March 1980 Print

Bring on the Dancing Girls

Michael Davies

This article is one of the chapters in Mr. Davies's Pope Paul's New Mass, which will be published by the Angelus Press in the near future. It should be available for purchase by early summer, 1980.

The 14 September 1979 issue of The Universe (London) included a letter from an indignant reader who had been present at what was described as a "Caribbean Mass" in the Church of St. Mary of the Angels, Bayswater—once the Church of Cardinal Manning. The chief concelebrant was Cardinal Hume and another concelebrant was Bishop Konstant, the bishop directly responsible for the parish. The reader complained that: "I was both shocked and disgusted by the sensuality, and exhibitionism displayed by the dancers, especially immediately after Holy Communion during the period of recollection. The couple were allowed to dance before the tabernacle as blatantly as if they were in a disco."

On 19 October 1979 a reply appeared in The Universe from the Secretary of the Liturgy Committee of St. Mary of the Angels, an elderly lady who enthuses over everything that is considered "progressive." She explained that David had danced before the Ark; that Ethiopians had a tradition of body worship; and in any case there was no protest from either Cardinal Hume or Bishop Konstant. The failure of these prelates to protest does not, as the zealous secretary infers, prove that the dance was unobjectionable but rather that they failed in their duty. They are typical of the bishops castigated by Dietrich von Hildebrand in the first chapter of The Devastated Vineyard, bishops who: "... make no use whatsoever of their authority when it comes to intervening against heretical theologians or priests, or against blasphemous performances of public worship. They either close their eyes and try, ostrich-style to ignore the grievous abuses as well as appeals to their duty to intervene or they fear to be attacked by the press or the mass media and defamed as reactionary, narrow-minded, or medieval. They fear men more than God."1 (My emphasis.)

Dancing is now very much de rigueur for the truly "with-it" liturgy, which is not at all surprising. Once the Mass is envisaged as a form of entertainment, in practice if not in theory, those responsible for keeping the audience amused have no alternative but to introduce an ever-changing series of gimmicks. Any novelty has at least a transitory interest, if only as a contrast with what went before. Thus the use of the vernacular, offertory processions, lay readers, guitars, pop tunes, non-liturgical readings, audiovisual effects, dramatizations, Protestant preachers, Communion in the hand, Communion under both kinds, and improvised Eucharistic Prayers all gave an initial impression of progress, vitality, and excitement—but soon become routine. Now dancing has been introduced to stimulate a few spasmodic jerks in the corpse of the Roman Rite.

Spotlight of 9 May 1977 carried a report of a "Lenten Dance" which had taken place in St. Joachim's Church, Costa Mesa, California on 2 April. It was performed by Father Rod Stephens wearing a black singlet and jeans and "an unidentified young female" in a black leotard and tights. The photograph accompanying the report is both significant and symbolic. Father Rod and his female companion are shown cavorting in the sanctuary before an altar which consists of a table with a white cloth draped over it and not so much as a crucifix, let alone a tabernacle. This is the Cult of Man with a vengeance; God has been banished from His sanctuary to be replaced by amateur theatricals. A visitor to the church of St. Joachim could well remark with Mary Magdalen that the Lord had been taken away and she knew not where to find him: "Quia tulerunt Dominum meum, et nescio ubi posuerunt eum" (John 20:13).

It should not be imagined that Father Rod is an isolated crank. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City has a "liturgical dance company" in residence presided over by one Ms. Carla de Sola who has the following message for us:

I pray that everyone, sitting cramped inside a pew, body lifeless, spine sagging and suffering, weary with weight and deadness, will be given space in which to breathe and move, will be wooed to worship with beauty and stillness, song and dance—dance charged with life, dance that lifts up both body and spirit, and we will be a holy, dancing, loving, and praising people.2

