For whatever reason, when a new liturgical year begins, folks tend to take this to mean that they can let loose the dogs of liturgical abuse, justifying it as experimentation.
This certainly would hold true for St. Patrick's Parish in Seattle, Washington, as this video demonstrates. One could easily have mistaken this episode for a parody the likes of something Steve Colbert has done in the past. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
As the former prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, Francis Cardinal Arinze, observed:
There has never been a document from our Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments saying that dance is approved in the Mass.
Now, 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.
So all those that want to entertain us -- after Mass, let us go to the parish hall and then you can dance. And then we clap. But when we come to Mass we don't come to clap. We don't come to watch people, to admire people. We want to adore God, to thank Him, to ask Him pardon for our sins, and to ask Him for what we need.
But when you introduce wholesale, say, a ballerina, then I want to ask you what is it all about. What exactly are you arranging? When the people finish dancing in the Mass and then when the dance group finishes and people clap -- don't you see what it means? It means we have enjoyed it. We come for enjoyment. Repeat. So, there is something wrong. Whenever the people clap -- there is something wrong -- immediately. When they clap -- a dance is done and they clap.
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! [laughter]
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!
What was also disturbing were the other abuses that were heaped on to this one. There was no greeting after the "opening ritual". The dance infiltrated the Penitential Rite. The altar was moved off to the side as though it were a some sort of a stage prop. The priest (who wore his stole outside of his chasuble, something not allowed under the GIRM and reiterated by Redemptionis Sacramentum) stood off to the side, acting more as a spectator than as the celebrant who is supposed to be leading the faithful in prayer. The crucifix was missing. There was no discernible evidence of a Tabernacle. It is as though Christ was not the central figure of the Holy Sacrifice; the dance troupe was.
The whole affair reminded me of a scene from Cecil B. DeMille's second version of the Ten Commandments (with Charlton Heston as Moses). After the Lord had given Moses the two tablets on which the commandments had been written, He admonished Moses to descend the mountain for the Hebrews had depraved themselves. Sure enough, once Moses had reached the base of the mountain, he was greeted by a loud ruckus, with people dancing around the Golden Calf. After having blasted Aaron for allowing this to happen and for smelting the "idol" (even though Aaron flatly denied it), Moses then laid his wrath upon the unfaithful lot.
Abuse of the liturgy is abuse aimed at God. It violates the First Commandment that admonishes us to love and serve God FIRST. When folks make their own idiosyncrasies more important than what the liturgy mandates, they have turned their own "made-up" rites into an idol. Their "creation" becomes the Golden Calf. Sadly, pastors who allow this become like Aaron. They can blame their "pastoral associates" for making this stuff up, just as Aaron told Moses that he "threw the gold into the fire and the calf came out". These priests are just as much to blame as Aaron.
Well did Cardinals Burke and Canizares-Lloera state that weak liturgies lead to weak faith. The parish in question has video history of these abusive practices. It is sad when one takes pride in disobedience, flaunting it for the world to see. As Redepmtionis Sacramentum states:
6.] For abuses "contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament".14 Thus, they also hinder the faithful from "re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: 'and their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him'".15 For in the presence of God's power and divinity16 and the splendor of His goodness, made manifest especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it is fitting that all the faithful should have and put into practice that power of acknowledging God's majesty that they have received through the saving Passion of the Only-Begotten Son.17
[7.] Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.18 This is true not only of precepts coming directly from God, but also of laws promulgated by the Church, with appropriate regard for the nature of each norm. For this reason, all should conform to the ordinances set forth by legitimate ecclesiastical authority.
[8.] It is therefore to be noted with great sadness that "ecumenical initiatives which are well-intentioned, nevertheless indulge at times in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith". Yet the Eucharist "is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation". It is therefore necessary that some things be corrected or more clearly delineated so that in this respect as well "the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery".19
[9.] Finally, abuses are often based on ignorance, in that they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized. For "the liturgical prayers, orations and songs are pervaded by the inspiration and impulse" of the Sacred Scriptures themselves, "and it is from these that the actions and signs receive their meaning".20 As for the visible signs "which the Sacred Liturgy uses in order to signify the invisible divine realities, they have been chosen by Christ or by the Church".21 Finally, the structures and forms of the sacred celebrations according to each of the Rites of both East and West are in harmony with the practice of the universal Church also as regards practices received universally from apostolic and unbroken tradition,22 which it is the Church's task to transmit faithfully and carefully to future generations. All these things are wisely safeguarded and protected by the liturgical norms.
What is St. Patrick's transmitting to the faithful when it engages in these practices? Is it the True Faith of the Church or is it the parish's own idiosyncratic liturgical abuses that St. Patrick's is handing down?
At this point, we must beware of invented practices that circumvent the sacred character of the Mass and we must repair the damage before we all suffer the fate of the Golden Calf. Kyrie Eleison.
Update: Since the publication of this post, the video has now been labeled private. Nonetheless, I believe that the practices employed by this parish merit scrutiny and the intervention of the Archbishop of Seattle, the Most Rev. Peter J. Sartain.