“In North America and Europe, dance should not enter the liturgy at all. And the people discussing liturgical dance should spend that time praying the rosary. We already have enough problems. Why banalize more?” — Francis Cardinal Arinze [source]
HAVE OFTEN REMARKED: “A major problem with the Novus Ordo is that they abandoned liturgical dance.” Saying this gets people’s attention, because they think I’m referring to the “goofy type” of liturgical dance mentioned by Fr. Shereghy below. If you click on the video, you’ll see a dance performed at the Benedictine Abbey of St. John’s in Collegeville, MN. That’s what most people think of when they hear “liturgical dance.” Collegeville was one of the chief centers promoting harmful liturgical abuses after the Second Vatican Council.
However, I’m not talking about the “goofy” type of liturgical dance. I’m talking about the true, authentic liturgical dance that exists in the Extraordinary Form, but was largely eliminated in the Ordinary Form.
The movements and ceremonies of the Traditional Mass are highly choreographed, ancient, and extremely beautiful (yet subtle). I’m not sure we can appreciate such things in this day and age, when so many of us grew up playing video games and watching television. After hours and hours of those activities, one starts to becomes less “human” and it becomes difficult to appreciate notions like “ordered movement.” (When I was little, we learned that some football players took ballet lessons. We thought that was hilarious.)
FOR A LONG TIME, I BELIEVED myself to be the only person who noticed this “authentic liturgical dance.” However, as usual, it turns out clever people were ahead of me. For instance, Fr. Deryck Hanshell wrote in 1992:
To express in human cultic terms the Eucharistic mystery—this is the glory of the historic Mass. Maritain once described the Mass as a “slow dance.” Such a “dance,” having form and meaning, is not to be had without the equivalent of choreography and those trained in its movements.
Dr. William Mahrt wrote in 1976:
The relationships among the ministers at a solemn Mass is one which is projected and clarified by movement. It has been fashionable recently to claim a role for dance as a liturgical art, on the scanty precedent of David’s dance before the Ark or certain extinct customs of the Mozarabic rite, and then to experiment with expressionistic para-liturgical dancing, either at the gradual or the offertory. Now dance is an art which orders bodily movement to a purpose; but the liturgy already has its arts of movement. These are the orderly movements of the ministers and the acolytes; they involve certain fixed formations, configurations which differ for each part and differentiate it from the others. The motions are largely those of moving from position to position, though some are purposeful motions in themselves.
IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US to realize the scandalous effect which comes from the implementation of the “goofy type” of liturgical dance. Just think about the reaction from Eastern Catholics! For instance, a Byzantine Rite Catholic named Fr. Basil Shereghy wrote in 1975:
I attended a Roman rite Mass recently which begain with a dance. Young girls, with quite non-liturgical notions, performed more or less acrobatic dances in front of the altar. I was stunned to disbelief. What does dancing of this kind add to the mystery of the divine liturgy? What is the purpose of this cheap exhibitionism?
Msgr. Richard J. Schuler always used to talk about the piccoluomini. These were the unqualified, arrogant liturgisti who thought they knew more than everybody else, but in reality knew very little. My mother’s generation would have called them “philistines.” They don’t appreciate the subtlety or beauty of anything, yet never doubt their own superiority.
It was the piccoluomini who invented the “goofy type” of liturgical dance, based on their misunderstanding of 2nd Samuel 6:14. I need to stop now, because my blog is already too long, but we’ll return to this subject at a later date. It’s crucial, because many of the piccoluomini ideas are still with us. For instance, the idea that the ancient Mass Propers should be replaced if they don’t correspond to what each man, woman, or child decides is the “theme” of the Mass.
It is worth noting that Msgr. Ronald Knox also referred to the Mass as “dance.”