|SEE INDEX ON PAGES 132, 133 JANUARY/MARCH/MAY 2011
Bharatanatyam Dancing in the Church: Liturgical Abuse
and Hindu-isation of the Liturgy
On this ministry’s web site, there is already a larger 158-page report with the title
LITURGICAL ABUSE - DANCING AND BHARATANATYAM IN THE MASS
This article is simply a modification of the larger one, omitting certain sections, for example
(i) the first 15 pages that examine the Church’s stand on all forms of dancing in the Liturgy;
(ii) all information on dancing in church not concerned with Bharatanatyam dancing.
The idea behind my having this slightly shorter modified article is to focus on the scourge of Bharatanatyam dancing and its major proponents -- priests, Catholic institutions and laity.
As the title of this article indicates, and as we saw in the first 15 pages of the above-mentioned larger report, recital of Bharatanatyam at Mass is an aberration, a Liturgical abuse; performing it outside of Mass but at the altar or in the sanctuary of the church is also forbidden.
All of the information in this article is related to Catholics who are exponents of Bharatanatyam, and we will see that the information, all of it from Catholic sources, is more than sufficient to prove not only that Bharatanatyam is a Hindu temple dance form and not an Indian art or culture form as is claimed by its Catholic protagonists, but also that it potentially exposes its followers to the malevolent influences of Hindu deities.
A broader, more inclusive title for this article would have used “Hindu-isation of the Church” and not simply “Hindu-isation of the Liturgy”, because Bharatanatyam is being performed -- and taught -- by an increasing number of young Catholic women, encouraged by their families and by their priests, and because Bharatanatyam is part of the curriculum in Catholic educational institutions.
There are well-recognized, State-affiliated Catholic institutes that offer all levels of courses in this and other “Indian” dance forms. Little girls get into Bharatanatyam in their convent schools or later in their Catholic colleges where they may be available as extra-curricular activities. I have even met a young seminarian whose passion for Bharatanatyam is so great that it’s all that he talks about.
And to top it all, when these Bharatanatyam artistes perform in public, it is as often in Catholic halls as it is in temples. The faithful, like mindless, misguided sheep fill the seats, while the front rows are occupied by nuns who know little better than to follow the priests and bishops who felicitate the dancers on stages that have the regulation Hindu oil lamp lit by the highest-ranking dignitary present under the sign of the “OM” of Shiva and flanked by idols of Nataraja [the dancing aspect of Shiva], Ganapati [Ganesha], Saraswati and others. And they still maintain that it is art and culture!
I first summarize what I have learnt from priests, Bishops and Cardinals and our present Pope about dance in church and about dance in the Liturgy on pages 1 through 13 of the larger report:
DANCE IN THE CHURCH, DANCE IN THE LITURGY, AND DANCING BY PRIESTS
The tradition of the Latin Church has not known the dance.
Religious dance in church conduces little to worship and it could degenerate into disorders.
Dance of any kind must always take place outside of liturgical services at a time and place where they are not considered liturgical celebrations. It can never, under any circumstances, take place in the sanctuary of the church.
Priests must always be excluded from the dance.
There has never been a document from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments saying that dance is approved in the Mass.
Liturgical dance is not expressly mentioned in the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum.
Liturgical dancing can find no place in the celebration of holy Mass and the sacraments.
Liturgical dance can be included in the overall prohibition on introducing elements not contemplated by the liturgical books.
Proponents of liturgical dance say we're made to worship God in body, soul, and spirit -- with our whole being. But with liturgical dance, people's minds are fragmented by the attention they pay to the "performers." Liturgical dance becomes a distraction, an act of sensory stimulation. Hence, liturgical dance undermines the primordial objective in true worship of God: To adore and place our whole being before Him who transcends our human existence.
Modern liturgical dance, like the Gnostic-Docetist attempts of old, detracts from the heart of the Mass, which is the sacrifice of Christ, the sacrifice of the cross. Modern man will do anything and everything to escape the cross and replace its pain with something soothing, something pleasurable to the senses.
By the spectacle of liturgical dancers, the symbolism of the priest acting in persona Christi is diminished. If you diminish the priest, you diminish the importance of Jesus Christ.
