Dance in the Liturgy

[1] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 37; C.L.D., 6, p. 44. [2]

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[1] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 37; C.L.D., 6, p. 44.

[2] In favor of the insertion of artistic dancing into the liturgy, reference can also be made to the text of Gaudium et Spes, nn. 53, 57, 58. However, the cited texts speak of manifestation of culture in general, and of art which elevates with the true and beautiful. They do not speak of dancing in a specific manner. Dancing also can be an art. Nonetheless, it cannot be said that the conciliar Fathers, when they were speaking of art in the Council, had "in view" also the reality of dancing.
N. 62 of the said constitution, Gaudium et Spes, can certainly not be appealed to in this instance. When such number speaks of the artistic forms and of their importance in the life of the Church, it intends to make reference to the artistic forms as relative to the sacred furnishings. The counterproof stands in the texts cited in the footnote: article 123 of the Constitution on the Liturgy and the allocution of Paul VI to the artists at Rome in 1964 (C.L.D., 6, pp. 64 and 735 respectively).


FROM THESE DIRECTIVES, from the NATIONAL CONFERENCE of CATHOLIC BISHOPS, all dancing, (ballet, children's gesture as dancing, the clown liturgy*) are not permitted to be "introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever."

*Watch an Anglican "Clown" service on YouTube:

"Clown-Led Communion – This is no laughing matter" June 13, 2007

Liturgical Dancing

With a Key 1975 Article; source:

ROME, October 5, 2004 (ZENIT) Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Is so-called liturgical dancing allowed in English-speaking countries where traditionally dancing is not regarded as culturally proper? Can it be carried out during solemn occasions such as the celebration of the Mass? — F.Y., Auckland, New Zealand
A: The document that comes closest to being an official commentary on this theme hails from an essay published by the official organ of the then Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Notitiae, 11 (1975) 202-205. This article is labeled as a "qualified and authoritative sketch." It is considered by the congregation as "an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter." Therefore, it is commended for study by diocesan liturgical commissions and offices of worship. (The English translation below first appeared in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp. 78-82.)

The article was later republished with permission in the April/May 1982 Newsletter of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which consequently published directives that "all dancing, (ballet, children's gesture as dancing, the clown liturgy) are not permitted to be "introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever."

Although not specifically mentioned in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," dance can be included in the overall prohibition on introducing elements not contemplated by the liturgical books.
On some recent occasions a certain form of dance has been introduced within the context of papal liturgies on the occasion of regional synods of bishops or canonization ceremonies. But these were usually associated with elements of African or Asian culture and are to be considered as special exceptions in virtue of the Pope's universal mission.
On recent occasions Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, has publicly criticized certain forms of introducing dance into Western liturgy especially in forms which reduce the sacred rite to a spectacle. I am also aware that he has reiterated these criticisms privately to the bishops of several countries during their five-yearly "ad limina" visits to Rome.

The 1975 article from The Canon Law Digest follows: [as on pages 1, 2] 3.

On "Liturgical Dance"

Adoremus (St Louis: Adoremus, 2005

Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has publicly criticized introducing dance into the Liturgy, as it risks reducing this sacred rite to a spectacle. In an address in 2003, for example, the cardinal responded to a question on "liturgical dance": "There has never been a document from our Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments saying that dance is approved in the Mass"; and he noted that "the tradition of the Latin Church has not known the dance. It is something that people are introducing in the last ten years -- or twenty years". (See Cardinal Responds to Questions on Liturgy AB October 2003)

There has not been an express ruling from the Holy See against so-called "liturgical dance" -- primarily because, as Cardinal Arinze also observed, dance-like movements during processions are customary in some countries, and thus may be a legitimate form of "inculturation" of the Liturgy in these regions. This kind of ritual dance has been introduced into several papal liturgies in recent years -- on occasions usually connected with African or Asian culture. These are special exceptions, however, that are to be seen in the context of the Holy Father's unique universal role, not as precedent-setting liturgical variations.
But the Holy See has addressed the matter of dance, constantly stressing the proper distinction between permitting indigenous cultural traditions and introducing innovations into the celebration of the Liturgy.

First is the 1975 commentary on "religious dance" in an essay in Notitiae, the official publication of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The essay appeared in Notitiae, 11 (1975) 202-205; and was published in English translation, "The Religious Dance - an Expression of Spiritual Joy", in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp.78-82.

