Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Some faiths frown on any kind of dancing as something to be ashamed of; others incorporate it in their worship. what does your faith say about expressing worship through movement?

Dance is one of the clearest expressions of the body at prayer. God created us as embodied beings, so it is most appropriate that our relationship with God be embodied as well. Rather than being simply an intellectual exercise, prayer is also a physical experience of our love for, and gratitude to, God.

There are two principal ways in which dance functions in religious worship: as a cultural or folk expression and as a classical or interpretive expression. While dance, as we commonly see it, has only been introduced into our liturgical experience in North America since the Vatican Council, it is an integral part of the African experience, for example - and has been for a long time.

However, the experts remind us that dance includes so much more and, in that sense, it has always been part of our liturgy. For example, postures for prayer have been part of our worship since the beginning. This includes things like standing, kneeling, and genuflecting. These are all considered by liturgists as being part of the wide definition of dance. Processions and circular movements (common to traditional devotions at shrines) are also considered to be communal expressions of shared religious feelings.

There is a caveat: When dance constitutes the point of the entire ceremony, it is regarded as ritualistic and not worship. When dance forms part of the larger structure, it is seen as being truly liturgical, deepening and focusing the awareness of the entire community on the presence of the Lord in our midst. In this sense, it can transcend the limits of verbal expression and has the power to eliminate the boundaries of language, communicating realities for which mere words can sometimes be insufficient, thus making it a significant and meaningful element of our worship.