Had a Good Friday?
Yes, I know the above headline is flippant and irreverent. But this morning I actually heard an RTÉ presenter tell his listeners: “Have a happy Good Friday.” To me this just encapsulates what has happened to Irish cultural and religious attitudes over the past half century. A week or two ago, in the depths of Lent, a wreath of little Easter eggs appeared on a neighbour’s door.
Twenty years or so ago I heard Frank Delaney (I wonder what happened to him?) explain to BBC listeners how, when he was a child, Catholicism exercised a total grip on Irish life during Holy Week, making everything dark and depressing. In particular he quoted the introduction to each Station of the Cross: “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee, because by the Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.” I don’t think it occurred to Mr Delaney that although of course the events of the Crucifixion are extremely sad, they used to evoke immense gratitude and hope among most Irish people.
Stramentaria and I prefer not to drive at night, but on Wednesday evening we drove to the Latin Mass chaplaincy in Harrington Street to attend Tenebrae. The Church was a bit cold, and the ceremony lasted over two hours, but Tenebrae is so beautiful that we hardly noticed the discomfort. Quomodo sedet sola civitas—how lonely the city stands—is from the beginning of Lamentations where the prophet Jeremiah mourns the destruction of Jerusalem. The Church uses it as a type of the death of Our Lord. As Cordelia Flyte says to Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, you should go at least once, just to hear it.
Cordelia says that Tenebrae will teach you how the Jews felt about their temple. And it struck me yes indeed, and you will also understand why traditional Catholics lament the destruction of so much of value and beauty in the post Vatican II Church.
From the sublime to the totally ridiculous and thoroughly annoying. Yesterday, Holy Thursday, we decided we’d rather not brave the Dublin traffic in the dark, and so we went to a local liturgy instead. The PP announced that in accordance with parish custom, we wouldn’t be having Foot Washing, but there’d be Hand Washing instead. And everyone could have their hands washed and dried. Are you going up? whispered Stramentaria? Not if I can help it, I replied. So the only people who didn’t troop forward were Stramentarius, Stramentaria and a sensible Nigerian lady just in front of us.
I ask you! The only Hand Washing ceremony I can recall in the story of the Passion involved a gentleman called Pontius Pilate. Not really an example to be followed.
There was noise and activity all the way through the liturgy, and lots of Novus Ordo hymns. At the end Father announced that Exposition was to follow, and there’d be an hour or so of quiet and reflection. The Pange Lingua was sung, rather to our surprise. An all-too-brief interval of blessed calm ensued. Two minutes after the start of Exposition, a gentleman began reflecting out loud. It was quite a worthy reflection, but inappropriate, so we genuflected and fled.
I see Pope Francis included Moslems and Hindus in his foot-washing ceremony this year. It’s rather puzzling, because his own decree on the subject makes it clear that those having their feet washed should be part of “the People of God”. Are we to understand that Hindus and Moslems have suddenly become part of the People of God? Or that the Holy Father’s document was carelessly drafted? Or that he didn’t really mean to draw the boundaries so narrowly? Or that he thinks every human being is a part of the People of God?
The interpreters of Vatican II usually tell us that the People of God consists of those in some way or another connected to the Body of Christ: the Catholic Church. Perhaps Fr Lombardi will let us know, once again, what the Pope was really trying to say. I just hope he doesn’t preface his remarks with “The Church has always taught that…”