Saturday, December 30, 2006

Liturgical dance smackdown, Benedict style

Yes, I'm still making my way through The Spirit of the Liturgy - having three-fourths of the household down with a cold (including myself) kinda slows things down a tad. Despite my now particularly plodding pace, I just had to share this, well, smackdown on liturgical dancing. I'm particularly struck by the attitude of near disgust with the idea - I can't find a single positive thing he has to say about the subject. Having not been subjected to such a display personally, I can't say I have a hardened position on the issue, but it certainly doesn't seem like something that makes one bit of sense in a Christian liturgy. And the fact that its great entrance was made by Gnostics, well, that doesn't speak well of it at all.

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liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.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.
One can make a small step from what he has said here and extrapolate out that much the same conclusion can be made for many of the "modern" changes to the liturgy to make it more "attractive" to the parishioners. You know, the ones that were too stupid before to read their Missal and understand what was going on are now still so stupid that we have to entertain them because we don't want mystery to get in the way of a good show. Ludicrous. Positively ludicrous.