Skip to comments.Dancing Our Prayers Away?
Posted on 06/12/2003 6:57:13 AM PDT by NYer
By Carrie Tomko
The Catholic Bishops are expected to discuss a position paper on liturgical dance when they meet in Dallas this weekend, according to an article in the June 8, 2003 Stow (Ohio) Sentry, which unfortunately is not available online.
The position paper was written by Kathryn Mihelek, a former dance instructor at Kent State University, who runs Leaven Dance Company ( http://faculty-l.slis.kent.edu/~tfroehli/leaven/about.html ) and is a 41-year member of Holy Family Catholic Church in Stow, where she and her small company "act out choreographed movements to express prayers in church services such as...Masses," according to the article. Mihelek's paper has been passed on to the Liturgy Commission by Cleveland Bishop Anthony M. Pilla. Leaven Dance Co. is in residence at the Kent State University Newman Center.
In 1999 Mihelick, with the help of an Ohio Arts Council grant, scheduled an ecumenical concert of sacred dance in the sanctuary of Holy Family Church. The concert would include samplings from various cultures. As a result of objections received, four days before the concert, the diocese asked Holy Family to change the venue. However, because the lighting had been contracted and the dances choreographed for the sanctuary, Mihelick asked to keep the sanctuary location and was given an ok. Two days later, the diocese received a fax from the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship objecting to a performance in the sanctuary, and the event was moved to the Holy Family School auditorium.
In searching for the official position of the Vatican on sacred dance in Western culture, it became clear that the primary document touching on this subject is "Dance in the Liturgy" from the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship--a document called a "qualified and authoritative sketch" intended to be "an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter." The first English translation of this document appeared in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp 78-82. There is controversy over the definition of terms in the document and over whether the document is authoritative. Clearly something more would be helpful. The document says: ( http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWDANCE.HTM )
Quote: Here [in western culture] dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses: such dancing, in general, is not pure.
For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever: that would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations.
I trust that the Bishops will not abandon this sensible teaching when they discuss liturgical dance.
For those who have never seen this spectacle in person, there are pictures on the web of the Sisters of the Holy Cross performing liturgical dance in Canada, apparently while Mass is being celebrated. ( http://www.sistersofholycross.org/canada.htm )
At St. Joseph's Parish of the Polish National Catholic Church in Florida, liturgical dance was used at a candle lighting event. ( http://stjosephpncc.org/HTML/mj.htm )
The Sisters of St. Benedict performed a liturgical dance at evening prayer before the entrance ceremony. ( http://www.thedome.org/new/HomeDome/2002/April/ )
The St. Andrew's Benedictine Abbey sponsored a Sacred Arts Festival in collaboration with the Jubilee 2000 Committee of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Companies performing at this festival included Omega West Dance Company, a resident dance troupe at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, ( http://www.stjohndivine.org/arts/arts_title.html ) and the Abbey's own troupe, The Valyermo Dancers. ( http://www.sacredartsfestival.org/dance.htm )
According to their website, Carla de Sola founded Omega Dance Company in 1974 to "express the spiritual, social, and healing dimensions of dance. The company is dedicated to bringing dance into spiritual observances and in concert for all settings." That philosophy is similar to Leaven Dance Company's philosophy which states:
The company believes that dance has a powerful potential to be an agent for self-discovery, spiritual enrichment, positive change and growth, and personal and international peace. The ensemble dwells in the belief that creative authentic movement _expression reflects a universal language of communication; integrates body, mind and spirit; and promotes unity among diverse populations.
What does this person-centered philosophy have to do with formal prayer? The focus is on the person who dances, not on the God we worship. When David danced before the Ark of the Covenant, he was adoring God, not fostering personal or international peace or positive change and self-discovery.
A brief look at liturgical dance in the Protestant churches brought up the Church of God in Christ which has a dance ministry. ( http://www.westa.org/dance.htm ) So does the Prince of Peace Charismatic Episcopal Church. ( http://princeofpeacecec.org/index.html ) It's not quite clear what their dancers are doing with their red scarves in the picture.
The St. Anthony Performing Arts Guild ( http://www.stanthonydance.org/gld_sacred_dance.htm ) is not affiliated with a church. They charge $300 to perform at one service. I wonder how we would feel about a priest charging that much money to say Mass? If liturgical dance is not to be a performance, how can a fee be charged for the service?
Sacred dance is not affiliated exclusively with Christian religions. The book Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance: Awakening Spirituality... by Iris J. Stewart ( http://www.newvision-psychic.com/bookshelf/SacredWomanS.htm ) focuses on women's spirituality and creativity. The book has been reviewed favorably by a Buddhist at the website, and two other reviewers refer to belly dancing as a style of sacred dance. Many of the dancers in these various linked websites were shown using veils. Is that a tradition borrowed from belly dancing?
Stewart founded her own WomanDance troupe which "performs interpretive dances that explore women's spirituality." The New-Vision website which linked the reviews of the book ( http://www.newvision-psychic.com/bookshelf/womenspirit.html ) features a variety of the symbol called the "Eye of Thelema" on the website. That eye is a symbol of those who follow the spiritual teaching of occultist Aleister Crowley who adapted it from the Eye of Horus symbol.
