Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

‘School of Praise’ brings ‘prayerful movement’ to liturgy

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the March 1, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Participants in the School of Praise prayerful movement group include, in the front row, from left, Caroline Halvorson, Halle Campbell, Jade Savage, Brynn Campbell, and in the back row, from left, Jennifer Phillips, Samantha Stapleton, Maille Mathieu, Emily Hake, Loren Guthrie, Kaila Ceballos, Jennifer Halvorson. (IR photo from Sacred Heart Parish, Spokane)

About four years ago, Arlette Popiel, who is married to Deacon Rod Popiel, of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Parish, met Mary Kay Stebbins, who was coordinator for Sacred Heart’s annual children’s Christmas liturgy. “She learned that I do prayerful movement,” Popiel said, “and she asked if we could get a group going at Sacred Heart for the children’s Christmas liturgy. So I organized this prayerful movement group, which we named School of Praise, and that’s how we got started.”

Stebbins prefers the term “prayerful movement” to the word “dance,” because it more accurately describes what the group does.

Today, a group of 11 girls, ages 7 to 14, make up Sacred Heart Parish’s School of Praise prayerful movement group, which brings its special gifts to parish liturgies about four times a year. Protestant churches also have prayerful movement groups, Popiel said, but as a Catholic group, the one at Sacred Heart Parish works at being sensitive to functioning in the context of the Eucharistic liturgy and to the unique sacred space of a Catholic church.

“For example,” she said, “we try to be very, very careful to reverence the Blessed Sacrament present in the tabernacle. So when we begin a prayerful movement the first thing we do is bow toward the tabernacle.”

“One of the unique characteristics of our Catholic group,” Popiel says, “is that we use tambourines. Every movement with the tambourine is a pattern that has a name, and there are 30-plus patterns, such as ‘Joy,’ ‘Eternity,’ ‘Worship,’ and ‘Alleluia,’ and each movement also has a verse from Scripture that goes with it. We choreograph our prayerful movements based on the patterns, and the tambourines are used in ways appropriate to a particular pattern. Just as singing is praying twice, prayerful movement is praying three times.”

Popiel designs prayerful movements based on the verbal content of the hymn or liturgical music being used. “One of the things the girls do is the Gospel Acclamation, and we use the Alleluia pattern for the prayerful movement that goes with the Gospel Acclamation.”

Popiel emphasizes that the prayerful movement group’s purpose is never to give a performance. “We do presentations,” she explains, “because our objective is to help the assembly worship. It’s not to get people’s attention on us but to get their attention on the Lord.”

Father Mark Pautler, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, says: “I think of the School of Praise as ‘prayer in motion.’ The girls accompany the processions of the liturgy, accent the acclamations and provide a visual focus for meditation. What they do is graceful – full of grace.”

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