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“The Rock” & Rock 'n' Roll:
A Clarification and Some Objections

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Sirs,

Just as a clarification of fact. Regarding your article [click here], St. Alphonsus Church in St. Louis has been called "The Rock" since it was built in the 1800's. The name comes from the particular stone used. In fact, the nickname is so common that for over 100 years people a number of people in the area know it only by that name. The name is not derived from any music or type of image the church is trying to convey.

I am the first to admit that I am personally no great fan of the liturgical dancing shown in your picture. But I can tell you that it happens no more than two or three times a year. The Rock is a largely African American Church and the dancers are used during those feast days which have particularly significance to African Americans. It is a common practice and has been practiced in the African Catholic churches long before the Council.

As a pastor of a Catholic church in Mississippi which is 100% African American, I am very aware of keeping within the tradition but allowing valid cultural expressions. My parishioners are 5th and 6th generation Catholic and quite traditional, but until after the Council the Church treated them as 3rd and 4th class members of the Church. It was not until after the Council that they were allowed to enter any Catholic Church they wished or allowed to put their children in Catholic schools.

In that even with that they remained Catholics, I figure if they want some liturgical dancing once or twice a year I just bite the bullet and let them have it. It does not violate any canonical rules or invalidate the Mass, nor is it considered disrespectful by any of the participants. For them it has a great deal of meaning and is a true expression of their faith. Again, not my cup of tea, but it means a great deal to them.

All that aside though, in that St. Alphonsus in St. Louis does not feature either rock music or dancing and is an African American parish, I would really appreciate your modifying your comments in the picture section.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

     In the Redeemer,

     Fr. Rick Stary, CSSR
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TIA responds:

Most Rev. Fr. Rick Stary,

1. We thank you for your clarification. We did not know that the nickname “the Rock” for the St. Alphonsus of Ligouri Church in St. Louis had the curious origin you mentioned – that it came from a particular stone used to build the church. We are sharing your information with our readers to avoid any misunderstanding.

2. Regarding the use of the rock’n’ roll dances in the liturgy, however, there seem to be two different statements in your e-mail. First, you say that you don’t agree with the dances pictured in our photos and assure us that “it happens no more than two or three times a year.” Second, you state in your last paragraph that “St. Alphonsus in St. Louis does not feature either rock music or dancing.”

It seems that the way to reconcile these two apparently contradictory statements is to assume that the adolescents dancing in the two first pictures are following the rhythm of another modern music, or perhaps some African song to which performers dance in a way similar to rock ‘n’ roll. Please advise us what music is really being danced to in those photos. We will change our comments accordingly.

3. Our comments on the dances in St. Alphonsus Church did not say a word about African Americans. Notwithstanding you brought racism into the picture. Why did you do so? It is not clear.

Then you stated that Vatican II played a positive role regarding racism. You blamed the behavior of the Catholic Church before the Council as favoring racism, and you affirmed that only after the Council were African Americans permitted to go freely to Catholic churches and schools.

We don’t think that this remark is objective. If the Church would have had any restrictions against black persons, this should have applied elsewhere before the Council. Now then, to our knowledge never in Europe was such a prohibition applied before Vatican II, and in South America Africans as well as Indians always had free access to any Catholic Church. Regarding schools, the same applied in function of the economic means of the person. Therefore, it seems to us a lack of objectivity to blame the Catholic Church for causing racism, as well as to credit Vatican II as a general cause for the lifting of racist restrictions.

The cause for racism in the United States should not be sought in the Catholic Church before the Council, but in the Protestant atmosphere that strongly influenced our country for more than one century. Only in the 1960s with the election of a Catholic as president of the U.S. were those barriers almost completely broken, and a just reform of customs established.

This took place in the ‘60s as did the Council, but not because of the Council.

4. You also try to justify dances as “valid cultural expressions” in the liturgy because they “do not violate any canonical rules or invalidate the Mass nor is it considered disrespectful by any of the participants.”

Regarding dance in the liturgy, the canonical question does not seem as simple as you present, even according to the Novus Ordo Mass requirements.

What exists is a fundamental contradiction between the rule and the bad practice. On one hand, there is the document Dance in the Liturgy by the Vatican, which to this date is in force, followed by a clear order by the American Bishops to not use dance in the liturgy. On the other hand, you have the bad examples of John Paul II allowing all kind of dances in the liturgy, as well as the example of important American Prelates: Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop Niederauer, Bishop Pilla, etc.

Below, are excerpts of the document Dance In the Liturgy issued in 1975 by the Congregation for Divine Worship. It was put into effect during the term of Congregation president Cardinal Franz Arinze, an African who was well aware of the valid cultural expressions of his Continent. The rule states:
"Dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses: such dancing, in general, is not pure."

"For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever: that would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations."
The American Bishops have expressly prohibited any and all forms of dancing in the Liturgy. Indeed, the Committee on the Liturgy of the NCCB issued an official document in April/May 1982 – still in force – that, referring to Dance in the Liturgy, mandates this:
"From these directives, from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, all dancing, (ballet, children's gesture as dancing, the clown liturgy) are not permitted to be 'introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever.'"

For a more complete analysis of present day liturgical abuses, check “Is Your Mass Valid?” by Bruce Sabaleskey.
Therefore, Fr. Stary, canonically speaking, the dances that you allow in your parish in Mississippi, and that the pastor of the “the Rock” allows in his church in Saint Louis can be canonically incorrect.

Our main concern, however, regards what dance in liturgy represents as an offense to the glory of God.

We wait for your advice (n. 2) in order to change our comments.

     Cordially,

     TIA correspondence desk
Posted September 19, 2006
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