A well-known New Age group offering Sacred Dance is the Findhorn Foundation. ( http://www.findhorn.org/events/workshops/dancefestival.html )
Most of these liturgical or sacred dance groups were formed in the last 35 years. But this artform was in the making much earlier. In 1912 Rosicrucian occultist Rudolf Steiner introduced what he called "Eurythmy" to the world.
The Anthroposophical Society in America, the Theosophical organization Steiner founded, describes Eurythmy this way: ( http://www.anthroposophy.org/arts.php )
Eurythmy translates the sounds, phrases, and rhythms of speech, or the dynamic elements of music into movement and gesture. The result has been described as "visible speech", or "visible song". It could be called the movement language of the soul.
Cynthia Hoven, St. Mary's University, presented a working paper on "Eurythmy as Visible Speech: A Somatic Approach to Language" ( http://www.trismegistos.com/IconicityInLanguage/Articles/Hoven.html ) in which she says:
Eurythmy is a movement art initiated by the Austrian scientist, scholar and philosopher, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, in 1912 as the art of Visible Speech and Visible Song. Originally conceived as a performance art, it bears resemblances to dance and to mime but is also clearly distinct from both. It also bears relationship to the ancient forms of sacred and cultic dance, yet it is wholly secular in its character. Eurythmy is also used in medical, pedagogical, and sociological fields.
Eurythmy has powerful effects on body, mind and spirit. It can be characterized as a modern form of Tai Chi or Yoga as easily as it can be called a dance form. Its medical applications are broad, and it belongs to the field of energetic healing. It calls for quieting and focusing the mind and appeals to people who are seeking a form of movement meditation. It can lead one to explore the nature of speech and language and to find a more vivid experience of what it means to be a human being, living in a world of speech. The last decades of the twentieth century saw the advent and popularization of an enormous number of new and old forms of so-called energy work. The art of Eurythmy, which has its roots in very ancient spiritual and cultural traditions and predates the newer energy techniques by several decades, remains often overlooked.
Consider for a moment the pictures of liturgical dancers in the above-linked websites. Many of them wore flowing clothing or used flowing veils which seem to be a part of the dance process. Most had their arms in the air.
Nineteen pictures of dancers performing Eurythmy are shown at the website for the Eurythmy - European Project, international year. ( http://www.antroposofi.org/rss699/euint/index.htm ) The resemblance between these pictures and the pictures of dancing nuns are striking.
Steiner's Waldorf education uses Eurythmy as this Waldorf homeschool website explains. ( http://www.waldorfhomeschoolers.com/dance.htm )
Quoting Rudolf Steiner from the website:
As men, our purpose is to imitate, to absorb the movement of the world into ourselves through our limbs. What do we do then? We dance. This is true dancing. Other dancing is only fragmentary dancing. All true dancing has arisen from imitating in the limbs the movement carried out by the planets. (sic) by other heavenly bodies or by the earth itself.
The ether body wants to make circular movements, however, and so the person dances. Dancing is usually a matter of someone not wanting to follow his physical body but his ether body. The desire to dance usually exists so that a person may forget his physical body and can feel himself to be a spirit that belongs to the cosmos.
Eurythmy in education is also covered at these school websites which have additional pictures:
Orana School ( http://www.oranaschool.com/articles/2001-may.html )
Rudolf Steiner Institute ( http://www.steinerinstitute.org/courses/3.4.2.htm )
School of Eurythmy ( http://eurythmy.org/abotschl.htm )
Spring Valley ( http://eurythmy.org/bssah.htm )
Association of Eurythmists ( http://www.anthroposophy.org.uk/main/eurythmy.htm )
Eurythmy West Midlands ( http://www.elmfield.com/links.htm ) (click second link on right for an enlarged picture)
Note the "Eye of Thelema" on the logo at the bottom of the website for West Midlands.
http://www.elmfield.com/links.htmFrequently asked questions about Eurythmy are covered at the Eurythmy.org website. ( http://www.eurythmy.org.uk/faq/eurythmy_faq.html )
Two of the websites use a form of Aleister Crowley's "Eye of Thelema." Was Steiner a member of Crowley's occult organization, the Ordo Templi Orientis? The topic is controversial. A respected researcher in the field, Peter R. Koenig says no, but indicates Steiner was not a stranger to occult movements. Both he and his wife were members of the Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry called Memphis-Mizraim. ( http://www.cyberlink.ch/~koenig/steiner.htm )
I have found no indication that Steiner engaged in any immorality. It seems unlikely, then, that he was a member of the Crowleyites. Yet his involvement with Egyptian Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism certainly puts him outside of the Catholic concept of the faith. The material which he taught he obtained through clairvoyance, a type of channeling. The striking resemblance between Eurythmy and the liturgical dance that is being performed in Catholic churches is hard to comprehend considering these roots.
One of the "hot buttons" in discussions of liturgy, sacred dance in Western culture does not have an historical precedent. Were dance to be incorporated into liturgy, it would amount to a foreign element, an innovation. As such it would convey certain meaning. What would that meaning be?
