Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lord of the Dance

Now, this is shaping up to be a fun discussion.

In my previous post, I expressed utter delight at the praise dancers who carried forth the incense and Book of the Gospels at today's installation in Belleville. As an aside, I snarked at how the cons would condemn the dancers and, as the self-anointed orthodoxy police know no limits, the congregation who applauded.

Lo and behold, the fury has poured itself into my inbox.... I should be surprised?

But let's talk about this as adults, without that trouble-making Lord-impersonator in the room.

Catholics should shudder whenever the universality of the church is marginalized by personal and geographical agendas. There's reason to be particularly skittish when faith is viewed not through a distinctly catholic (i.e. universal) perspective, when it is diluted and objectified by the imposition of a white, Western European cultural mentality onto a global church. This is particularly relevant on the question of liturgical dance and the broader issue of inculturation.

In his homily today, Braxton observed that "No two communities have ever answered the Gospel's question of 'Who do people say that I am?' in the exact same way." And that's a very rich statement. He's answered it by redoing the house.

But, seriously, the sense of the sacred of cultures which are not our own needs to be respected if the full potential of a truly universal church is to be realized in our time. For example, my diocese respects other cultures -- they keep a voodoo doll of me which is treated to daily acupuncture at the office.

Jeff, in his wisdom, asked "If we wonder, with Pope Benedict, whether dance is proper in the liturgy, does that make us vicious in your eyes?"

When one wonders, when one asks, there is no viciousness because there is room for dialogue, respecting the other side and the flexible status of an open question.

But when some -- acting on nothing but xenophobia and their own authority -- aim to close the question and promulgate their own (heterodox) doctrine, that is viciousness, that's anti-Catholicism (in the small "c" sense, too).

While Cardinal Ratzinger expressed a personal opinion on liturgical dance, we would be wise to recall the distinction between what Joseph Ratzinger wrote and said as an academic theologian and his formal pronouncements as prefect of the CDF. The two are not one and the same. Even he has made that clear, and he couldn't have published in his own name as prefect were that line not drawn.

We must remember, too, that we're dealing with a Pope who said in his Installation Homily that "My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church..." In that regard, many would do well to listen to the advice of the church's chief teacher as opposed to flocking to teachers who tickle their ears, like that Mother Spice down Sydneyside who wants to take us back to 1958 and hammer home the difference between black and white.

In our white, Western European milieu, we may not see dance as a sacred act and a manifestation of praise of God's creation. Therefore, it is not appropriate in a whitebread American context. But in Oceania, it is. Among African-Americans, it is. In Hawaii, it is. For Native Americans, it is -- and the list goes on. What's so heterodox about celebrating the power of God within the validity of the norms? Even Chainsaw Frank DiLorenzo -- who got the Holy See to reverse a decision against liturgical hula and routinely wore leis over his chasuble -- has no qualms with it.

I'm not keen to disenfranchise vast swaths of this church, nor denigrate the valid and beautiful cultural contributions they bring to our table. If anyone else is, go ahead -- but just know that ethnocentrism jams the notion of communio into the shredder.

The church is alive, the church is young only when we embrace it with the openness and enthusiasm of life and of youth. And as youth are uniquely keen on discovering, there is a world, and a Church, elsewhere.

As always, the comment board is open. Speak up!



Blogger Jeff said...

Good! I agree with some of what you say, but far from all!

I particularly note the quote from Pope Benedict about not doing his own will as Pope, but listening and doing the will of God in His Church. I take this very seriously and--unlike some--I think he means it deeply, because he is a holy man.

I don't mind being willing to entertain the notion that liturgical dance *might* have some place in the Western Church or that we might be able to find some place for it in future rites. But I think your assumption that it was Western culture that shaped the "non-dance way" is faulty. Why shouldn't it have been that it was Christianity itself that shaped the liturgy and how it was celebrated? After all, all the apostolic churches--from the Assyrians to the Irish--failed to come up with liturgical dance! Yet they all have dancing as part of their culture. Even the Ethiopians have liturgical dance only in the most circumscribed and adumbrated form, some would say not really dance at all. Perhaps it's not a question of culture after all?

In the end, I'll do what the Pope says and support what the norms require. And try to learn from it. Shouldn't others do the same? I'll bow instead of genuflect before Communion if my bishop asks me to. Shouldn't others be willing to forgo their tastes and theories in the interests of universality and obedience as well?

22/6/05 20:57  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

For those who are members of the current Roman Rite (and not the 1962 Rite!), this may be a question more of de gustibus than de legibus . . .

I saw the "Praise Dancers" singing in the Gospel Proclamation - indeed the Gospel Book, which the Roman Rite (once again now, as the Eastern Rite always has) takes to be an icon that participates in some way in communicating the presence of the living Christ in medio ecclesiae. Rocco did well to note that it was the LTP (Liturgy Training Publications of Chicago) Gospel Book, intentionally crafted in an artistic style strikingly different from the editions of the other Catholic publishers, and like the dancers, not everyone's cultural or liturgical or de gustibus cup of tea.

I thought the ritual was fine - as Rocco says, given the context of the local church.

