Just say no to liturgical dance

With a tip of the biretta  o{]:¬) to Patrick Madrid, I share this from Stephen Colbert, as an exemplification of just how ridiculous liturgical dance really is.

Not “can be”… is.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    That Colbert clip has been out for quite some years now and it is hilarious. Everyone gets the joke. Yet still in 2011 in some places for the OF it is still insisted upon, as if in a scolding, angry, embittered way, for, breakfast, lunch, and dinner…at Advent, incessantly. The, again in Lent. Palm Sunday. Numerous other occasions during Ordinary Time. And if it isn’t that exact tune the rest of the Sundays then it is more and more Haugen, as if on a binge.

    It seems that this Colbert clip too is crying out for a Marshall plan to revitalize Catholic identity.

    Boomer-age parents, the ones who still attend Sunday Mass with some regularity, wonder, why is it that my young adult abandoned the faith immediately after having been graduated by the Church with her or his reception of the sacrament of Confirmation? He or she chose and took a new name, to promptly throw it to the wind to forget about the whole idea and proceed as if it never in fact happened. About a decade later with marriage or a child (in whichever order) they may or may not check back in for another go around with a sacrament on occasion. Or not. The few who attempt to live out a life of faith will be left to go it virtually alone and unsupported unless living in urban areas or select universities where there are possibilities for young adults to air their struggles in living out the faith.

    With the new centerpiece of Catholic life offered in the liturgy that evokes the 70s and very little else, what do we really expect young people to do? Do we think they cannot think, do not listen and observe, everything? Possibly, we do not give adequate time and opportunity for them to reflect and consider, to pray. Still it doesn’t seem healthy to deny, in a repressed way, the fact that our young people, in addition to having been scandalized by our pro-choice rhetoric and justifications, that they are, even if they accept all that whole hog, still they are likely living out some form, in a generational sense, of a post-traumatic stress disorder, psychically, spiritually, since millions of their peers did not, depending on someone else’s opinion, make it through, did not live to see the light of day, never made it past the royal flush, unwanted. So our celebration in our irreverent, self-centered worship sends them the message that even as those peers did not matter, though unarguably would have been valued by God, in some sense their existence seems almost arbitrary, certainly vulnerable to the same forces permitted to consume the others who did not make it. So it is very important, towards the young, to pray to God who exists and is living, to be reverent since we can’t always dance and happy clappy it through when some have died amongst us, or are dying, or are mourning, or are struggling, and we honor what others are enduring or suffering in compassion, and if they are able to laugh we laugh with them, to be freed up to listen to the real authority and not the role models who told us some lives were expendable and that should be legal and available more and more. Young people are not stupid and even if no one says much of anything they totally get what has happened and is still going on. The 70s weren’t all great, not perfect, not even superior. At least though that generation was listened to in its time…

  2. yatzer says:

    I saw this a few years ago and played it over and over. It still makes me laugh (and envy Colbert his sense of balance; I tend to fall over.)

  3. Jim Dorchak says:

    I kind of liked the “Can Can” Part.

    Jim Dorchak

  4. The Astronomer says:

    I don’t dare show this to anyone in my NO parish….they would be thrilled and use it as inspiration.


  5. Paul says:

    The Astronomer said, “I don’t dare show this to anyone in my NO parish….they would be thrilled and use it as inspiration.”

    -Exactly- what I was thinking. Still, it is one of my favorite videos to share among like minded people.

  6. frjim4321 says:

    Colbert is just about the smartest person on television.

    This is a great spoof . . . we are left wondering what the context is.

    I have not seen liturgical movement or liturgical dance done well often.

    Frankly I would be just as please to see processions done well . . . more attention on our processions, please. If the energy put into lit. movement and lit. dance were put into improving the processions, we’d be in much better shape.

    Here I beg our servers and lectors not to run up the aisle and not to follow so closely . . . finally I think they’ve got it!

    To me there is no greater master of liturgical movement and the procession as the dear Rev. J-Glenn Murray, SJ. Washington’s gain!!!!!!

  7. AJP says:

    Hilarious! I can’t believe that we don’t see more of this in contemporary comedy. The “spirit of Vatican II” version of Catholicism is screaming out for satire – it is comedy gold and barely anyone touches it. Instead when the Church is depicted in comedic or satirical settings, it’s done as if it is still 1940 on the south side of Chicago. Not very funny for anyone under the age of 50 these days.

  8. avecrux says:

    I have just posted this on Facebook. I especially like my kids to see the ridiculous stuff so they can appreciate what we have now.