This article, which appears below, is called a "qualified and authoritative sketch", considered by the Congregation "an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter", thus it is commended for study by diocesan liturgical commissions and offices of worship.

"The Religious Dance" was later reprinted in the Newsletter of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy in April/May 1982. The BCL also published directives that dancing, (ballet, children's gesture as dancing, the clown liturgy) is not permitted to be "introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever".

In the Holy See's 1994 Instruction on authentic "inculturation" of the Roman liturgy, Varietates legitimae, there is a reference to dance gesture in certain cultures:

42. Among some peoples, singing is instinctively accompanied by handclapping, rhythmic swaying and dance movements on the part of the participants. Such forms of external expression can have a place in the liturgical actions of these peoples on condition that they are always the expression of true communal prayer of adoration, praise, offering and supplication, and not simply a performance.

The motive for urging a practice that is alien to the Catholic liturgical heritage is also worth considering. In "Jesus Christ, the Bearer of Life ­ A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'", jointly issued by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue in 2003 to caution Christians about false religious practice, dance is mentioned as one of the methods used by followers of the quasi-religious "New Age" movements to achieve "cosmic consciousness", "self-realization" and "enlightenment" (, along with yoga and other movement and exercise programs. This document cautions that "It is essential to see whether phenomena linked to this movement, however loosely, reflect or conflict with a Christian vision of God, the human person and the world". (6.2)

While "liturgical dance" is not expressly mentioned in the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, it would be included in the general prohibition against introducing elements not contemplated by the liturgical books; furthermore, any changes in the rites that may be proposed by any conference of bishops must always have prior approval by the Holy See.

Liturgical Dancing
Catholics United for the Faith, 1997
ISSUE: Is liturgical dance permitted at Mass and other liturgical celebrations in western culture?
RESPONSE: Liturgical dancing is not appropriate in western culture, according to statements made by the Vatican in 1975 and 1994. In Dance in the Liturgy (1975), the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship specifically provided that liturgical dancing is not appropriate in western countries. In Instruction on the Roman Liturgy and Inculturation (1994), a document that is universally binding in the Church, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments did not contradict the 1975 statement.

DISCUSSION: In 1975, the Vatican Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship issued Dance in the Liturgy, a document which by its own terms should be considered as “an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter.” While not liturgical law, it is still the only statement that has come from the Holy See specifically addressing liturgical dance in western culture. This document affirms that, in some cultures, dance authentically expresses religious values and therefore could be allowed in the liturgy; but it stated that:

the same criterion and judgment cannot be applied in western culture. Here 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.

      Concerning allegedly artistic ballet movements, the 1975 document provides:

Neither can acceptance be had of the proposal to introduce into the liturgy the so-called artistic ballet because there would be presentation here also of a spectacle at which [only] one would assist, while in the liturgy one of the norms from which one cannot prescind is that of participation [by all].

      Concerning the possibility of religious dance in the West, the 1975 Vatican document concluded:

If the proposal of the religious dance in the West is really to be made welcome, care will have to be taken that in its regard a place be found outside of the liturgy, in assembly areas which are not strictly liturgical. Moreover, the priest must always be excluded from the dance (emphasis original; see Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter, Vol. 18 (April/May 1982), 13-16; cf. Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, 78-82).

      As noted, this statement was not contradicted by the universally binding 1994 Vatican document, which reaffirmed existing norms in the West.

      Further inquiries in this matter can be directed to CUF, your diocesan liturgy office, or, if necessary, the Secretariat for the Liturgy, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 3211 4th St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017-1194.
Facts on the Sacred Liturgy and

11. Re: "liturgical dance". On January 8, 1982, in answer to a question regarding liturgical dance, the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship referred to an article in its official journal, Notitiae, XI, 1975, pp. 202-205. "In the Byzantine Liturgy, there is a very simple dance [procession] on the occasion of a wedding, when the crowned newly married couple goes around the lectern with the celebrant...However, the same criterion and approach cannot be applied to Western culture. Here, the dance is connected with love, with amusement, with profanity, to rouse the senses, such a dance, usually, is not pure. Hence it is not possible to introduce something of that sort in the liturgical celebrations: it would mean to bring into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and this would be seen as introducing an atmosphere of profanity, which would easily suggest to those present worldly places and profane situations. Nor is it acceptable to introduce into the liturgy the so-called artistic ballet because it would reduce the liturgy to mere entertainment... If it were the case that the suggestion of liturgical dance in the West should be accepted, there would arise the obligation that the dances should take place outside the Liturgy at a time and place where they are not considered liturgical celebrations. And from such dance priests should always be excluded."

