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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 20 Dec 2001

liturgical dance QUESTION from john barkley May 20, 1999
Read your question/answer on liturgical dance. How do you reconcile your answer with Processions and interpretations through bodily movement(dance) can become meaningful parts of the liturgical celebrations.... From the U.S. Bishops statement entitled Environment & Art in Catholic Worship? I have a Masters in liturgy and theology and JD in Law. If you are gonna claim to be an expert, don't forget this important document. ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on May 20, 1999
Dear Mr. Barkely, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (EACW), published in 1978 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (NCCB/BCL) does not carry the force of law in the Church. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends SOLELY on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #22] 12. Any liturgical experimentation that may seem necessary or advantageous receives authorization from THIS CONGREGATION ALONE, in writing, with norms clearly set out, and subject to the responsibility of the competent local authority. [Instruction of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Liturgy, September 5, 1970] . . . Experiments should be few and not last beyond a year. A report then is to be sent to the Holy See. While a reply is pending, use of the petitioned adaptation is forbidden. When changes in the structure of rites or in the order of parts as set forth in the liturgical books are involved, or any departure from the usual, or the introduction of new texts, a point-by-point outline is to be submitted to the Holy See prior to the beginning of any kind of experiment. [Ibid.] The essay titled DANCE IN THE LITURGY appeared in Notitiae 11 (1975) 202-205, and is labeled as a qualified and authoritative sketch. It is the mind of the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship (presently called Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) that this article is to be considered 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. (This English translation first appeared in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp. 78-82). In this instruction we read; Dance has never constituted an essential part in the official liturgy of the Latin Church. If local Churches have introduced the dance, at times even in the temples, this was on occasion of feasts in order to show feelings of jubilation and devotion. But the dance always took place outside the liturgical actions. Conciliar decisions have often condemned the religious dance, as not befitting worship, and also because it could degenerate into disorders . . . hence, it is not possible to introduce something of that sort in the liturgical celebration; it would mean bringing into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements: and this would mean the same as introducing an atmosphere of profanity, which would easily suggest to those present worldly places and profane situations. [Notitiae (Instructions for Sacraments and Divine Worship) Vol. XI, (1975) pp. 202-205] In 1982 these directives were PROMULGATED by the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The NCCB declared further; All dancing, (ballet, children's gesture as dancing, the clown liturgy) are not permitted to be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever. [NCCB Committee on the liturgy) Newsletter April/May 1982.] Religious dancing is allowed to be done outside of liturgical celebrations but only if three conditions are met. 1. It cannot take place during the liturgy / Mass. 2. It cannot take place in strictly liturgical areas of the church. (sanctuary or nave). 3. Priests cannot take part in religious dance. I don't have a degree in Liturgy. My knowledge comes from personal experience and private study and is limited to the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. The AMERICAN Catholic Church is not a separate entity from the ROMAN Catholic Church (although some seem to be trying hard to achieve that goal). I'm sometimes accused of being overly legalistic and inflexible (can you imagine?) and so-be-it. Liturgical dance is found nowhere in the rubrics for the Latin Church. We cannot go our own way on this. To be where the Church is one must be where the Pope is. I hope this helps. Yours in Christ, John Miskell Back to Index Page

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