The Liturgical Conference of the American Bishops has published a book of 169 pages entitled The Spirit Moves containing the further thoughts of Ms. de Sola upon this theme. Those who would like to read up the topic in even more detail can obtain Dance for the Lord by Father Lucien Deiss and Ms. Gloria Weyman. Ms. Weyman, it appears, is "widely known as an authority and choreographer in the field of liturgical dance." This is somewhat surprising as there is no place for dancing, liturgical or otherwise, within the Catholic liturgy—it is not mentioned in the rubrics of the Novus Ordo Missae. Ms. Weyman is, therefore, widely known as an authority on something that does not exist. We may soon be hearing of widely known authorities on eight-legged insects or pigs that fly. However, although there is no provision for liturgical dancing within the rubrics of the New Missal it is clear that within the United States it is not simply tolerated but encouraged—hence the publication of Ms. Weyman's book by a body invested with the authority of the American episcopate. This adds substance to the claim by James E. Twyman that "the bishops in the United States established their own separate American National Church."3

Ms. Weyman has many suggestions to make regarding the liturgical dances which now clearly form part of the official worship of the American National Church. She even goes into detail regarding costumes:

A variation of the long "angel robe" can be created by wearing a knee-length "angel robe" with tights. This would be especially good for dances which require more leg movement and intricate footwork.

Several other possibilities for costuming involve tights and leotards worn with a contrasting tunic or draped "Grecian-style" with many yards of chiffon. Knee-length or long skirts with leotard tops or blouses would also be appropriate, as would long or short dresses which allow for freedom of movement.

Please note that it would be inappropriate to use a long costume when the dance being done requires a good deal of leg movement. Common sense is the best guide.

For the male dancers, one suggestion is dark pants with a contrasting turtleneck top (perhaps jersey, the same color as the girls' costumes). Other appropriate shirts or sweaters could also be worn.4

It requires a concentrated effort of the will to accept that these are tantamount to rubrics for the celebration of Holy Mass and not hints for an amateur theatrical group. The Mass has indeed been debased to the level of a piece of entertainment intended to amuse an audience, and all with the encouragement of the American hierarchy.

Much of the propaganda in favor of liturgical dance cites Psalm 150 and a few other Old Testament texts. Thus Ms. Weyman informs us that: "For too long we have prayed, 'Let us praise the Lord with dancing' (Ps. 150), and we have not danced. Let us dance for the Lord. Let us praise him with our prayer of dance."5

Father Joseph M. Champlin is one of the most voluble spokesmen for the liturgical revolution in the U.S.A. He even goes to the extent of misleading his readers in order to minimize opposition to the latest liturgical gimmick. Thus he withheld the fact that the instruction Memoriale Domini condemned the abuse of Communion in the hand and upheld the traditional practice; and he assured his readers that drinking from a common chalice presents virtually no danger to their health.

In an article published in the Joliet Catholic Explorer on 13 April 1979, Father Champlin has scoured the Old Testament for texts which can serve as an excuse for dancing during the celebration of Mass. He evidently presumed that his readers will overlook the fact that ours is the religion of the New Testament, that the Mass is the Sacrifice of this New and Eternal Testament. Even if liturgical dancing had been a feature of Old Testament worship there would be no more justification for introducing it into the Catholic liturgy than there would to require our priests to blow blasts on rams' horns, Catholic men to cover their heads in Church, or to have altars built at the entrances of our churches for the offering of whole burnt offerings (holocausts). Fr. Champlin would certainly not care to cite the Old (or the New) Testament with respect to the question of women reading and performing various ministerial functions during the liturgy. However, Father Champlin is misleading his readers yet again by giving the impression that there was a place for dancing with the Jewish liturgy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dancing formed no part of the prescribed ritual for Jewish worship in either the Temple or the synagogue. There is thus no precedent whatsoever for liturgical dancing within the official worship of either the Old or the New Testament.

