The end of liturgical dance

From a friend:

“If you deliver the Ammonites into my power,” he said, “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites shall belong to the LORD. I shall offer him up as a burnt offering.” … When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah, it was his daughter who came forth, playing the tambourines and dancing…. At the end of the two months she returned to her father, who did to her as he had vowed.– Judges 11


Thus endeth the lesson.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. becket1 says:

    This won’t make Cardinal Mahony happy if it is true. The whole LA Archdiocese may have to convert to Episcopalianism or the ELCA.

  2. Lori Ehrman says:

    Actually, the visual of liturgical dancers as burnt offerings is scary.

  3. Here’s another way to undermine liturgical dancing!

    An Invitation to Life Teen President Randy Raus to join the Pope’s ‘kneeling crusade’. [kneeling Catholics can’t dance!]


  4. taximom says:

    There was a liturgical dancer at the Baccalaureate Mass when my daughter graduated from a prominent Catholic High School in San Diego. The Mass was at St. Gregory the Great Church in Scripps Ranch. It was an older lady in a long, flowing tunic, and she held a brazier full of incense while she ‘danced’ her way into the church, preceding the priest. She danced during Consecration, and of course at the end. I have it all on tape, although I haven’t found the courage to subject myself to viewing that again. We have been turned off by such practices to the point that we are considering a public high school for our son. He has a solid Catholic foundation at home and at our great, traditional parish.

  5. Agnes says:

    So Jephthah actually got it right, huh?


  6. moon1234 says:

    I never should have watched Apocolypto. Judges just took on a whole new meaning. I can see now lucky we are to be born now and also how we should be careful how we pray and what we pray for.

  7. This is a very tough lesson of detachment in order to follow a vow to God.

  8. gloriainexcelsis says:

    A cousin-in-law, a nun for 60+ years, when I tried to talk to her about liturgical abuse, extolled the chairs encircling the “table,” and the fact that she and her other retired “sisters” often performed liturgical dance during Mass. The visual image I had of these 70year (and older) nuns floating (?) around like vestal virgins gave me a headache. I know that students from my old alma mater, once a wonderful Catholic (truly) women’s college, are thrilled to carry aloft bowls of incense and dance for Cardinal Mahony. How long, O Lord, how long?

  9. Warren says:

    Excellent proof texting, Father.

    I’ve felt elated at times due to graces received from the Lord, and my step increases in height a wee bit. But I shall not dance at Mass. If people really want to dance, let ’em dance – but not during Mass. Nothing wrong with dancing – after all, we’re not puritans.

    As for aged nuns dancing – as one elderly monsignor in our diocese once said to me, there are some cues, like retirement, that should not be missed. In this instance, the good sisters have missed their cue.

    Ugh,… sashaying up the aisle and wafting the altar with bowls of incense. Thankfully, our rector of several years and new bishop have put an end to most of that sort of weirdness (brick by brick). For years that kind of parade happened in the cathedral and despite being a very liberal diocese at the time, no one was comfortable with scantily clad divas prancing around. It would seem that even heretics had a sense of decorum when it came to dance-wear.

  10. Catholicity says:

    When we read this at Mass last week, I was grasping for the meaning, so thank you for the clarification.

    I was thinking maybe it had something to do with not saying stupid things when making vows to God, or something along that line.

    Or maybe his daughter was always the one who came and greeted him at the door when he returned, and he just…didn’t…like her.

  11. Father, not just dancing but dancing with tambourines!

  12. irishgirl says:

    Very sharp observation on the part of your friend, Fr. Z!

    The thought of aging ‘sisters’ doing liturigal dance is enough to make me cringe!

    The only time I ever saw liturgical dancers was back in my ‘young and stupid days’ when I sang in a parish choir [lots of stuff by Weston Priory, Haugen, etc.]. In 1983 one of the St. Louis Jesuits came to do a concert at the local performing arts center [used to be an ornate movie theater]. I participated as a part of a choir from area parishes. There was a woman who was listed as a Franciscan ‘sister’ and a member of a troupe of liturgical dancers. One of the last songs we did was a number called, ‘Lift Up Your Hearts to the Lord’, and it had a beat to it. So, from where I was standing on the stage, and trying to look out to the audience through the bright glare of the lights, I saw this woman ‘floating’ and ‘swirling’ around in front of us. Good thing I couldn’t see very much…the thought of it now makes me say ‘UGH”!

  13. pseudomodo says:

    Were they GLAD tambourines? Did they let thier trumpets sound?

  14. Mariana says:

    I’m profoundly grateful never even to have SEEN a liturgical dance. Sounds perfectly horrible!

  15. William A. Anderson says:

    But Jephthah did not offer his daughter as literal “burnt” offering — at least according to the commentary that I have read on the subject. Rather, she was probably dedicated to a celibate life in the temple — a very great sacrifice for Jephthah, terminating his line of descent, since his daughter was his only child and had never known man. The book of Judges does not tell us whether Jephthah’s daughter carried on with her terpsichorean ways while in the Lord’s service at His temple.

  16. Rachel says:

    The book of Judges records a time when the Israelites were especially prone to idolatry and immorality. There are some shocking stories in there. The author of Judges never helps us out by saying, “And of course God disapproved of this.” He just gives the facts. The closest thing there is to commentary is the repeated refrain, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

    So I’m inclined to see the Jephthah story as another illustration of how bad things had gotten. It couldn’t have been anything but sinful for Jephthah to murder his daughter. God hates human sacrifice, and a vow to commit sin is null and void, just as wedding vows are null and void if you’re already married to someone else.

    I think it’s a bad idea to have that story in the lectionary when it’s so hard to understand the point of it unless the priest explains. But I like the interpretation given here– that it was a stern warning against liturgical dance. :)

  17. Paula says:

    Thanks, pseudomodo–now “Sing a New Song Unto the Lord” is stuck in my head. Sigh…

  18. Agnes says:

    Fr. Marie-Paul, the homily I heard recently on this reading described Jephthah as far afield in his discernment, being influenced by the pagan religions surrounding Israel that sacrificed their children. It’s a very different story than that of Abraham and Isaac – Abraham responded in obedience to God’s command. Jephthah, in the attempt to strike a bargain with God, took the initiative himself.

  19. Agnes says:

    But if it were in response to liturgical dancing, it was probably OK. :-/

  20. Richard says:

    I would interpret the story to mean that healthy, happy young women should avoid male family members who because of their religious fanatacism think their own actions can manipulate God. God does not make deals and His actions (i.e., delivering the Ammonites, turning a hurricaine away from a city, etc.) are not compelled by human acts.

  21. Jordanes says:

    I was tickled by this bit of humor from Fr. Zuhlsdorf (and from Fr. Richtsteig). A few have asked more serious questions about the Jephthah story, however. Back in June there was a serious exploration of that story at Dave Armstrong’s “Biblical Evidence for Catholicism” site. Here’s the link:

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