [wo]man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you.”

    Verbum sapienti.

    1. Bryon, that’s a brilliant quote!

      Where did you find it? Is it from a homily? I’d love to read the whole thing. I’ve never seen this quoted and I love the ending: “or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you”!

      1. I believe it is from his “Confessions”; at least that is what I wrote in my commonplace book years ago. I don’t know which book. As you know, my daughter, Mara, is a dancer, and I made a copy of this quote, which hangs on the wall of her bedroom.

  28. I must admit that I’m not as much into liturgical dance as I used to be; besides the fact that at age 68, I don’t look as good as my younger counterparts who are only in their fifties. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new GIRM (or as my Va. Beach pastor calls it: GRIM) doesn’t acknowledge this form of selfexpression and worship.

  29. Coming a little late to this discussion, been hospitalized and off line. However from my experience here in Asia, and some experience with liturgies arranged and led by priests and sisters from various African countries, in a fairly wide range of non-European cultures once the music starts, whether it is music marked by a strong rhythm or a simple melody line, the people of these cultures seem to naturally move to the music, or are moved by the music. So at many (most??) African liturgies, processions with the gifts at the Preparation of the Gifts seem to become dance like; similarly among Indian Catholics.
    Going back almost 25 years one of the most memorable liturgies I attended was organized by a group of priests and sisters, who were participants in a course I was attending. Following Communion, an Indian sister in traditional dress, danced a “prayer of thanksgiving”; that it was a dance borne out of prayer was so evident that you felt she created a sacred space wherever she moved.
    Over the years among SVD and SSpS, (we share the same founder, St Arnold Janssen, who was already a strong promoter of inculturation, back in the 19th century), beginning in India dance has been used both in the liturgy and for catechetical purposes from the pre-Vatican II era.
    Maybe we need to ask ourselves why Catholic communities with roots in Europe, and here I suspect we may find it stronger among north Europeans, are so reluctant to use our bodies fully to express their faith. Kneeling in frozen obedience has been bred into our bones???!!!! I’ll leave it to others to offer possible reasons.

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