Expert Answer Forum

altar preparation and liturgical dancing QUESTION from Sue December 4, 2000 I have a couple of questions on issues that have been bothering myself and some others:
1. I was looking for information regarding when the altar should be dressed for Mass. I've been to a couple of charismatic Masses where the leaders have gotten the priest to allow them to have a few members of the congregation carry up the folded altar cloth, etc. after the Liturgy of the Word, make a ceremony out of preparing the altar, then continuing with Liturgy of the Eucharist. I think they're trying to make the Mass more interesting. This also recently happened at our Diocesan Jubilee Mass celebration taking place at a large local arena (approx. 20,000+ people) where the bishop presided. This seems inappropriate, and I've never seen anything in GIRM or any documents addressing this.
2. I'm pretty sure liturgical dancing is inappropriate also. Wouldn't that include dancing up the aisle with a bowl of burning incense? At the same Diocesan celebration I mentioned above, there was dancing with incense and also women doing modern/interpretive dancing during the communion meditation choral piece that the choir sang. I thought it very much detracted from the mood set by the song.
Can you respond to these issues and also give me information on where I can find anything in church documents about this? Thank you very much.
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on December 4, 2000 Dear Sue,
You're right, both of these practices are forbidden. Individual bishops do not have the authority to make changes in the Mass. Changes can be made by the National Bishops Conference WITH the approval of the Vatican.
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] Liturgical Dance: 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] The Pope feels very strongly about this. Since liturgical celebrations are not private acts but celebrations of the Church, the 'sacrament of unity,' their regulation is dependent solely upon the hierarchical authority of the Church. The liturgy belongs to the whole body of the Church. It is for this reason that it is not permitted to anyone, even a priest, or any group to add, subtract or change anything whatsoever on their own initiative. Fidelity to the rites and to the authentic texts of the liturgy is a requirement of the lex orandi (law of praying), which must always be in conformity with the lex credendi (law of believing). A lack of fidelity on this point may even affect the very validity of the sacraments. [Pope John Paul II on the 25th Anniversary of the Liturgical Constitution, December 4, 1988] None of these things (liturgical innovations) can bring good results. The consequences are—and cannot fail to be—the impairing of the unity of faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal, and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions… The faithful have a right to a true liturgy, which means the liturgy desired and laid down by the Church. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. The Second Vatican Council's admonition in this regard must be remembered: 'No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority'. [Pope John Paul II, April 17, 1980]
In Christ, John Miskell
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