    This is the kind of thing – in reality – that drove my brothers from the Church. They used to refer to the Mass as a “Monty Python sketch”… sadly, in the parish where we were raised, we couldn’t help but burst out laughing on many occasions. Then there was the one a few miles away that we called “St. Simon and Garfunkels” (sorry St. Jude). Thanks be to God, I found a better parish when I was old enough to drive.

  9. Liz says:

    One of my favorites!!! One that you literally laugh out loud!

  10. jorgens6 says:

    I can’t sing “king of Glory” at mass without thinking up this clip…then I have to bite my lip so that I don’t crack up!!!!

  11. Jayna says:

    I haven’t been able to sing “King of Glory” at Mass for years because of this clip. I love it.

  12. RichR says:

    My favorite liturgical dance video is this one:



  13. Paul says:

    I like to think myself rather hardened to this sort of thing, but link RichR posted will haunt my dreams.

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    Hilarious! He’s good enough at movement (and tossing out occasional fleeting parodies of pretty well known contemporary dancers) to put it over. The bit from the middle of the Charleston is a hoot!

    Rarely seen any “liturgical” “dancers” manage that well – even allowing for the comic angle.

  15. KAS says:

    LOL! I have managed to be blessed with never being at a Mass where liturgical dance was performed but I was at a non-catholic service once with liturgical dancers and it seemed like ALL the men were a bit slack-jawed and a couple were nearly drooling by the time the pretty ladies gyrated and swayed their way to the altar.

    I am delighted with the wisdom of the Church that it is not permitted and is clearly taught to be a major no-no in our culture where dance is mostly for courtship and interaction between men and women. Belly Dance and Ballroom alike are fun–but have NO place in the Mass.

    I cannot relate to the people for whom no Liturgical dance is a trial. I love to dance but cannot see it at Mass or hear of it suggested without cringing. To borrow a phrase, “it does not compute!”

  16. AnAmericanMother says:

    Classic example of guys who can’t dance being talked into something they KNEW they shouldn’t be doing. Every line of their bodies shouts “I AM EMBARRASSED AT BEING HERE!”
    A local dance troupe here was so desperate for guys that they did Giselle with the male corps in STREET SHOES. Ugh!

  17. I think what I would say to liturgical dancing if I ever had the misfortune to have to witness it would be something like ‘Arrrrrrrrrrgh…pleeeaaase noooooo!’. It is possible that if I were ever faced with such a scenario, I would turn out to have just enough tact and prudence to utter it through clenched teeth in a sort of agonised whispered plea for mercy in the face of despair in order not to cause any further disruption to the Mass (if further disruption is possible at a Mass in which liturgical dancing is performed). I hope I will never have occasion to find out.

  18. LittleFlower says:

    Thankfully I’ve never been to a parish that had liturgical dance.. how common is it? (I hope not very! :S). That link posted by RichR was painful to watch.

  19. Patti Day says:

    Phewwh, I’m glad it was ok to laugh. :)

  20. mvhcpa says:

    I am grateful to have seen liturgical dance only once in my life–it was just a group of teenage girls doing a basic ballet in classic ballet tutu outfits to either “Swan Lake” or another classical piece at Easter Vigil Mass. Fortunately, this wasn’t really presented as a part of the liturgy itself, although it was still during Mass; the girls just came from “off stage” into the sanctuary and down to the front of the church after communion and before the prayer after communion and final blessing. This is all bad enough, but you have to admit it could have been much worse.

    The only other time I came close to liturgical dance was a mention in a blessing of various parish ministries read off by a priest at a Mass in a “progressive” parish I sometimes attend (only if I am caught on that side of town at Mass time). The blessing included musicians, altar “servers,” EMHC, and liturgical dancers. This priest then omitted the Creed to make up for the time taken for the blessing. (Said priest also ad-libbed the Gospel reading, using dramatic vocalizing, although I think he got it word-for-word correct. Also, when I knelt to receive communion on the tongue from him, he scowled at me.)

  21. Michael J. says:

    I’ve fortunately never had to personally witness any liturgical dancing at Mass, however, for years I attended, as a youth, until I too could drive and found a more Traditional Catholic Church, the Contemporary Band. Bass guitars, banjos, tamborines, guitars, and that singing. I thank God for the Extraordinary Form of Mass, and I am not reminiscing, as I am only 38. Only one slight disagreement with benedetta, and it’s perhaps not even a disagreement as a possible difference of opinion. I believe that whomever decides the age for Confirmation in the individual churches, is intentionally making it too old of an age, usually, I think, so kids will go longer to Religious Education. I received the Sacrament in 10th grade, I was a few days, literally, from turning 16. The Catholic youth, myself included at the time, need to be Confirmed at a younger age. We need the graces from the Sacrament of Confirmation, putting them off to ensure people attend religious education longer is not a sufficient reason to delay such a vital Sacrament that gives all of the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Ghost. I wish things were different at the time that I received Confirmation, and I hope things are getting better now.