Music and Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Excerpts from The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 198-199
The following excerpts are from The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, former prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now Pope Benedict XVI. EXTRACT

Liturgical Dancing

Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. In about the third century, there was an attempt in certain Gnostic-Docetic circles to introduce it into the liturgy. For these people, the Crucifixion was only an appearance. Before the Passion, Christ had abandoned the body that in any case he had never really assumed. Dancing could take the place of the liturgy of the Cross, because, after all, the Cross was only an appearance. The cultic dances of the different religions have different purposes--incantation, imitative magic, mystical ecstasy--none of which is compatible with the essential purpose of the liturgy of the "reasonable sacrifice". It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy "attractive" by introducing dancing pantomimes (wherever possible performed by professional dance troupes), which frequently (and rightly, from the professionals' point of view) end with applause.

Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attractiveness fades quickly--it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation. I myself have experienced the replacing of the penitential rite by a dance performance, which, needless to say, received a round of applause.

Could there be anything farther removed from true penitence? Liturgy can only attract people when it looks, not at itself, but at God, when it allows him to enter and act. Then something truly unique happens, beyond competition, and people have a sense that more has taken place than a recreational activity. None of the Christian rites includes dancing. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 198-9)

Also at

Cardinal Mahony Online!
Friday, March 31, 2006 @ 11:15 a.m. PST

On Friday, March 31, 2006, hosted an online chat session with Cardinal Roger Mahony from the main Exhibit Hall at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, Calif. Our thanks to Ellie Hidalgo of The Tidings for help with moderating the chat. Thanks to Steve McBrady of ChurchWerks for arranging this session and to Collin McBrady for his monitoring and providing the transcript. EXTRACT

Moderator: Welcome to ChurchWerks Chat with Cardinal Mahony…
Mariette: Does Your Eminence believe there is a place for liturgical dance in the US Church?
Cardinal Mahony: Liturgical dance should never dominate or overwhelm the celebration of the Eucharist. It must be tasteful, and must always lead us to deeper prayer and reflection. A good rule: if liturgical dance leads to applause by the participants, then it failed. VERY IMPORTANT: See my comments on page 15


Outrage over Liturgical Dance
Fr. Alvaro Delgado, May 2007

As a priest who stands in persona Christi to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, I felt disappointed and betrayed when liturgical dancers appeared at the Mass that opened our diocesan synod. The believers present for this Mass deserved to partake of the liturgy under the proper rubrics outlined by the Holy See. It would not be an exaggeration to say these believers were ambushed by an act of spiritual and liturgical terrorism.

Three sets of liturgical dancers waltzed up the aisle at the time of the Presentation of the Gifts. First, three or four young girls and a boy, about 11 or 12 years old, pranced to the altar twirling lit candles through the air in a circular motion. The candle-bearers circled the altar and placed the candles in front of the altar. A second wave of youngsters, holding bowls of incense aloft, also paraded to the altar, repeating the same pattern. 6.

Then came the climactic dance. A boy and a girl, about 14 or 15 years old, came up the center aisle, bearing gifts of bread and wine. I looked for our bishop, and the deacon seated at his side, to rise from their chairs, walk to the front of the altar, and receive the gifts. But they both stayed put. The boy and girl circled the altar, carrying the bread and wine. Finally, they stopped, dead set in front of the altar, facing the people, and hoisted the bread and wine above their heads. Solemn looks crossed their faces as they fixed their gaze upward on the gifts for a long moment. Then they placed the gifts on the altar and returned to their seats. Moments later, the bishop proceeded to the altar and made the official, liturgical offering of the gifts to God. He lifted the gifts above his head, exactly as the boy and girl had done, as seen by hundreds of worshipers from the pews.

With few exceptions, the Holy See has said "no" to liturgical dance.

James Akin, in his book Mass Confusion, notes that the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, in an authoritative 1975 document, cited specific cultures in which liturgical dance has enhanced the liturgy and reflected the religious values of those cultures. But liturgical dance has never been part of the liturgical tradition of the Latin Church, and never been deemed appropriate in the West.

The documents states: "Conciliar decisions have often condemned the religious dance because it conduces little to worship and because it could degenerate into disorders." The document adds that pseudo-ballet, or "interpretive dance," which has been tried in liturgy, is also prohibited. [The article is continued below.]