It is worth examining the texts Father Champlin quotes as an example of the lengths to which liturgical revolutionaries will go to mitigate opposition to their eccentricities. His article is entitled Dancing Before the Lord and begins by citing Exodus 15:20. This is not a liturgical dance but a spontaneous outburst of exultation common to primitive peoples upon the destruction of their enemy, i. e. a war dance! The verses in question, referring to the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, read (in the translation cited by Father Champlin):

The prophetess Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, while all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing; and she led them in the refrain: "Sing to the Lord, for he is triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea."

Believe it or not, basing himself solely upon this single instance of the one word "dancing," Father Champlin solemnly informs his readers that there was a tradition of dance in Jewish worship: "That tradition of dance as part of Jewish worship continued in their history." He then cites Judges 21:21 (he could also have referred to I Kings 18:6) and refers to II Kings 6:14-16 where David leapt and danced before the Lord. This is no more than an isolated instance of a spontaneous outburst by an individual which could scarcely have been less liturgical. Indeed, David was rebuked for it by Michol, the daughter of Saul, who said: "How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself before the handmaids of his servants, and was naked, as if one of the buffoons should be naked." (I can seriously envisage a day in the not too distant future when Father Champlin will be citing this text to justify nude or semi-nude dancing in the sanctuary explaining that the human body is God's most beautiful creation and that evil lies in the eye of the beholder, etc. etc. When the gimmick of dancing in the sanctuary loses its novelty this seems the only logical direction in which liturgical gimmickry can go.)

The use Father Champlin makes of his next quotation is a fitting epitomization of the intellectual bankruptcy of the liturgical revolutionaries who never miss an opportunity of stressing their own alleged scholarship and the ignorance of traditionalists. Fr. Champlin cites Ecclesiastes 3:4, and has the temerity to claim that this demonstrates Old Testament approval for liturgical dance:

We can see how the Old Testament writers viewed dancing as an appropriate expression of joy and praise by its juxtaposition in the following quotation from a famous section of Ecclesiastes: "A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."

This must surely represent fatuousness at its most absolute. If this text gives a mandate for liturgical dancing it also gives it for liturgical laughing and liturgical weeping. Father Champlin's misuse of this text is refuted in the first verse of the same chapter: "Omnia tempus habent"—"All things have their season." There is indeed a place and time for dancing (though not all dancing as some contemporary forms are not compatible with Catholicism); this time and place is certainly not during the celebration of Mass.

Father Joseph M. Champlin is willing to go to any lengths to prove either his own ignorance or the contempt he has for the ordinary Catholic. Unfortunately, as I have already pointed out, the ordinary Catholic is, like the proverbial "man in the street," uncritical by nature. He will accept at its face value the opinion of a priest presented to him by a Catholic newspaper as a reputable scholar.

Father Champlin. then writes: "Psalm 149 takes this tradition of joyful dancing—both within and outside of a liturgical context—and makes it into something of a command or a directive: 'Sing to the Lord a new song of praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in their maker, let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name in the festive dance, let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp." (My emphasis.)

Yes, believe it or not, Father Champlin claims to have established that a tradition of dancing within a liturgical context existed within the Old Testament upon the basis of four, I repeat, four texts not one of which contains a shred of evidence to indicate that dancing formed a part of the Jewish liturgy—which is hardly surprising as it certainly did not. Father Champlin then goes on to imply that Psalm 149 commands us to dance in the liturgy! I realize this sounds so incredible that some readers will refuse to believe that any Catholic priest could be responsible for such nonsense and conclude that I bear Father Joseph M. Champlin some deep-seated grudge and have fabricated all the quotations attributed to him. I can only repeat that this article really did appear in the Joliet Catholic Explorer on Friday, 13 April 1979, and that anyone taking the trouble to verify this will find that Father Joseph M. Champlin really did write what I allege him to have written; and what he has written so far is a model of scholarly objectivity when compared to what follows. Father Joseph M. Champlin solemnly informs us that: "Dancing in the liturgy certainly has not been a common element of Roman Catholic worship in the past century." It most certainly has not! Now what can the reader possibly be expected to conclude from this statement except that dancing was a common element in Roman Catholic worship prior to a century ago and that for some reason, during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, who was elected in 1878, this laudable and salutary practice was suppressed? The truth is that dancing has never been a common or uncommon element in the worship of the Roman Catholic Church or any other Apostolic Church which exists or has existed anywhere in the world.6