  22. Jayna says:

    LittleFlower: I’ve been to two different parishes that have it. One of them did a little liturgical dance interlude on Good Friday.

  23. ipadre says:

    Rich R – I have seen this video before. If Jesus ever vomited, it must have been on that day. Excuse me while I go vomit again.

  24. mpolo says:

    Rich R – You’ve certainly made the case for spending all of June making reparation to the Sacred Heart. And like a train wreck, I couldn’t look away, as much as my heart was bleeding for what was being done with Our Lord.

  25. Norah says:

    The clip which Rich posted reminds me of one of Fr Ho Lung’s liturgical ceremonies – see youtube.

    Much to my surprise and sadness I was told by an archdiocesean authority that liturgical dancing is permitted either before or after a Mass in the Archdiocese of Melbourne Australia.

  26. Mariana says:


    Creepy is an understatement! But thanks for the You Tube channel!

  27. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’ve found that ridicule is the best cure for liturgical dance.
    When we were Episcopalians, our rector had a dancer come in . . . Once. I made such merciless fun of him being conned into letting such a poor dancer perform that he never did it again.
    It helps to be dealing from a position of strength (i.e. have specific technical criticisms and know what you’re talking about) and be sure that the priest knows that. I do have at least some qualifications – 2 certificates in dance, and my mom has been a professional dancer since 1948, studied w/ Graham, Humphrey, & Cunningham. But if you’re a quick study and can talk a good game, it ought to work.
    Our Catholic rector wouldn’t be caught dead allowing such shenanigans, but once at another parish I encountered a bunch of half-naked Mexican guys in loincloths and masks banging on drums, blowing flutes, and dancing in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe. At least they were on the sidewalk outside and not in the church building. (does that fall under the heading of “indigenous customs?)

  28. An American Mother,

    Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest that one should not address the issue. Just that there is a time and a place, and during Mass would probably not be the time nor the place, as I’m sure you’re not suggesting either. Before or after Mass, yes, definitely. But during Mass, myself making a wee liturigcal spasm of anger would hardly make matters better.

    I am torn myself on the subject of ridicule as a method, having been challenged by my lenten reading of the works of Father Faber on kindness. I am not sure that it would be true that it is always inappropriate, but I guess it depends on the manner, subject, context and spirit of it. However, as Faber points out ridicule is usually not the best manner of converting people. I am not saying that in order to suggest that I think you are definitely wrong or anything, but because I am so naturally inclined to sarcasm and ridicule and at the same time a little given to periodic scrupulosity (it used to be chronic, so that’s a step in the right direction), it is hard for me to judge what is appropriate. On the one hand, I may be given to justify ridicule when it would not be appropriate or in competition with kind charity. On the other hand, I may be overcompensating for my own inclinations and natural preferances in response also to Father Faber’s challenging words. So, I’m just confused on the matter…. Hopefully, some day God will give me the ability to judge what is right and what is not.

    Of course, in terms of the examples of liturgical dancing I have seen, it sort of ridicules itself….It really is beyond me why people would think these things are appropriate.

  29. Bryan Boyle says:

    I wish there was a way to ‘mind gargle’ to get those images out of my poor brain. What is probably even sadder is that a lot of folks in the polyester leisure and pant suit brigade would see not a thing wrong with it.


  30. On a side note…now I have ‘The King of Glory’ tune going through my mind….Thanks for that, Father!

  31. RobertK says:

    Look on the bright side. You get a good workout. Not sure if grandma and grandpa could be as active in their participation. I have a great idea. Fr, lets create a Liturgical Dance Wi Game for Nintendo.

