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Church History Forum: history of liturgical dance

by Catherine Frakas 09 Dec 2001

history of liturgical dance QUESTION from Robin September 18, 2001 I am a student in community college and for my humanities I am taking a class called World Dance I am in a group doing a project on the North American Continent. We have to find the 2 most popular traditional religions in this region and to a presentation and paper on then. The focus is on dance.
Our research has turned up that the Roman Catholic Church is the most popular religion in this entire region, but there is no dance involved in this religion. My teacher asked us then to do a small part of our project on how liturgical dancing and how it changed in the catholic church.
We saw a film that had something called The Dance of the Innocents or something like that, and she said there used to be dancing in the church. I am having a hard timd finding any information regarding the dances the church used to have and why they changed and when and where. I keep seeing the west mentioned.
Is liturgical danncing allowed in other parts of the world in the church?..I wish you could email me personally with any information but i will try to bookmark this site and return to see if you were able to answer.
I also need to mention how christianity branched away from the catholic church..i just need really simple info. We only have 20 minutes to do a piece on this and also on native american and hawaiian religions. thanks for any help robin
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on September 17, 2001 Dear Robin,
There is not much to say about the history of liturgical dance in the Catholic Church, except that the 4th century St. Cesarius of Arles disapproved of it thoroughly. After that, it appears there has been very little, or no history of liturgical dance in the Catholic Church!!! As I understand, it is not currently allowed in Catholic liturgucal practise. (see note below)
You might be better off picking a different religion to do your presentation on.
You also requested information on how Christianity branched away from the Catholic Church. It is erroneous to suggest Christianity branched away from the Catholic Church, as the Catholic Church contains all the revealed Truth of the Christian religion. Other churches and religious bodies broke away from the Catholic Church over the centuries, retaining various degrees of the Catholic heritage.
Regarding the division of Christianity, the first great division from the Catholic Church came with the schism of Michael Cerularius in 1054, bringing about the Orthodox religion; he was excommunicated by the pope's representative, Cardinal Humbert, and even though the Greek people under Cerularius were mostly unaware of what was going on, gradually all of the Greek Church slipped into schism. The Orthodox Churches have valid orders and all seven sacraments, and thus can properly be termed Churches.
The next big division was the sixteenth century. In 1517 Martin Luther began the Reformation. From a Catholic perspective, this is a misnomer, because it was not in any sense a reformation of the Church, but an attempt to destroy it; the personal writings of Luther make it clear that this was indeed his intention from an early stage.
From the rise of the Lutherans, subsequently came the Calvinists, forerunners of today's Presbyterians. In 1537 King Henry VIII of England established himself as head of the Church in England, in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, thus making a formal break with Rome; the Anglican Church, as it came to be known, did not slip into full_scale heresy until the following century and the reign of King Edward VI, with the publication of the new liturgy and the denial of the doctrine of the Mass (as well as other changes).
In accordance with the Church document Dominus Iesus, the churches and communities of the Reformation period, since they did not preserve valid orders or Eucharistic theology, cannot be termed churches in the true sense. Ecclesial communion is a better term.
The Baptist sect started in 1608, first in England, then in Holland, soon to spread further afield.
Many of the pseudo_Christian cults, which are not Christian in the proper sense, arose in the nineteenth century. Examples are the Mormons (1830), the Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Science. Also the Sevent Day Adventists, based around the prophecies of William Miller and Ellen White, arose in the 19th century. The new religious freedom of this time allowed such new groups to emerge.
The Pentecostal movement began in the early 20th century.
This is not an exhaustive list, but covers most of what you'll need, I expect.
Today it is estimated there are five new Protestant denominations founded every week. This is the sad legacy of the Lutheran principle of private interpretation.
I hope this information is of help Robin.
God bless, .
PS from the Q & A Manager: If Mr. Hyland will forgive my inclusion of a note on his answer here, I do have some experience on the issue of Liturgical Dancing and thought perhaps it would be beneficial to share it here.
Liturgical Dancing is absolutely forbidden in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (in the Western Church). The reason for this is that dancing in the Western culture is a common and pedestrian activity. It is a folk activity. In the West dancing does not have, on our culture, the element of the sacred. There is nothing wrong with dance, or folk music, and the like, but in the Mass only those things which have a connotation as associated with the sacred are allowed. The connotation of dance is the classical or artistic dance, or Saturday night sock hop, or nightclub dancing, or recreational dancing, or mixer dances where people can meet the opposite sex. We, in the West, to not have in our culture any connotation of the sacred in our dancing. This, in the West, it cannot be included in the Mass except by special indult in the case perhaps of an ethnic parish with a cultural background of true sacred dancing.
There are other cultures where dance has been apart of sacred expression for thousands of years. It is part of the culture. It is part of the people, not just an entertainment. In those cultures the Church allows Liturgical Dancing because in those cultures the dancing that is done during the Mass is culturally sacred.
The issue is that only that which has a sacred purpose, only that which is suitable for sacred expression, only that which facilitates the sacred time and place of the Mass can be included in the Mass. Thus any dance, instrument, music, or song that is not suitable for sacred expression cannot be used. Folk music and dancing and the like is fine for a non-liturgical meeting outside of the Church such as a youth group at camp or in fellowship hall, but the folk nature of those activities, by definition, is not sacred.
Bro. Ignatius
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