Romans 12, Liturgical Dance and the Collision between Liturgy and the Theology of the Laity

First things first. I think liturgical dance is a Bad Idea for the basic reasons given by some of my commenters: it’s not part of American culture, it will mostly be ridiculous, it distracts from, rather than adds, to the focus on Christ and often becomes a way for a small coterie of people to wrench the Mass toward being about Them.

That said, I also think I can see how these things happen, and I don’t think it’s wise for Catholics who oppose liturgical dance to approach advocates of it as though they are devils in human form bent on the destruction of all that’s good and holy, nor to see pastors who sign off on this as monsters of iniquity.

Here, for instance is the text of the bulletin from Holy Family in Stow Ohio:

Soul to Sole – Leaven Dance company and the Akron Area Arts Alliance present: Summer Arts Camp. These workshops utilize movement as a path to self-discovery and growth. See the flyers in back of church for more info.

What the Leaven Dance Company? It’s something run by parishioner Kathryn Mihelek. Is she a fiend dedicated to the eradication of the Holy Faith? I doubt it. From what I can tell, she’s a *gifted* (note that word) and trained dancer–not a theologian–who is trying to figure out a way to do what Paul said in Romans 12:

For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

And her pastor, probably quite creditably, is trying to give her a way to do that. That’s usually how these things happen. For indeed, the role of governance in Catholic theology is to call forth the gifts of the members of the Body of Christ.

Now, there are other ways to employ one’s gifts as a lay person than in the sanctuary. Indeed, it is a mark of clericalism to think that the only *true* forum for our gifts as laity is to somehow lug them into the liturgy. I’m a pretty good public speaker, but I’m not being “held down” if my priest does not allow me to shove him aside and give the homily. My gifts, like Kathryn’s, should be employed in the world for the glory of God, not in the sanctuary.

But she (and her priest) don’t necessarily know that and she may be trying, however wrongheadedly, to glorify God. It might be wiser for Catholics concerned about liturgical dancers to *affirm* what can be affirmed first, and to direct lay gift toward their proper sphere in the world, rather than to freak out and treat laypeople who are trying to give their gifts as though they are subversive vermin who hate the Faith. Never attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained by ignorance.