  32. Hahahahahahha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I almost spit my coffee out! That was too funny.

  33. AnAmericanMother says:

    Of course not during Mass! Coffee hour is where I usually buttonhole people. During Mass I guess the only thing we can do is offer up our annoyance and say an act of reparation to the Sacred Heart.
    And when I say ridicule, I don’t mean anything outright mean-spirited. I have to be careful of that myself because I have a red-hot Irish temper and a cutting tongue, and I love a good argument.
    In fact, I usually kind of slide sideways into it . . . “Oh my goodness, you must have been SO embarrassed! How awful! Did you have any idea she was going to be THAT bad?” Then in answer to the surprised query you turn up the heat just a notch . . . “Oh but she WAS! Did you see her line? and she couldn’t balance . . . I hope visitors don’t think that’s our standard of dance . . . . it was almost comical” with a little tiny smile. The idea was not to give vent to my outrage, but to plant the seed that this was a Very Bad Idea that must Never Happen Again.
    What I didn’t ever say is “we ought to be able to do better” because I would have been drafted to organize a liturgical dance troupe and that was NOT the outcome I was aiming for . . . .

  34. Theodore says:

    New Catholic from Boise here. What about Basque dancing during Mass for St. Ignatius?

    The dance:


    The history:


    Just curious.

  35. ‘What I didn’t ever say is “we ought to be able to do better” because I would have been drafted to organize a liturgical dance troupe and that was NOT the outcome I was aiming for . . . .’

    Very wise!

    Yes, that sounds like a reasonable strategy. :-)

    I didn’t think that you meant anything mean-spirited or anything, and I wish to emphasise that I wasn’t in any way trying to pass a judgment on it. Just expressing my own confusion on the subject of ‘ridicule/sarcasm’ etc and where the line goes. It is a topic that I find difficult and where I would generally appreciate the insights and advice of more level-headed and wiser people than myself, as I am genuinely very unsure about it. Because of this, I generally very much try not to pass a judgment on where other people discern that the line goes except in very straightforward circumstances. It would hardly be appropriate when I cannot even decide for myself where the line goes! :-)

  36. irishgirl says:

    I think that the only time I ever saw a ‘liturgical dance’ was when I sang in a chorus led by one of the St. Louis Jesuits (yeah, this was in my ‘stupid’ days back in the 1980s). It was held in the local old movie theater ‘palace’ that became a performing arts center. I was up on stage with the other singers, so I couldn’t see very much [fortunately] of the ‘sisters’ [Franciscans] who were twirling and swirling in the front of the stage, closer to the audience.
    If I ever was in a church and there was dancing at Mass, I would have walked out!
    The Colbert clip was hilarious, though-he was so out of breath before the end, he couldn’t sing the words!

  37. I am reminded of a story, supposedly true, of a parish that was quite liberal and “experimental” that had such things as liturgical dance. Their much-more-conservative bishop was coming for a parish visit, so the pastor and the liturgy committee decided to “clean it up” and make it much more “in-line” with the liturgical norm just so there would be no trouble with His Grace. On the day of the visit, the bishop comes, Mass is offered, and all is good up to the post-communion moment of quiet prayer before the final prayer and blessing. Apparently someone did not get the memo, for suddenly this music starts up and a liturgical dancer comes out from nowhere and starts to dance in front of the altar! She then bows to the stunned bishop and embarrassed pastor, then prances off. There is a silence that seems to last for an eternity, which is finally broken by the bishop turned to the pastor and saying, “And if she wants your head on a platter, she can have it!”

  38. Bryan Boyle says:

    @stephenmozier: that’s what’s called in business a “Career-limiting maneuver”.

  39. NoraLee9 says:

    I was finally driven from the NO on Good Friday, 1994, by Liturgical Dance. I had gone to St. John’s Church in Liverpool, NY. I had heard a sermon there, weeks before, by the man who had been priest when the church was built, explaining that the Church was not named after St. John the Baptist, or St. John the Evangelist, but after Pope St. John XXXIII. Good ex-father was visiting with his ex-nun wife. I digress.

    The church had no kneelers, and there were cigarette burns in the carpet, as the church was used for AA during the week. The stations were off in the crying room, about a half a foot apart. Father did the luke-warm stations with some altar servers in the dark brown brick church. There was only modern statuary in the place; one couldn’t really identify what or whom the statues represented.

    After the Stations, I thought the service might be over, when I heard the loud “click” of the audio system coming on. Country and Western music, with the hall mark steel guitar whined out from the speakers. “And He died for meeeeee, and Heeeee dyiyiyiyed for Meeeeeeee!” Father came out, followed by twelve dancing altar girls. Father twirled. The girls twirled. Father nailed himself to the imaginary cross. It was like a car accident. I wanted to get out of there, but I couldn’t leave my seat.

    The next week, when I walked into St. Francis Assisi Church on West 31st Street in NYC, some angel had left a copy of Latin Mass Magazine in the vestibule.

    And I have not gone back to the NO since.