Since nearly always in pictures on the web the dancers are exclusively women, a flavor of goddess worship would be introduced by this practice. These performances also conjure up images of exotic dancers performing before eastern potentates. The sexual overtones which go with this image are inevitable for some if not for all those who witness the spectacle.
There is the question of the exclusion from a part of Mass of half of the population, namely men. With concern being expressed in some circles about the feminization of the faith, this would be an additional element contributing to an imbalance. Vatican II expressly required full and active participation of the laity. How does the male half of the laity fully participate in liturgical dance performed by women? Should a way be found to include male dancers, would the laity then observe and speculate about the orientation of the male dancers as the general public considers the orientation of male ballet dancers? Is this speculation what we want to introduce into our liturgy at this particular time of crisis in the Church?
Even if that problem could be overcome, there is still the issue of most of the congregation sitting in the pews and observing a performance which can hardly be denied considering that some sacred dance troupes charge for their services. Once the liturgical dance is accepted, the idea of performance at liturgy will become an element of ritual which will cause us to see the priest in a different light. He will become not "In Personna Christi" but rather the priest "performing" as the celebrant at Mass. He will also be evaluated by performance criteria just as the dancers will be evaluated.
This is in sharp contrast to the spontaneous exuberant dance of joy performed by David before the Ark of the Covenent--a dance that was unrehearsed, brought him no monetary recompence, and required no contracted lighting or choreography.
There is also the question of Psalm 150 which recommends exuberance in celebration with timbrel and dance, strings and pipe, cymbals. These were the instruments of the temple service according to the footnote to this Psalm in my New American Bible . In other words, once again it is a cultural phenomenon which cannot be applied to Western culture. Additionally, there is the matter of the Crucifixion. Our Mass, as the Holy Father reiterated so strongly in his recent Encyclical on the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church, re-presents to us the sacrifice of Calvary. Does one dance with cymbals, timbrel, strings and pipe around a death bed? Such cavorting would hardly be appropriate. Temple sacrifice involved the death of animals. Catholic Mass involves the sacrifice of the Son of God. The Catechism of Trent instructs us to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with "heartfelt piety and devotion." (p. 405) Dancing, as it is perceived in our culture, would hardly meet this requirement.
With so many obstacles to overcome, with so many irresponsible disruptions in the Church at present, a change that would allow dance in the liturgy would be imprudent at best.
Not this week. But then Christ presesnted himself as the final sacrifice, not the final waltz.
All authority for christian worship comes from the the NT. The word 'dance' is found nowhere in the NT.
Pithy and direct.
Perhaps,a little "attaboy" might do the trick. We could send a little note to the bishops saying something like "I am happy to see the big catholic tent finally opening it's arms to Naziism,for so long I have felt that the admiration and adulation of all things Marxist and Bolshevic evidenced by so many of you in the USCCB,was so terribly unfair to the Nazis."
" Now finally you are recognizing some of the underpinnings that were foundational to the National Socialist Party.Bring on the dancers and lets inextricably admix the idaologies of Marx and Hitler,however,I am a little concerned about anti-semitism. Was not that considered a natural outgrowth of Naziism?"
"On the other hand,it is a wonderful tribute to your new found enthusiasm for inclusivity,equal oppurtunity and cultural diversity. You guys are just so darn smart."
(This is a little sarcasm.)
I ignore nothing from the OT. It was written for our understanding.
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
But I only look to the NT for authority in worship.
What other parts of the old law do you keep? Dietary restrictions? Stoning of someone who works on the sabbath? Selling your children into bondage?
But that was just for fun. :)
There are days I'd entertain an offer.
Look. I posted the Salvation Army timbrel as a bit of a tongue in cheek post. I don't dance in worship OR in prayer. Okay?
But you cannot provide for me a Biblical source that expressly forbids dance in worship. Can you?
You mistake the silence of the scriptures as authorizing. When that which is authorized is mentioned, all others do not need to be mentioned.
No more than you mistake their silence as prohibiting.
Scripture is clear that Christ was the final sacrifice. Scripture is clear that all foods are clean.
Okay, what am I missing here? The GIRM specifically forbids it. What's left to discuss?
I wish I was closer to Dallas. These guys need a serious freeping, IN PERSON.
To authorize is to give permission for. If it's not authorized, we don't have permission and do so without authority from God. Possibly to our eternal peril.
We understand this concept in everyday life. When the President gave the order to start the attack on Iraq, would the Generals have been authorized to attack Canada (not that it might not be a good idea, mind you)? Would they have been justified by saying to the President "You didn't say not to"?
Please site chapter and verse for your permission to post on FreeRepublic.
Can't do it? May God have mercy on your immortal soul.
Thank you, Colleen for your support. I have emailed Mark Shea and asked him to address this topic on his blog. In my email, I have given him liks to the TCR news story, the Notitiae issued by the USCCB, a copy of my letter to the diocese demonstrating that liturgical dance rendered the mass illicit, after which they conceded, and an invitation to lurk in this forum to meet the next pope.
I am more than happy to share my 2nd letter to the diocese with anyone who wishes to use it as a basis for addressing their bishop. Just let me know.