Here's an example of where it is NOT fine (and I speak from some experience): morning Mass in the convent of a Community whose anonymity will be respected, where the median age is well past all common assessments of "middle age," where the physical "body type" of almost all the participants is well past all AMA (American Medical Association) definitions of "obese," and where the graceful habit which, whatever its "sign value," had the practical effect of "covering a multitude of sins," has long since yielded to polyester . . . no matter WHAT your gustibus about liturgical dance and ritual movement, there oughtta be a legibus against THAT!

23/6/05 00:18  
Blogger Gene O'Grady said...

Well, my personal feeling about liturgical dance is that I've seen times when it seemed quite effective and appropriate -- but I'm always kind of surprised when it does.

But I fail to understand the point about dance not falling within "Western European" ideas about the sacred. Please remember that Greek drama was a religious ritual and the chorus that was at the center of it refers to a group of dancers.

In that sort of cultural context I don't find processions, certainly a part of WE religious rites, to be too far from dance. Certainly presenting the book of the candidates to the bishop at the Chrism mass didn't call for me to "dance" like I learned to in 1959, but it did strike me as communal prayer through body movement.

23/6/05 01:17  
Blogger Papabile said...

Gyrovagus makes an interesting, but unrelated point about those who are members "of the Roman Rite (not the 1962 rite)". I think that the liturgists, including the PCED and the CDW and the CDF, much to the consternation of the Traditionalists, have always maintained that the Pauline Rite is actually a simple organic rite that grew out of the Pian Rite.

Now, certainly, many have had problems with how the growth occurred, but they still maintain that it was somehow organic. Hence, the PCED has seen fit to allow the new Calendar to be used in the Pian Rite of 1962. The Traditionalists would call this an 'admixture of rites' as prohibited in Quattuor abhinc annos. Additionally, the PCED has seen fit to sometimes allow the full implementation of 1967's Tres abhinc annos in the 1962 Rite. Also, note that the 65 transitional rite contained the De Defectibus and Quo Primum. This stuff drives some people absolutely crazy. However, it does point to the rites being somehow, but probably not completely naturally, organically connected

23/6/05 09:38  
Blogger Jeff said...

I sometimes find that the notion of a "con" presented by the admirable Rocco is a bit skewed and doesn't reflect the wide and deep discussion and self-reflection that goes in circles that in other circumstances he might himself describe instead with the word "orthodox."

I found this lovely piece by a "con" suggesting that John Paul's "failure" to govern the Church was not a failure at all, but a well-thought-out and prayerful response to present conditions:

23/6/05 12:01  
Blogger Perry Lorenzo said...

There is no way around the fact that liturgical dance is not a part of the european religious, cultural tradition; and the insertion of liturgical dance into the liturgy in the west always has a taste of the artificial at best and the sensual and corrupt at worst. Further, like nudist beaches, the people who do liturgical dance are always the people one doesn't want to see doing liturgical dance. While Michal objected to David dancing naked before the Ark, perhaps if he had really looked like Michelangelo's David she wouldn't have objected.

23/6/05 12:46  
Blogger Gene O'Grady said...

Trying to avoid snark....

In response to Perry Lorenzo, one doesn't go to nude beaches to gawk.

I'm not sure how to take "european religious, cultural tradition," but it strikes me it's either very provincial or wrong. Correct for certain areas in 1950 (hardly a typical year, and I suspect Pius XII, whom I generally admire, was as aware as anyone that it was time for a change), not correct for 1900, probably not correct for the Rome of Bernini.

By the way, I am a physically imposing man with a good voice that I know how to use. It's never occurred to me tht other people should shut so I can be heard.

23/6/05 13:44  
Blogger Richard said...

Hello Rocco,

I think Jeff makes some good points here.

As it happens I had the chance to put this and related question to Cardinal Arinze a few months ago when I had him to myself for a couple hours. Somehow we were talking about inculturation and it just went on from there.

Arinze was puzzled, he said, at the attempt to work such practices into most American churches. Africans have a different, more effusive style of worship, he said, and that has always been the practice. Likewise it made a certain sense for certain immigrant communities which formed most or all of a parish's congregation.

But there wasn't any tradition for it in traditional European or Near Eastern culturally descended churches. I got the sense that what he had in mind were some of the oddities (long since grown into Traddy urban legends) we see now and then such as dsecribed above by Gyrovagus or often indulged in at Mahoney's big Religious Congresses - generally performed or at least organized by whites, specifially...well, white women of a certain age. That what was happening wasn't a laudatory attaempt to account for local cultural traditions of longstanding but someone innovating for the sake of innovating.

The weakness of the Tridentine Church even into this century was the unwillingness to distinguish what was doctrinal from what was cultural, with the result that a very specifically Mediterranean carapace was demanded to cover all liturgies, often to great cost. Yet the Church has always had a certain diversity of traditions on this score. The key as always is to carefully distinguish what fits under that rubric but yet remains doctrinally sound - and is not just liturgical fun and games and novelty for their own sake.

As for Belleville I would only say that I hope the location where the liturgy took place was an African-American or better yet immigrant community where a liturgical practice had an established tradition. If not, it sounds like some liturgist's overindulgence - and a distraction from the true focus of any liturgy.

best regards
Richard Lender

24/6/05 15:05  

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