Dancing for Joy | Gaudete Sunday 2018

Today our churches will be a riot of rose vestments, incense and music, but very few, I suspect, will be filled with dancing. Catholics don’t do that sort of thing, except perhaps in parts of Africa where dance is intrinsic to the local culture. In the West, liturgical dance tends to be something of an embarrassment. It conjures up visions of middle-aged persons executing vague swoops and dives to the accompaniment of drums and guitars: a kind of church-goers’ Strictly without the glitz. In Spain, they take a more relaxed attitude: As Henri Pirenne remarked, ‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees’. That certainly applies to Seville, the city of dance. Those who have witnessed the beautiful Baile de los Seises, that strange, slow dance  of the choristers before the altar of the cathedral, will have been told how hard-won their privilege is. In the seventeenth century the Vatican took seventeen years to agree that the ancient dance might continue, but only ‘for as long as the choristers’ clothes do not wear out’. Of course, they never have. A patch here, an addition there, new shoes or breeches now and then; so the dance goes on.

It is important that the dance should go on because it symbolizes much more than may be apparent at first glance. One of today’s Mass readings, Zephaniah 3.14–18, provides us with an unforgettable image of God dancing for joy over his children. We can identify with David, dancing for joy as the Ark of the Covenant is brought back to Jerusalem, but God dancing for joy over us! That is a joy to fill the whole of creation. As this last week of Advent begins, we rejoice at the nearness of our God, but only because he has first rejoiced over us:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a victorious warrior.
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you
as on a day of festival.

This is the Wisdom from on high whom we shall invoke in tomorrow’s ‘O’ antiphon, the God of infinite power and love who reaches from end to end of the universe, who will teach us the way of truth — and whose joyful dance will never end.

O antiphons:
For texts, translations and music of the ‘O’ antiphons, beginning on 17 December, please see http://www.benedictinenuns.org.uk/Additions/Additions/advent.html (Flash needed for the audio).


3 thoughts on “Dancing for Joy | Gaudete Sunday 2018”

  1. I had the privilege of being a member of a semi-professional dance company during the mid-late 1970’s. We had a very good teacher/director who choreographed beautiful and intelligent liturgical dances that we performed at her church. They were set to very fine anthems. Also, at that time, our parish St. Michael’s and All Angels, Dallas, Tx, staged a performance of Handel’s “Saul” oratorio. Our dance company provided all of the dancing in that production—-again, much as in any opera, the dance/choreography enhancing the music and the drama of the scene. But, yes, I agree, most liturgical dance is simply awful. However, your blog tripped these wonderful memories for me. Thank you and a happy Gaudete Sunday!

  2. My 6-year-old asked me the other day why dancing is forbidden in church. It turned out she had read something about it being forbidden in Puritan times and hadn’t realised this was a historical reference, but then of course the question was, “But why does no one dance in church, Mummy?” I told her that some people do, not usually people in our church but there was no reason why they shouldn’t, and that she used to dance to the hymns when she was younger and was welcome to do so again if she wanted to. On Sunday I glanced round during the last hymn and was very happy to see her dancing in the aisle.

Comments are closed.