Dance in the Liturgy

Caution on Religious dance

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Caution on Religious dance

But the same conferences and other authorities have pointed out that even in traditional cultures a blanket approval for all forms of dance during worship must be avoided. Some dances and gestures from pre-Christian traditions relate to cults or worship of false gods, even demons, not to mention the erotic overtones of some dances that would also exclude them from Catholic worship. Borrowing from another religious culture, for example Hinduism, may also raise problems of catechetical confusion or even syncretism.

But when actions and gestures have wider cultural meanings, the Church can sometimes appropriate them, just as she has done over the two millennia of her glorious history.

Therefore, in answer to this simple question, liturgical dancing should not take place during Mass in Western societies, where dancing in this context is not part of the culture. However Christian religious dance may be appropriate, even praiseworthy, in those cultures where it is part of the cultural patrimony and where it is regulated by the Ordinary and the Episcopal conference.

The Evangelization Station, P.O. Box 267, Angels Camp, California, 95222, USA Telephone: 209-728-5598

E-mail: Pamphlet 518

All bold emphases in colour in the above articles are mine. -Michael Prabhu 13.

Watch this YouTube video, “Liturgical Dancing at its Worst” April 2, 2007:

The above dance was conducted around the Blessed Sacrament. Below, you can find some pictures of these prohibited Western dances that have become commonplace in Latin rite Catholic churches. All of them were performed in the sanctuary/before the altar either outside of or during Holy Mass.

"Ignatian Retreat" Mass in which Fr Robert Ver Eecke, a Jesuit priest dances, Boston, Massachusetts

"Dancing Girls" at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in the Joliet Diocese

A "Magic Mass"

Women perform dances in the sanctuary and even step onto the main altar at St. Sebastian's Church, Akron,

Ohio. Their liturgical dance was made with the approval of Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland

The 'Rock' Church

St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church in St. Louis, Montana, calls itself the "rock" church. The name takes its origin from a special type of rock used to construct the building. We call it "rock" church in a second meaning due to the rock and roll or rock-like dances that frequently take place during Mass in that church. [This is a Redemptorist church- Michael]
Its liturgies often feature teenagers and girls in extravagant clothing performing rock dance routines during the Mass.

To watch a video of another dance inside the rock church, please click

COMMENT ON THE VIDEO CLIP: What has our mass come to? This is pagan- by Virum Dei See also page 97
"It’s Time for the Real Catholic Church to come forward"

Watch a video of more liturgical abuses at July 16, 2007

COMMENT 1 It's supposed to say that many abuses have been introduced to the church by unfaithful priests, bishops and laity. Through these abuses, people have been taught not to respect God, or even to not pay attention to him when at holy mass. Thus, the ability of the mass to inspire people's faith has been lessened.

COMMENT 2 You know I was kind of disheartened at first with the pictures of the priest performing mass in awful surroundings, on boxes, in get ups, with balloons, with pitchers instead of sacred vessels. This surprised me and brought tears to my eyes.

February 17, 2005, Youth Day at the Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles takes place under the direction of Cardinal Roger Mahony. A dancing group of high-school girls perform in semi-transparent dresses

Photos from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles website  
Here we have a Trad. site saying that the above pictures were taken “during the Mass”. To me, it appears to be outside the Eucharistic service. On page 6 we had noted the Cardinal’s position. He was not firmly opposed to liturgical dance. He insisted on safe conditions for its use. One cannot be entirely safe in these matters. This is a classic case of dance introduced into a religious programme.

Those pictures are taken from radical Traditionalist sites that condemn the entire Novus Ordo [post Vatican II] Mass and not just the aberrations and abuses that are taking place in parishes across the globe in the guise of experimentation and innovation. I am in possession of many more pictures, most of them worse -- if such a thing is possible -- than those shown on the previous pages.

What these Trad. sites don’t mention is that even Rome condemns these horrible “liturgies”.
I now summarize what we have learnt from the priests, Bishops and Cardinals and even our present Pope, in the above articles, pages 1 through 13:

"Liturgical dance" is not expressly mentioned in the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum. There has never been a document from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments saying that dance is approved in the Mass.

Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. None of the Christian rites includes dancing”- Pope Benedict XVI

The tradition of the Latin Church has not known the dance.

"Liturgical dancing" can find no place in the celebration of holy Mass and the sacraments.

Liturgical dance can be included in the overall prohibition on introducing elements not contemplated by the liturgical books.

It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy "attractive" by introducing dancing”- Pope Benedict XVI

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. 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.

Modern liturgical dance, like the Gnostic-Docetist attempts of old, detracts from the heart of the Mass, which is the sacrifice of Christ, the sacrifice of the cross. Modern man will do anything and everything to escape the cross and replace its pain with something soothing, something pleasurable to the senses.

By the spectacle of liturgical dancers, the symbolism of the priest acting in persona Christi is diminished. If you diminish the priest, you diminish the importance of Jesus Christ.
Religious dance in church conduces little to worship and it could degenerate into disorders.

