The sight of Melanesians from Fiji singing and dancing at Gospel procession at Pope Benedict's closing mass in Australia, have caused a bit of a stir. The Pope has suggested at various times that dance is inappropriate in the liturgy but I think that he meant the contrived leotard clad self indulgence that we see at the Mahoneyfest in Los Angeles every year.
There are some cultures, apparently, where song is always accompanied by movement. There used to be an African lady here who used to sway and move her hips as she sang the Missa di Angelis with exhuberant glee. There is dance and there is dance. Not being a great fan of ballet, the gymnastics spoil the music, I was dragged to a London theatre to watch some young dancers, dancing the Passion, it was an incredibly moving meditation, but then it wasn't done at Mass or in a place of worship.
What is seen in the video seems to raise problems for me over and above the dancing. At ordination the Book of the Gospels is entrusted to the deacon by the bishop, at Mass it is carried in by the deacon and normally placed on the altar, and taken from there to be proclaimed. Here, the Book of the Gospel is brought to the sanctuary from the congregation, this is making an important statement. It indicates teaching authority is given to the clergy by the people and received by them from the people. It is an inversion of Catholic teaching. There is also a problem of resuscitating elements of a now dead cultural elements that come from a period of paganism, to use in worship. What are we saying?
I know nothing about Fijian dance, it seems quaint and dignified, but I have to ask, why Fijian dancers? Why not some other ethnic group? Were they introduced to add "an ethnic touch"? If that is so, then it strikes me there is a real possibility of "cultural imperialism" or at least of using other cultures as an entertainment to highlight one's open mindedness to exoticism. In this clip there is a stark contrast between the flowing dancers and the stiff Roman style of the sacred minister who receives the Book, the two actions do not flow together. The dance ends and one is left thinking, "that was nice but what was the point?" With any liturgical novelty one is left wondering, "what was the point?".
Archbishop Ranjith, himself a Sri Lankan has said that inculturation, which was urged by VII, should genuinely spring from ethnic cultures, he talks of prostrations and crawling on one's belly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, where this is normal in the presence of the king or using white for funeral when this a normal mourning colour. I can understand using signs and symbols appropriate to particular cultures when this as part of a whole rite, when carefully considered, it seems wise and prudent. This little excerpt seems merely to be an interlude or a bit of colour that was bolted on.
As a white male, whose family were involved in the administration of the "colonies" I feel incredibly uncomfortable with anything that smacks of, "bits of native colour". As a Catholic priest I feel uncomfortable with anything that brings about theological confusion.