May 5, 2006

Liturgical Dance

I'm not surprised that our slightly pompous post from yesterday produced some comments, though it didn't turn out to be the flame bait I had thought it might be.

In one comment our Franciscan friend Jason challenged us to render comment on the Gospel procession from somewhere called St. Nicholas. Apparently their little video was circulating a while back and drawing the ire of the more conservative catholic bloggers. Check it out here.

Now I don't know the place or its background, so it's dangerous to make any claims about it based on this little video. But it is true that this general question of "liturgical dance" produces a lot of strong feelings. For some it is a liberating expression of joy. Others see it as a hippie accretion bordering on sacrilege. So what can we say? Is this sort of thing justified, or even just o.k.? Well, yes and no.

If you haven't seen anything like it, I would recommend The Dancing Church, a video of African Poor Clare sisters put together by Paulist Father Thomas Kane. Here you can see liturgical dance working as worship. It works because it is an inculturation of the Gospel into a dancing culture in which dance is integral to prayer and praise.

It doesn't work so well when north Americans of European ancestry try to do it. Why? Because we come from the culture that produced the sober and understated Roman liturgy we all know and love. When we start trying to do liturgical dance, it's not a legitimate inculturation, but an effort to invent our own liturgy, to do what we feel like doing. And thus it becomes one more symptom of the greater problem (brought to us via the New Age, I think) that we can invent our own religion and worship according to our tastes and fashions.

So if you're an African Poor Clare, praise God in your dance. But if you're a white, suburban European-American, get over yourself, and, as the Beastie Boys put it, stop "dancing around like you think you're Janet Jackson."


Brother Allears said...

Just some points to add to the mix (sorry if this gets long!) My best friend is a sister at an OSB monastery where liturgical dance happens often, including at Mass. Some of it is rather good and adds to the Office. I haven't seen them do it at Mass, so I don't know what it is like. But I know they do it.

Also, in my monastery, we have Africans who sometimes add their native music (no dancing) to our Offices -- and it works rather well.

Lastly, from what I understand, the Church has allowed Hawaiian Catholics to use hula because, that is in fact a way of communicating -- for natives, and was allowed on that basis.

Anyway, pro or con, more to think about.

Pilgrim Padre said...

That video made me laugh because it really did seem out of place. Did you see the server trying to get jiggy with it? And that priest doing twirls? I agree that if it is not a part of our culture already than we should not be trying to force it. Otherwise it just looks ridiculous.

When I see Africans doing liturgical dance, I noticed a big difference. The difference is that they are not thinking about dancing. They just dance. They don't say "My prayer today will be my dancing" (and then silently pat themselves on the back for being so diverse). No, without pretense they just sing and dance as a part of worshiping God.

I find that a lot of the liturgical wars that are happening in North America take place because there seems to be a disconnect between the Christian life and mass. I'm not saying mass isn't the source and summit of the Christian life for Catholics (It is!), but when it because the only expression of faith, when people forget that the life of faith includes an intimate personal relationship with God through prayer (and not a vague universal idea as we see in New Age), study of the scriptures, as well as ethics and morality in steadfast witness to the gospel, they tend to focus on who is and isn't doing what at mass and in which way they are praying, instead of focusing on whom they are worshiping and whom they are receiving.