Most dances draw attention to the performers and offer enjoyment”- Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Dance of any kind must always take place outside of liturgical services at a time and place where they are not considered liturgical celebrations. It can never, under any circumstances, take place in the sanctuary of the church.

Some priests and lay people think that Mass is never complete without dance. The difficulty is this: we come to Mass primarily to adore God -- what we call the vertical dimension. We do not come to Mass to entertain one another. That's not the purpose of Mass. The parish hall is for that. Most dances that are staged during Mass should have been done in the parish hall. And some of them are not even suitable for the parish hall. I saw in one place -- I will not tell you where -- where they staged a dance during Mass, and that dance was offensive. It broke the rules of moral theology and modesty. Those who arranged it -- they should have had their heads washed with a bucket of holy water! Why make the people of God suffer so much? Haven't we enough problems already? Only Sunday, one hour, they come to adore God. And you bring a dance! Are you so poor you have nothing else to bring us? Shame on you! That's how I feel about it”- Cardinal Francis Arinze

Priests must always be excluded from the dance.
Most of the articles in the preceding pages concern liturgical dance or secular Western dance in the Latin Rite Church in the Western world.

However when it came to discussing such dances in the wider Church in respect of Africa and Asia with their indigenous religious and cultural traditions, the inevitable topic of “inculturation” surfaced. The issue immediately becomes sensitive and controversial.

Cardinal Arinze spoke about religious dances that are native to the African and Asian continents, see page 4, and which have been permitted on occasion, but only “as exceptions”:

In some countries, in a legitimate form of "inculturation" of the Liturgy in these regions, 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”- Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

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

Even in these exceptions, “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. If liturgical dance leads to applause by the participants, then it failed”- Cardinal Roger Mahony

Though the Second Vatican calls for a healthy inculturation in matters liturgical, in such an inculturation one must be faithful to the major Church documents that give directives on how this inculturation is to be made. They are Sacrosanctum Concilium, 37-40, the 1994 Instruction: Roman Liturgy and Inculturation, and Chapter IX of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments warned the bishops of Asia against liturgical "idiosyncrasies" and false conceptions of inculturation, in an August 2009 homily at the closing Mass of the plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Manila. He also sounded a cautionary note against liturgical dance.

Somebody can say, "But the pope visited this country and the people danced". A moment: Did the pope arrange it? Poor Holy Father -- he comes, the people arranged. He does not know what they arranged. And somebody introduces something funny -- is the pope responsible for that? Does that mean it is now approved? Did they put it on the table of the Congregation for Divine Worship? We would throw it out! If people want to dance, they know where to go”- Cardinal Francis Arinze

The best approach would be to make a clear distinction between liturgical dancing in the West and religious dancing in other cultures in the wider world.

When we turn to the wider Church, beyond the West, we find cultures where traditions of religious dance pre-date evangelization. This is where dancing in worship seems "natural"; hence we should cease calling it "liturgical dancing". It is religious dancing. In these countries in recent decades Christian religious dancing or movement such as swaying, rhythmic clapping, etc., has become well established and it is regulated by the competent authorities, the local Ordinary and the Episcopal conference. But I would underline a major difference between this appropriate inculturation and what happened in the West. This is really religious dance and the people often spontaneously take part in it. This activity does not come under most of the strictures of the 1975 ruling from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Therefore, in 1994 in the Instruction on Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, from the same Congregation, we find that dancing may be incorporated into the liturgy where dance is an inherent part of the culture of the people and is not simply a performance. This activity may even be promoted in places where dancing has a religious meaning compatible with Christianity.”- Most Rev. Peter John Elliott, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne

But the same conferences and other authorities have pointed out that even in traditional cultures a blanket approval for all forms of dance during worship must be avoided. Some dances and gestures from pre-Christian traditions relate to cults or worship of false gods, even demons, not to mention the erotic overtones of some dances that would also exclude them from Catholic worship. Borrowing from another religious culture, for example Hinduism, may also raise problems of catechetical confusion or even syncretism.”- Most Rev. Peter John Elliott, Aux. Bishop of Melbourne


I now wish to examine evidence on the use of dance in the Indian Church and understand whether it is in the category of permissible inculturated religious dancing of the type envisioned by the Bishop of Melbourne or if they are, to quote him, “gestures from pre-Christian traditions [that] relate to cults or worship of false gods, even demons, not to mention the erotic overtones of some dances that would also exclude them from Catholic worship.”

I will concern myself with the type of dances that are commonly performed in churches in India.

Having lived for many years -- in the 80s and early 90s -- in the north of India, I can vouch that I never had the misfortune of being subjected to any sort of dancing in the liturgy except at the Pope’s Mass in Delhi in 1986, see page 68. The only dances that were performed in connection with the Eucharistic services were the folk dances of tribals; and they preceded the Holy Mass. The dancers accompanied the celebrant to the foot of the altar and dispersed to their seating places.

I cannot say how things now are in the Delhi or Lucknow or Simla-Chandigarh dioceses, but I am pessimistic seeing that the older Bishops have retired and been replaced by younger men who have been exposed to the liberal and ashram theologies that I have written about in a number of reports.

