Expert Answer Forum
liturgical dancing QUESTION from diana October 24, 2000 Hi Mr. Miskell,
I have heard that at the World Youth Day with the Holy Father there was liturgical dancing. Is this true, and if so, why didn't the Holy Father stop it? Also I have heard that at Masses at the Vatican--there have been liturgical abuses, happening right under the Holy Father's nose. Can you please explain?
Thanks and God Bless,
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on October 24, 2000 Dear Diana,
The liturgical dancing you mention was almost certainly done by African dancers while bringing up the gifts for Communion. Liturgical dancing is forbidden in the West but it is not forbidden in Africa since liturgical dancing is part of some African cultures.
In matters which do not affect the faith or the well-being of an entire community, the Church does not wish, even in the Liturgy, to impose a rigid uniformity; on the contrary, she respects and fosters the genius and talents of various races and people. Whatever in their way of life is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error, she looks upon with benevolence and if possible keeps it intact, and sometimes even admits it into the Liturgy provided it accords with the genuine and authentic liturgical spirit. [Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 37; C.L.D., 6, p. 44.] The following is an excerpt from an essay that 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 that this article is to be considered an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter.
The dance can be an art: a synthesis of the measured arts (music and poetry) and the spatial arts (architecture, sculpture, painting). As an art which, by means of the body, expresses human feelings, the dance is especially adapted to signify joy.
Thus, among the mystics, we find intervals of dancing as an expression of the fullness of their love of God. Recall the cases of St. Theresa of Avila, St. Philip Neri, St. Gerard Majella.
When the Angelic Doctor wished to represent paradise, he represented it as a dance executed by angels and saints.
The dance can turn into prayer which expresses itself with a movement which engages the whole being, soul and body. Generally, when the spirit raises itself to God in prayer, it also involves the body.
One can speak of the prayer of the body. This can express its praise, it petition with movements, just as is said of the stars which by their evolution praise their Creator (cf. Baruch 3:34).
Various examples of this type of prayer are had in the Old Testament.
This holds true especially for primitive peoples. They express their religious sentiment with rhythmic movements.
Among them, when there is a question of worship, the spoken word becomes a chant, and the gesture of going or walking towards the divinity transforms itself into a dance step.
Among the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers and in the conciliar texts there is mention of dancing, an evaluation of it, a comment on the biblical text in which there is an allusion to the dance; more frequently there is a condemnation of profane dances and the disorders to which the dances give rise.
In liturgical texts, there are at times allusions to the dance of the angels and of the elect in paradise (cf. Among the lilies thou dost feed, surrounded by dancing groups of virgins) in order to express the joy and the jubilation which will characterize eternity.
I've never witnessed liturgical abuse of any kind during a papal Mass. I can't tell you if there have been any liturgical abuses at other Masses at the Vatican but knowing that there are humans involved over there just like there are humans involved over here it wouldn't come as any great surprise if there were abuses at some non-papal Masses.
I hope this helps.
Yours in Christ,
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