The Rev. Alvaro Delgado is pastor of St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Stockton, California. Previously, he spent 17 years as a newspaper journalist.

Liturgical dance perverts the meaning of the liturgy
Semper Fi Catholic - Always Faithful To The Truth Who Is Christ

Posted by Denise, Site Administrator, December 16, 2010. [Continued below from the above article]

James Akin cites three conditions in the document that must be met where liturgical dance is allowed:

(1) it cannot take place during the liturgy;

(2) it cannot take place in strictly liturgical areas, such as the sanctuary;

(3) priests must not participate in the religious dance.

The Church understands that liturgical dance perverts the meaning of the liturgy by turning an act of worship into a performance. This is particularly important in our Western culture, a culture steeped in narcissism and enamored of entertainment.

The Church understands that every symbol, every gesture, every movement of the liturgy carries meaning.

That's why the Church lives by the axiom Lex orandi, lex credendi -- the way we pray and worship has a profound impact on what we believe.

The image of the teenage boy and girl at the altar, with gifts aloft, is now fixed in the minds and subconscious of the worshipers present at that synod Mass. I know I can't erase it from my mind. As I told my bishop in a letter of protest, this liturgical moment will influence the synod delegates' view of liturgy and Church in a most powerful way.

Proponents of liturgical dance say we're made to worship God in body, soul, and spirit -- with our whole being. But with liturgical dance, people's minds are fragmented by the attention they pay to the "performers." Liturgical dance becomes a distraction, an act of sensory stimulation. The pleasure of seeing Junior at the altar hoisting a decanter of wine overwhelms the duty to lift our souls to Almighty God.

Hence, liturgical dance undermines the primordial objective in true worship of God: To adore and place our whole being before Him who transcends our human existence.

We live in a culture that says entertain me, titillate me, stimulate me. If I'm not being entertained, I'm bored; if it's not fun and pleasurable, it's not worth the time or effort. In this culture, it can be exceedingly difficult for the believer to lift up his eyes to God, to worship Him, to prostrate and bend the knee before Him, to surrender to Him in an act of humble adoration.

The impetus of worship becomes not, "What can I do for God?" but rather, "What can God do for me?" 7.
In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and future Pope Benedict XVI warns against the "creativity" of the community becoming the driving force in Western liturgy. The liturgy is not to be subject to any human control or contrivance. Narcissism has no part in the worship of God. Ratzinger writes: "In these rites I discover that something is approaching me here that I did not produce myself, that I am entering into something greater than myself, which ultimately derives from divine revelation."
Ratzinger compares the liturgy to a plant that grows and develops in an organic way. It is not a "specially contrived production," not like a piece of technical equipment that is manufactured.

The presence of liturgical dancers at the synod Mass was, however, a "specially contrived production" in disharmony, in disjunction with the Church's liturgical practice and teaching Tradition. A boy and girl mimicked the actions of the priest at the holy altar by lofting the bread and wine above them. This liturgical abuse was nothing less than a propaganda ploy to advance an agenda for women priests, whether used wittingly or unwittingly at this particular Mass. It traces its origins to the very liberal annual religious education congress sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, where a similar liturgical dance was presented this year.

It is reminiscent of Mother Angelica's account of being ambushed during World Youth Day at Denver in 1993, via a television image of a "female" Christ-figure carrying a cross during the Stations of the Cross. Somebody choreographed that episode to advance the agenda for women priests. The image was beamed to millions of viewers on Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network. On a smaller scale, the same thing happened to those who attended our diocesan synod Mass.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger makes it clear that God is the primary Actor in the Eucharistic liturgy, through which He seeks to transform us. We are drawn into the action of God, and everything else is secondary, Ratzinger writes. "The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today, especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point. If the various external actions (as a matter of fact, there are not very many of them, though they are being artificially multiplied) become the essential in the liturgy, if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the ‘theo-drama' of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody."

Ratzinger recounts how, around the third century, heretical Gnostics and Docetists attempted to introduce dance into the liturgy. "For these people, the Crucifixion was only an appearance. Before the Passion, Christ had abandoned the body that in any case he had never really assumed. Dancing could take the place of the liturgy of the Cross, because, after all, the Cross was only an appearance. The cultic dances of the different religions have different purposes -- incantation, imitative magic, mystical ecstasy -- none of which is compatible with the essential purpose of the liturgy of the ‘reasonable sacrifice.'"

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