Father Champlin continues: "However, we hear or read of more and more occasions at which interpretative dance is now finding its way into worship." The only possible interpretation of this passage is that because dancing is taking place during the Mass it is legitimate for dancing to take place during the Mass. Using the same reasoning process one must conclude that it is legitimate for the celebrant to appear vested as a clown, to mutilate the words of consecration, to drive down the aisle in a Volkswagen. Yes, Father Champlin, we certainly do hear or read of more and more cases of dancing in the liturgy just as we heard of more and more cases of Communion being given in the hand, distributed by laymen, or given under both kinds. And what was the result? These abuses were first tolerated and then legalized and there is no reason to suppose that the same sequence will not occur with the scandalous abuse of dancing in the sanctuary. Indeed, the abuse has already been given official approval in the American National Church. Father Joseph M. Champlin himself testifies to this. He continues:

Our American bishops have given a stamp of approval to the concept in their booklet, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. Paragraph 59 contains this reference: "Processions and interpretations through bodily movement (dance) can become meaningful parts of the liturgical celebrations if done by truly competent persons in a manner that befits the total liturgical action." It adds that "there should be concern for the quality, the gracefulness, and the surety of this movement." Thus, the very same bishops who will go to the most extraordinary lengths to hound from his parish any priest who dares to say the Mass he was ordained to offer, a Mass which represents the accumulated wisdom and spirituality of two millennia, describe an act of calculated rebellion against the authority of the Holy See and two millennia of Catholic tradition as "meaningful parts of the liturgical celebration."

Father Joseph M. Champlin certainly cannot be accused of preaching what he does not practice. On 1 April 1979 (can the date be purely coincidental?) he instigated his personal act of defiance against the Holy See and Catholic tradition. This, in the "Newspeak" of the liturgical revolutionaries, is described as "a pioneering breakthrough"!

Last Sunday, in a pioneering breakthrough for our parish, two junior high school ballet dancers developed what they termed a liturgical expression of thanksgiving after Communion.

With "Day by Day" from a record piped through our public address system as accompaniment, the girls truly danced before the Lord. They had choreographed this on their own and executed the movement with great seriousness and reverence.

The congregation was absolutely still. I also detected tears here and there from persons moved by the event. At the conclusion, spontaneous applause broke out, a sign at Holy Family Parish that people both approved and had been touched spiritually by this experience.

The congregation at the Paulist Center, Boston, applauded the antics of the liturgical clowns (see The Angelus, January, 1979). In fact, it seems hard to imagine any liturgical abomination or aberration that would not be applauded today by a Catholic population which has been led by its pastors not simply to repudiate but to abominate its traditions.

Father Michael Richards, Editor of England's Clergy Review, commented in the editorial of his April 1975 issue that the Mass in England has descended to the level of "the bingo hall, the quiz programme, and the lucky dip." He added: "I have often thought, but hesitated to believe, that many of those set over us take their public for fools. Now I begin to believe it. And I shall share their view if the Catholic public accepts this nonsense for much longer."


1. D. von Hildebrand, The Devastated Vineyard (Chicago, 1973), p. 3.

2. 1977 Summer and Fall Booklist of the Liturgical Conference of the Bishops of the U. S. A.

3. The Remnant, 30 June 1979, p. 16.

4. Aids in Ministry, Fall 1977, p. 11.

5. Ibid.

6. A local exception is that of the boy dancers in the Cathedral of Seville who do not really dance but processed around the sanctuary in a stately and dignified manner. Permission was given for this to take place as long as the costumes originally used lasted. The costumes have been constantly repaired and so the "dance" endures to this day unless it has been suppressed by the Conciliar Church for the crime of having a tradition of centuries behind it.