Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship
The following essay appeared in “Notitiae” 11 (1975) 202-205, and is labeled as a “qualified and authoritative sketch.” It is the mind of the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship (presently called Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) that this article is to be considered “an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter.” Therefore, it is commended for study by diocesan liturgical commissions and offices of worship. (This English translation first appeared in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp. 78-82).
THE RELIGIOUS DANCE, AN EXPRESSION OF SPIRITUAL JOY
The dance can be an art: a synthesis of the measured arts (music and poetry) and the spatial arts (architecture, sculpture, painting).
As an art which, by means of the body, expresses human feelings, the dance is especially adapted to signify joy.
Thus, among the mystics, we find intervals of dancing as an expression of the fullness of their love of God. Recall the cases of St. Theresa of Avila, St. Philip Neri, St. Gerard Majella.
When the Angelic Doctor wished to represent paradise, he represented it as a dance executed by angels and saints.
The dance can turn into prayer which expresses itself with a movement which engages the whole being, soul and body. Generally, when the spirit raises itself to God in prayer, it also involves the body.
One can speak of the prayer of the body. This can express its praise, it petition with movements, just as is said of the stars which by their evolution praise their Creator (cf. Baruch 3:34).
Various examples of this type of prayer are had in the Old Testament.
This holds true especially for primitive peoples. They express their religious sentiment with rhythmic movements.
Among them, when there is a question of worship, the spoken word becomes a chant, and the gesture of going or walking towards the divinity transforms itself into a dance step.
Among the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers and in the conciliar texts there is mention of dancing, an evaluation of it, a comment on the biblical text in which there is an allusion to the dance; more frequently there is a condemnation of profane dances and the disorders to which the dances give rise.
In liturgical texts, there are at times allusions to the dance of the angels and of the elect in paradise (cf. “Among the lilies thou dost feed, surrounded by dancing groups of virgins”) in order to express the "joy and the “jubilation” which will characterize eternity.
Dancing and Worship
The dance has never been made an integral part of the official worhship of the Latin Church.