  40. brent says:

    When will the Church realize that people left the Church for this crap because they wanted entertainment not worship. Any performance in the Mass that entails adulation of performance is sacrilege. Period. I’m a former Protestant low-churchmen whose put on world class “productions” as a musician and I became Catholic for the Mass. Love it, it’s Our gift to the World!


    I just feel dirty…

    Ironically, I just talked about clapping for someone in the Mass on my blog and it’s gotten a ton of reads in just one day. I think this reveals that as Catholics we really want the liturgy back. Just give us the Church straight up on the rocks…no sugar added.

  41. irishgirl says:

    NoraLee9-oh, my gosh, that sounded horrible! And that happened in my home diocese!
    I would have walked out immediately! Even to the point of climbing over peoples’ feet! As fast as my legs would have carried me!
    brent- ‘Just give us the Church straight up on the rocks…no sugar added! AMEN TO THAT!

  42. “When will the Church realize that people left the Church for this crap because they wanted entertainment not worship.”

    I was told recently that in a consultation with the people kind of meeting in a diocese in Ireland, some layperson had called for ‘greater audience participation’ in the Mass….

  43. Gail F says:

    I love that clip, it cracks me up every time! That is the correct response to liturgical dance.

  44. Gail F says:

    Theodore: The traditional Basque dance that you posted is just that, a traditional Basque dance. They have been doing this once a year at this special mass for a couple of hundred years (as someone formerly in a Renaissance dance troupe, I think their date might be a bit off…) and it grew out of the way the people themselves worshiped. They don’t make up new and improved dances for the festival, they pass them down as a part of their heritage. They wouldn’t do it at other times. There are lots of things like this in European churches, and lots of little parades and holidays etc. that are part of European heritage. The Church has absorbed and celebrated them, but they are special, they are not a part of the normal catalogue of “things okay to do at mass.”

    On the other hand, I hear that in many places in Africa, dance is important at mass (although, as I’ve heard it, mostly for processions and recessions) because dance was always important in tribal worship. There it IS part of “things okay to do at mass.” It all depends on the history and customs of a particular people.

    In the West, the kind of dancing people call “liturgical dance” is traditionally done in a theater. It is a popularized kind of modern dance, with a little bit of Isadora Duncan thrown in. It has nothing to do with worship. That is the objection to it — it is really a performance stuck in a liturgy.

    I don’t know if Catholic “liturgical dance” developed in tandem with, before, or after “praise dancing,” which is common in many African-American protestant and non-denominational churches. I have seen several of these performances and they are exactly that — performances. They are definitely done in praise of God, but the congregation is invited to watch and admire them. What is done in a Catholic mass has to be part of the worship. If it’s a performance, it belongs outside of mass. And yes, that does make music problematic at times… But that is another question!

    I hope that helps.

  45. HyacinthClare says:

    Stephenmozier, that is hilarious!! I wonder if enough people in the pews knew the story well enough to have brought the house down?? I hadn’t ever heard that story before, but I intend to pass it on!
    Stephen Colbert is an acquired taste… or a guy thing… I find him so embarrassing I can’t watch. The American Papist had his routine about going on a “Catholic bender” and Thomas Peters thought it was funny, so I decided his humor is appreciated best by men.

  46. BLB Oregon says:

    Stephenmozier, I will never again hear the topic of liturgical dance without thinking of Salome. That punchline is too choice.

    I thought His Grace was for Anglicans or Episcopalians, though, and His Excellency for Roman Catholic bishops. Don’t tell me they have liturgical dance there, too? (I mean, not that I should be surprised, since the Episcopalians have an openly lesbian bishop now, but still.)

  47. AnAmericanMother says:

    In Britain, “Your Grace” is for Archbishops and “My Lord” is for Bishops, whether Anglican or Catholic. In the U.S., there are no Piskie archbishops, and they just say “bishop”. But archbishops here are addressed as “Your Excellency”. I fell afoul of that the first time I met our archbishop, I was used to the Anglican form and didn’t know the geographical difference! I found out later he doesn’t like “Your Excellency” so it’s six of one half a dozen of another. Although I think people ought to use the correct forms, and you shouldn’t be able to ignore them at a whim. Too much like “Call me Father Bill” or, worse, “Call me Bill” for my taste.
    As for liturgical dance, except for very “low” parishes and the occasional blunder, Episcopalians don’t do that sort of thing. They have too much good taste, as for many years it was the church that you “had to join” if you were a social climber or got promoted to VP. It’s all worldly pride and the right thing for the wrong reasons.

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