Wedding dance flash-mob, viral vicars and the liturgy

 . . . . or “Dance, dance, wherever you may be”?

In our post Wedding dance flash-mob, viral vicars and the liturgy we reported on the “viral video” Gary and Tracy Richardson’s wedding at St Mary and St Martin, Blyth, Nottinghamshire, an unexpected consequence of which is that the officiating priest, the Reverend Kate Bottley, appears to have attracted more attention than the bride.  We noted some of the initial reactions and looked at some of the legal issues involved with particular reference to the Church of England.  In particular, we suggested that taking the narrower view of its inclusion in the service, since the “flash-mob dance” did not appear to comprise any part of the formal liturgy of the marriage service, it could be argued that coming after the Dismissal, it should be viewed no differently from any other recessional music.

Subsequently the Church Times leader “dancing in the aisles” has reviewed the reaction to its wide coverage in the social media.  On the whole the article is broadly supportive, although it notes that “questions have been raised on Twitter and elsewhere whether this was a correct “interpolation into divine service” and expresses a degree of caution that “wedding officiants will have to be on their guard against future would-be YouTube stars”.  Nevertheless, its status as “the most talked-about church story [of the week]”, prompted the CT to seek its readers’ views on “Was initiating a flash-mob dance the right way to celebrate a marriage?” as its Question of the week.   

By way of contrast, an unconnected but contemporary piece in Rorate Caeli’s blog Liturgical dance from all over the world provides links to recent videos of “liturgical dancing” with recent (2012-2013) examples from six different locations in North America, South America, Western Europe and Asia.  These videos are from established Roman Catholic congregations, and similar examples are to be found in this blog under the heading Continuing Liturgical Revolution.  Given the traditional leanings of the blog, the criticism in the piece is implicit, although it is quite apparent in most of the associated comments.


As we have pointed out, in the Church of England the broad aspects of dance within the context of a service are covered in its canon law by Canons B9, B20 and E1.  Within the Roman Catholic Church, similar general requirements are expressed in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, (CDW), document produced in 2001, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines.

However, more specific guidance was provided in 1975, in Dance in the Liturgy, where the CDW states that the “authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter” is the essay “The Religious Dance, an expression of Spiritual Joy”, (1975) 11 Notitiae 202.  This notes that although there are cultures in which dance retains a religious character and could be permitted in liturgy, the same criterion and judgment cannot be applied in the western culture.

This remains the position in the Catholic Church: in the 1994 document Instruction on the Roman Liturgy and Inculturation (1994), which is universally binding in the Church; and more recently in a 2012 letter from the CDW responding to a query from the Philippines, which said

“The liturgical law of the Roman Rite does not forsee the use of dance or drama within the sacred liturgy, unless particular legislation has been enacted by the Bishops’ Conference and confirmed by the Holy See.  Any other practice is to be considered an abuse. 

These activities could, however, be useful outside the Sacred Liturgy in the work of catechesis and evangelization, if appropriately directed by the bishop and his clergy”, [emphasis added].

While opinions might be divided on whether the CofE “viral video” was in fact part of the liturgy, one unambiguous example that appear to have been overlooked is the service referred to as “The Inauguration of the Ministry of the One hundred and fifth Archbishop of Canterbury”, here In addition to the events during the organ improvisation, which fall broadly into the same genre, was the performance of Gbeh kpa ba (A New Beginning) by the African dancers, Frititi, for which the rubric solemnly announces:

 “During this song the dancers lead the Archbishop to the Pulpitum screen”

We wait with interest to view the findings of the questionnaire in “the world’s leading Anglican newspaper” and compare these with those in the Rorate Caeli post.

One thought on “Wedding dance flash-mob, viral vicars and the liturgy

  1. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 16th July | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *