IT IS NATURAL to regret the past, and there are doubtless some who regret what they remember of the old way of celebrating Holy Week. Certainly it used to be very long.
Parish priests developed the harried impatience of stage managers of amateur companies, and the confusion in corners of the sanctuary became distra,:ting and the lanolin. in Latin were not invariably prayerful.
But, especially in some great centre of Catholicism, the drama was as real as a riot, and one watched and listened and for long periods lost oneselfespecially if one understood the words and the Master of Ceremonies was not a fuss-pot and the choir could lament confidently and in tune and the deacon really could cope with the Exultet.
The sudden contrast between the unabashed emotionalism of the Altar of Repose and the stripped high Altar and the open Tabernacle, and every image veiled except the crucifix that was rich and strange, and the glory of it may survive in the sort of places where it once reigned.
But I think that in the hardpressed working parish, where the congregation is less apt to appraise the liturgy and more likely to lose its place among the rubrics and the options and the specials for bishops, there has been a quite positive gain. Certainly the Passions, recited like folk dramas, have gained immeasurably. Now you listen. Now you participate: now, more than ever, but as it always did, the climax comes as a shock.
And each day retains the clear taste of the distillation of its character. It still is a week of events which the Church makes as real as the weather.
Palm Sunday retains its anticipatory excitement. The next three days are grim as if under siege with the food running low.
The Thurday is almost sentimental a time of a warm spiritual self-indulgence.
The Friday is as starkly splendid as ever. The Saturday night is the climax.
The Sunday is the plateau achieved bland and splendid and joyous.
And all this is achieved by the ritual and the words and our understanding of them and, of course, of their significance which is independent of us.
All this reality is attended by a sort of mundane and secular unreality.. I do not count the unspeakable silliness and vulgarity of eggs and bunnies.
But the world does pay its tribute with Passion Plays and great bursts of music and by an easing of work. It also makes a slightly perfunctory and seldom graceful bow towards it all on television.
So we get films of what the ceremonies are about. They put on "The Greatest Story Ever Told". which is the public relations equivalent of "All the News that is Fit to Print".
Last year we had Zeferelli being non-committal about divinity and the supernatural in "Jesus of Nazareth" at noble long length. This year we got the 1962 "King of Kings" with some new dialogue and a new sub-plot.
I think they took some of it from Robert Graves' rather uneasy book called "Jesus". He has a sociological and mythmade explanation for it all. So Barabbas is the nationalist-terrorist leader. And in this film, too. Judas became a Malraux to a de Gaulle, the radical intellectual trying to manipulate the Son of Man. And very odd it was.
But nothing else changes much. The angelic choirs are still wordless but insistent, making the Mormon sound. The supernatural is still a shaft of light. The Arabs still cannot get their head-dressess right. The shields of the soldiers still make noises like dustbin lids and the blood is kept within socially acceptable limits.
It's a tribute of a sort. And in various ways it goes on all over the world, on the screen and off. We had it from Brazil and Rhodesia as well this time on the box.
And the men of !practical sense who know what the public wants and who decree that such things be shown, would not do so unless it really is what the people still want.
Many images of charity
THERE is a beautiful image of traditional charity. It takes a multitude of forms. There is the lady in the castle who fed the poor at her gate. There is the lady bountiful who gave soup and flannel petticoats to the cottagers.
There really was Edward, Prince of Wales, who wanted to see the slums of London and who, in disguise, got a police inspector to take him round. He was so horrified by what he saw that he reached into his pockets for some sovereigns. He was told they would kill and rob anyone who had such money.
The trouble is that the image does not work. Even the destitute no longer know their place. Part of the tradition is that you do not give coal to the improvident because they only put It in the bath. You do not give money to the undeserving, because they will spend it on drink. And you do not give to the ungrateful because they'll soon be back in prison anyway.
Medieval charity must have been pretty haphazard. It is true
that saints used to pick on the loathsome; but now we have the State to do the woundwashing, and kissing a poor man's feet never did him much good.
And there can never have been enough left-avers from the tables of palaces and monasteries to keep the bodies and souls of the poor together for any great length of time.
It's not easy. No system of society has been devised that eliminates the need for giving. Even in small, exceptionally favoured society there will be poverty due to inadequacy and to the sort of weakness that many people find intolerable or infuriating or contemptible. Like not paying your income tax for years. One of the most terrible places I know is in the centre of the urgency and anticipation of our society. It is the concourse at Waterloo Station. It is an antrun of people hurrying home, pausing only to buy something that will ease the passage of time like a magazine or a sandwich.
It is decorated with large receptacles which instantly transfer a used plastic cup or a half sandwich into something unclean and indecent.
The concourse is not a tidy or beautiful place. But it is urgent and, among the preoccupied people, there is a small tribe of outcasts who accost the few of the acceptable who sit waiting for trains.
(In the horrible new building at Euston, they at first decided not to set out any benches because people who had nowhere to go might use them for sitting on).
These outcasts are unmistakable. They wear all the clothes they possess. They dress and are tied together like parcels. Most of them are not drunk but crazed with drink. They mouth unintelligible truths to themselves. They lurch at people and mumble a request that does not require to be put into words. Very few people either look at them or answer them, Their whole bodies say "Go Away". And anyway there is a whole
Welfare State somewhere to catch such stale crumbs falling off our tables.
If they sit down, their nearness is unpleasing. If they sleep, a policeman wakes them and moves them on to nowhere else. And they do not drop their futile curses on the police as they curse those who reject them.
If you give, you may assuage your own guilt, even pleasure yourself a little. But it never seems to make an difference and the experts say this is the wrong approach.
There is a report out from the Charities Aid Foundation on the charitable situation in Britain the financial side of it, It sounds fine. It says about 90 per cent of the adult population give something towards charity. It also says that the total of all charitable giving for 1975 was £1,717 million.
It also says that most money is given by those who have most. It says there are seasonal fluctuations in charity, such as at Christmas and Easter and Poppy Day. It also says that there is no co-relationship between what a charity needs and what it gets.
That 11,717 million is staggering. And yet clearly, even in what is left of a Welfare State, it is not enough. It is obviously ill-planned giving, but if you planned it you would kill it.
Sonic people mind about animals more than about dirty old men. And, I suppose, it is good to think of old ponies spending their last years in a green field until the humane killer takes them the way of all flesh.
We have lost the graciousness of charity, or else
men have learnt that having to he grateful is degrading. The cheque to the charity of your choice is our substitute for leaning from a horse to give a beggar half your cloak or emptying your pockets for pity's sake all the way home. The really dreadful thing is that the cheque is probably more effective.
And it is mercifully easy to forget those images of God at Waterloo. What is more, I have not the faintest idea what should be done about them. There is quite a lot to be said for Pharisees after all.