“Most dances draw attention to the performers and offer enjoyment”- Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
“Some priests and lay people think that Mass is never complete without dance. The difficulty is this: we come to Mass primarily to adore God -- what we call the vertical dimension. We do not come to Mass to entertain one another. That's not the purpose of Mass. The parish hall is for that. Most dances that are staged during Mass should have been done in the parish hall. And some of them are not even suitable for the parish hall. I saw in one place -- I will not tell you where -- where they staged a dance during Mass, and that dance was offensive. It broke the rules of moral theology and modesty. Those who arranged it -- they should have had their heads washed with a bucket of holy water! Why make the people of God suffer so much? Haven't we enough problems already? Only Sunday, one hour, they come to adore God. And you bring a dance! Are you so poor you have nothing else to bring us? Shame on you! That's how I feel about it”- Cardinal Francis Arinze
“Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. None of the Christian rites includes dancing”- Pope Benedict XVI
“It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy "attractive" by introducing dancing”- Pope Benedict XVI
INDIGENOUS DANCING AS INCULTURATION?
Most of the Catholic references provided by me in those 15 pages concern Liturgical dance or secular Western dance in the Latin Rite Church in the Western world.
However when it came to discussing such dances in the wider Church in respect of Africa and Asia with their indigenous religious and cultural traditions, the inevitable topic of “inculturation” surfaced. The issue immediately becomes sensitive and controversial.
Cardinal Arinze spoke about religious dances that are native to the African and Asian continents, see page 4, and which have been permitted on occasion, but only “as exceptions”:
“In some countries, in a legitimate form of "inculturation" of the Liturgy in these regions, ritual dance has been introduced into several papal liturgies in recent years -- on occasions usually connected with African or Asian culture. These are special exceptions”- Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
With few exceptions, the Holy See has said "no" to liturgical dance.
Even in these exceptions, “Liturgical dance should never dominate or overwhelm the celebration of the Eucharist. It must be tasteful, and must always lead us to deeper prayer and reflection. If liturgical dance leads to applause by the participants, then it failed”- Cardinal Roger Mahony
Though the Second Vatican calls for a healthy inculturation in matters liturgical, in such an inculturation one must be faithful to the major Church documents that give directives on how this inculturation is to be made. They are Sacrosanctum Concilium, 37-40, the 1994 Instruction: Roman Liturgy and Inculturation, and Chapter IX of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments warned the bishops of Asia against liturgical "idiosyncrasies" and false conceptions of inculturation, in an August 2009 homily at the closing Mass of the plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Manila. He also sounded a cautionary note against liturgical dance.
“Somebody can say, "But the pope visited this country and the people danced". A moment: Did the pope arrange it? Poor Holy Father -- he comes, the people arranged. He does not know what they arranged. And somebody introduces something funny -- is the pope responsible for that? Does that mean it is now approved? Did they put it on the table of the Congregation for Divine Worship? We would throw it out! If people want to dance, they know where to go”- Cardinal Francis Arinze
“The best approach would be to make a clear distinction between liturgical dancing in the West and religious dancing in other cultures in the wider world.
When we turn to the wider Church, beyond the West, we find cultures where traditions of religious dance pre-date evangelization. This is where dancing in worship seems "natural"; hence we should cease calling it "liturgical dancing". It is religious dancing. In these countries in recent decades Christian religious dancing or movement such as swaying, rhythmic clapping, etc., has become well established and it is regulated by the competent authorities, the local Ordinary and the Episcopal conference. But I would underline a major difference between this appropriate inculturation and what happened in the West. This is really religious dance and the people often spontaneously take part in it. This activity does not come under most of the strictures of the 1975 ruling from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Therefore, in 1994 in the Instruction on Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, from the same Congregation, we find that dancing may be incorporated into the liturgy where dance is an inherent part of the culture of the people and is not simply a performance. This activity may even be promoted in places where dancing has a religious meaning compatible with Christianity…
But the same conferences and other authorities have pointed out that even in traditional cultures a blanket approval for all forms of dance during worship must be avoided. Some dances and gestures from pre-Christian traditions relate to cults or worship of false gods, even demons, not to mention the erotic overtones of some dances that would also exclude them from Catholic worship. Borrowing from another religious culture, for example Hinduism, may also raise problems of catechetical confusion or even syncretism.”- Most Rev. Peter John Elliott, Aux. Bishop of Melbourne