After moving to Tamil Nadu, I am constrained to attend low-key Masses on major feast days and take great care to avoid the main masses which are conducted in Tamil, the local language, because they are heavily “inculturated”. I might add also that the same applies to almost all parish and diocesan functions -- often bi-lingual -- that incorporate the celebration of the Holy Mass. If the reader gets the impression that I have a problem with “inculturation”, the reader is wrong. I’m all for it. But I’m opposed to most of what passes for inculturation. Since “inculturation” is addressed by me in a separate report, I will refrain from explaining here why these Masses distress me.
In 2005, a member of the Konkani Catholics yahoo group list raised a question on this dancing:

From: Deepak Ferrao Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2005 11:24 PM Subject: [KonkaniCatholics] Regarding Liturgy

Liturgy is one aspect, which is given due importance and is given a lot of reverence. I understand there are many norms also which are been laid down for our Liturgy. I wanted to know whether so-called liturgical dancing is allowed in our Liturgy. What I actually mean is that we may have observed a kind of dance by some lay people (which may be the culture there in that particular state) during the procession of priests as they walk towards the altar.

I came across the website which gives news from Vatican and which also has some question and answers about Liturgy. This is what it has to say:

"The 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'." It also says a little later after some explanation:
"certain forms of dancing and certain dance patterns could be introduced into Catholic worship. Nevertheless, two conditions could not be prescinded from.
The first: to the extent in which the body is a reflection of the soul, dancing, with all its manifestations, would have to express sentiments of faith and adoration in order to become a prayer.
The second condition: just as all the gestures and movements found in the liturgy are regulated by the competent ecclesiastical authority, so also dancing as a gesture would have to be under its discipline."
I would want to know that the cultural dance that is being incorporated in our Liturgy, does it express sentiments of Faith and Adoration?
The reason I have this confusion in my mind is that I feel that some of our Indian culture and tradition may have been handed down by some non believers or even by pagans who had been idol worshippers.
How far can this liturgical dancing be justified? Deepak Ferrao

Dear Group Members,

I believe Deepak seems to be referring to the post on ZENIT by title "Liturgical Dancing" which may be found at :

I'm providing the link for the reference of members who wish to help Deepak with a response. Austine, Moderator.

The moderator did not answer the question.

The above Zenit link simply takes one to the original article at
One Konkani Catholics member responded as follows

Hi Deepak, I think the liturgy would be more meaningful if dances are introduced that make sense to the rest of the congregation. For e.g. if we say incorporated the Bharata Natyam - we could not justify it as our cultural dance because it has no part or parcel of our Mangalorean culture. It would make great sense in Nagapattinam or some Tamil city where Bharata Natyam is in vogue and understood.

With Vatican II there has been some relaxation towards local cultures. Before that of course since the Catholic Church was

universal with a myriad of cultures the Roman culture (Latin et al) was used to have a common bond for all Catholics even though Latin for that matter was not even the official language of Italy. I for one feel that if we culturally do a welcome dance it would look good and strike a chord in us. We are not dancing to a pagan god/goddess but to the Lord and Master of our lives and our Supreme Creator God the Father as we know him of the bible!

In New Zealand for e.g. before a major mass the Maori Haere Mae Welcome is sung by a Maori female - something that is done to welcome a visiting dignitary to a marae or meeting house.

To the rest of the Konkani Catholics group - any ideas to add? Ron Porob December 11, 2005  

The moderator did not moderate the discussion by pointing out either that “Liturgical Dancing” is not permissible at Holy Mass or that Bharatanatyam is a Hindu temple dance.


My letter of February 6, 2006, which was posted in Konkani Catholics

Hi, KCs, I am about 2 months behind in [some of my] correspondence as you can see. I do not know if this discussion progressed as: [1] I have still over 200 more emails to check out; [2] many mails to me had bounced [due to a long computer failure, boxes full etc].

I may find other responses in due course, but I just want to inform Deepak and all of you that in my studies and write-ups on different aspects of Inculturation, the aspect of worship through use of Indian dance forms is yet to be taken up by me. However, I have been collecting information on the subject in preparation for that article. [And I would welcome more].
For the moment all I can say is that in the name of Inculturation, a lot of liturgical abuse is taking place, and one area is dance during the Eucharistic celebration.

Another thing that I can boldly state in this forum is that Bharatanatyam is not a dance form that can be used by Catholics, not at Mass, not even before or after Mass, not ever.

If anyone knows Fr. Jerry Sequeira SVD* who used to excel in these temple dances and finally gave them up and founded the Divine Call Centre, Mulki, he will understand the issue better. Just last month there was a deliverance case at a charismatic programme in Chennai where the evil spirit was a manifestation of Bharatanatyam**.
Michael Prabhu, Metamorphose Ministries, Chennai *See pages 21, 142, 143 **See pages 21, 107 ff.
PS. Deepak, I am greatly impressed by your concern and interest in such issues.
In December 2010, I wrote to the moderators of Konkani Catholics [I had unsubscribed from membership in July 2010 because of an increase in the posting of uncorrected New Age errors] concerning the December 2005 post in the forum, but I did not receive a response

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