>> Friday, April 11, 2008
When I was an undergrad at Davis and council member of the Newman Center, a question about liturgical dance came up. In situations like this we turned to the guy best able to answer this question: His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
I'll let His Eminence speak for himself with little commentary from me. But, I will say that the appropriateness of liturgical dance depends on the answers to the following questions.
1) What do you mean by "dance"?
2) How will the dance look like? (i.e. What are the movements/choreography?)
3) What is the purpose of this dance? And is dance the best way to achieve this purpose?
4) When will the dance occur?
5) Where will the dance occur?
6) Will the dance help or hinder the purposes of the liturgy?
7) What are people's response to the dance?
8) What guidelines (if any) as our local ordinary (i.e. our bishop) given regarding this matter?
But here's the cardinal to explain more. His commentary on liturgical dance begins at 3:12.
In a separate interview, His Eminence had this to say:
Has liturgical dance been approved for Masses by your office?
There has never been a document from our Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments saying that dance is approved in the Mass.
The question of dance is difficult and delicate. However, it is good to know that the tradition of the Latin Church has not known the dance. It is something that people are introducing in the last ten years -- or twenty years. It was not always so. Now it is spreading like wildfire, one can say, in all the continents -- some more than others. In my own continent, Africa, it is spreading. In Asia, it is spreading.
Now, some priests and lay people think that Mass is never complete without dance. The difficulty is this: we come to Mass primarily to adore God -- what we call the vertical dimension. We do not come to Mass to entertain one another. That's not the purpose of Mass. The parish hall is for that.
So all those that want to entertain us -- after Mass, let us go to the parish hall and then you can dance. And then we clap. But when we come to Mass we don't come to clap. We don't come to watch people, to admire people. We want to adore God, to thank Him, to ask Him pardon for our sins, and to ask Him for what we need.
Don't misunderstand me, because when I said this at one place somebody said to me: "you are an African bishop. You Africans are always dancing. Why do you say we don't dance?"
A moment -- we Africans are not always dancing! [laughter]
Moreover, there is a difference between those who come in procession at Offertory; they bring their gifts, with joy. There is a movement of the body right and left. They bring their gifts to God. That is good, really. And some of the choir, they sing. They have a little bit of movement. Nobody is going to condemn that. And when you are going out again, a little movement, it's all right.
But when you introduce wholesale, say, a ballerina, then I want to ask you what is it all about. What exactly are you arranging? When the people finish dancing in the Mass and then when the dance group finishes and people clap -- don't you see what it means? It means we have enjoyed it. We come for enjoyment. Repeat. So, there is something wrong. Whenever the people clap -- there is something wrong -- immediately. When they clap -- a dance is done and they clap.
It is possible that there could be a dance that is so exquisite that it raises people's minds to God, and they are praying and adoring God and when the dance is finished they are still wrapped up in prayer. But is that the type of dance you have seen? You see. It is not easy.
Most dances that are staged during Mass should have been done in the parish hall. And some of them are not even suitable for the parish hall.
I saw in one place -- I will not tell you where -- where they staged a dance during Mass, and that dance was offensive. It broke the rules of moral theology and modesty. Those who arranged it -- they should have had their heads washed with a bucket of holy water! [laughter]
Why make the people of God suffer so much? Haven't we enough problems already? Only Sunday, one hour, they come to adore God. And you bring a dance! Are you so poor you have nothing else to bring us? Shame on you! That's how I feel about it.
Somebody can say, "but the pope visited this county and the people danced". A moment: Did the pope arrange it? Poor Holy Father -- he comes, the people arranged. He does not know what they arranged. And somebody introduces something funny -- is the pope responsible for that? Does that mean it is now approved? Did they put in on the table of the Congregation for Divine Worship? We would throw it out! If people want to dance, they know where to go.
Also, check out this article about liturgical dance.
Here's what the bishops of the United States had to say on the issue.
In the course of their meeting on June 17-18, 2003, the Bishop members, consultants, and advisors of the Committee on the Liturgy considered the question of dance and the Liturgy.
Recalling the recently revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the Committee was conscious of the need to take “due regard for the nature and the particular circumstances of each liturgical assembly, [so that] the entire celebration is planned in such a way that it leads to a conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful both in body and in mind….” (GIRM, no. 18) Particular note was taken of the attention paid by the new Roman Missal to gestures and movements at the Mass, which “ought to contribute to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, so that the true and full meaning of the different parts of the celebration is evident and that the participation of all is fostered.” (GIRM, no. 42)
The “nature and the particular circumstances” (GIRM, no. 18) of certain ethnic communities was also considered, particularly by Catholic immigrants from Zaire, where dance has been approved as a part of the liturgical books of their native land. The importance of a careful observance of the rubrics of such books in regard to the quality and role of dance in the Sacred Liturgy was emphasized by several of the Bishops.
The place of dance in the liturgy in other parish Masses, however, was examined in the light of the 1975 “qualified and authoritative sketch” published by the Holy See in the journal Notitiae. The article prescribes that in western cultures, dance “cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind” and that when dances outside of the liturgy are envisioned, they may take place only “in assembly areas that are not strictly liturgical.”
Recalling the large number of liturgical issues before them and the fact that only a limited number can be adequately prepared for presentation to the Congregation at any given time, the Committee decided not to pursue the question further at this time. At the same time, the Committee cited the need for further scholarly studies of a “historical, anthropological, exegetical and theological” (Varietates legitimae, no. 30) nature which might explore forms of movement which might be found to serve as an appropriate part of processions, which do not take on the appearance of spectacle per se, and which accompany the liturgy, rather than interpret it.