Liturgical Dancing

Excerpt from Karl Keating’s E-Letter on 05/09/2006

Inculturation has come at a high price.

When you watch the liturgical dancers, you will shake your head over the lack of good taste. You will not mistake these folks for the June Taylor Dancers. Even if you make allowances for the dancers being amateurs, the video is painful to watch.

The dancers are predominantly women, but there are a few men. The women wear floor-length dresses that billow out as they move. The men wear slacks and sport shirts. They all hold something in their hands–perhaps votive candles, it being hard to tell because the videographer sat far from the action.

The dancers swirl clockwise, lifting their hands high over their heads, first to the left and then to the right. Then they swirl in the other direction. Since their hands are occupied, there are few variations in their arm motions: stretch high to one side, then to the other, then bow low and bring the hands close to the floor, then do it all over again.

The footwork is simple, not even to the level of a three-step. Still, it is too much for some of the dancers. One of the men, although moving slowly, manages to trip over his own feet and almost falls to the ground.

Only a heartless viewer would not feel embarrassment on behalf of the dancers. Only someone with no appreciation for either liturgy or dancing would think that this was a successful melding of the two.

Here is what then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about liturgical dancing in “The Spirit of the Liturgy”:

“Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. In about the third century, there was an attempt by certain Gnostic-Docetic circles to introduce it into the liturgy. … The cultic dances of the different religions have different purposes–incantation, imitative magic, mystical ecstasy–none of which is compatible with the essential purpose of the liturgy. … “


It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy ‘attractive’ by introducing dancing pantomimes (wherever possible performed by professional dance troupes), which frequently (and rightly, from the professionals’ point of view) end with applause. Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. …”


I myself have experienced the replacing of the penitential rite by a dance performance, which, needless to say, received a round of applause. Could
there be anything further removed from true penitence? …”


None of the Christian rites includes dancing. What people call dancing in the Ethiopian rite or the Zairean form of the Roman liturgy is in fact a rhythmically ordered procession, very much in keeping with the dignity of the occasion.”

Advertisements