HOLY WEEK is the most civilised week of the year. It is the one time when a citizen gets the chance to participate in a public acting out of a great and real drama.
It is one of the consolations of age that this grows more and more satisfying, spiritually and artistically. Life takes on an extra meaning and seems richer and more urgent for the few days.
Years ago it used to be a strain. Do you recall when the priest read the lout, Passion to the altar in Latin and later turned round and read it to the public in English? Or else two of them did it simultaneously. Of course if you were within pilgrim's distance of an abbey or a cathedral, the drama used to be tremendous. Do you remember those wild lamentations or the splendour of the Exu/tet or the unnerving insistence of the Ikeproaches?
I am being very careful not to write about anything except the outward signs of the week. It is not that the significance of Holy Week is for experts only, it is that in this the superficial approach is the safest.
The rituals which attended the various . days have been pruned and simplified, and this is, on balance. gain for a small parish. Really the old full order of the days and the nights could get into a remarkable confusion .of candles, basins of water, bewildered altar boys, sopranos being insistent about Jerusalem, processions that lost touch, fires that would not light, violet veils that suck on statues. grains of incense that would not stick in the t is h. place.
Christians instinctively clatllisled their finest treasures, their noblest hymns and most naked prose into this week. The never seem able to leave it alone, changing it and adding and taking away like an artist
who cannot let a picture out of his studio.
What we have now are the materials and the inspiration and the skill for a work of art in which the crowd must participate.
It is the sort of opportunity that didactic and professional bores. who go on about living drama for the masses when the masses,clearly prefer television, long for in,their hearts. But it is ours, to take part in, to enioy, to muddle or serenely to per orm.
It is the finest catharsis that I know.
High Jinks in Southgate
EVERYONE is in favour of parish councils until they threaten to be effective or demand_ evenings of supererogatory work.
More than that, they work only where there is a priest prepared to allow real initiative and authority to lay people and. even if this is done, success cannot be guaranteed.
I have an account of the an.nual meeting of a parish which was held recently.. It was arranged by its elected council. It happened in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes at Southgate in London, which is a parish with 1,800 souls on its census.
In other years about 50 came to the annual meeting. The council decided to do better this time and organised and publicised for five months. In the end there were 350 in the parish hall and people had to he turned away. A folk group and the choir sang separately.
The agenda was ready. There were minutes and reports. They changed the constitution so that they were not obliged to meet during Lent. They had elections for six new council members. They selected their same secretary.
The parish priest gave the Bene Merente to Mrs Magee, who had been sacristan for years, and a cheque to Fr APPOINTMENTSU
Wakeling, who has gone to Westminster Cathedral.
While the meeting was on, 75 children were coped with by two heroic parents and a teacher in a neighbouring room. The meeting started at 7.30 and they went on until 10.
They had determined to enjoy themselves, so they broke in the middle for refreshments, which included wine for those who had not given it up for Lent. These were free.
There was a time for questions and discussions, which is when things usually fall apart and the centre fails to hold. And they had a layman. as chairman of the meeting. Personally, I think that an evening like that, properly organised and done in friendship, is every bit as good as a mission.
The journey of a statue
THERE is a statue of Our Lady which, I suspect, is being used as a Trojan horse.
For sonic time, The Guardian has been repiirting the fate of a statue which is 2ft. 9in. high and is "of' little or no artistic value." Mr Baden Hickman had a splendid report this week on its Odyssey.
It all started some three months ago when a group of Dublin Catholics got In touch with the new Russian Embassy there.
Mr T. C. Gerrard O'Mahoney is a solicitor, and it seems he wrote to the Russian Ambassador in Ireland to suggest that, in view of the grand new relations between Russia and the Republic, he should help to get the statue to Bishop Stoponavicius of Vilnyus,_ the capital of Lithuania, a country which was absorbed to death by Russia in the last war and which used to consider itself a Catholic country.
The statue was sent as a gesture of reconciliation and
peace and Catholic solidarity. Fine!
The Ambassador regretted that he could not help because in the USSR, Church and State really were separate. Ingenious and true I, But the statue was carefully blessed. The Press was informed. The plaster Madonna was carried in procession and started on its journey. It stuck in London and is now in the vestibule of a church in the East End of London.
A subtle councillor at the Russian Embassy in Dublin then suggested that some Irish Catholics should go to Lithuania with the plaster statue and hand it over in perSon. They would also get a chance of seeing for themselves the state of religion in Lithuania.
Mr O'Mahoney thought this an excellent idea, and said that he was seeking visas for a busload to go from Ireland early in summer. It would be expensive, but he thought it had boundless opportunities for international goodwill.
The reaction to The Guardian's publicity has been worldwide. it has been amazing," O'Mahoney said. "People are yearning for peace and see this as a small contribution," A contribution to what? To the gaiety of nations? To the confusion of atheists? It looks to me a most delicate ploy in which the Russians, though they put up a very creditable defence, never had a chance.
The Irish Republic is unique in that no-one, not even in England, wants to be caught in public being rude to or about it. The same apparently goes for Russia.
I would not be surprised if the
statue never leaves Whitechapel, but even if it does not, its journey will not have been in vain.
To add to the well-designed confusion, no-one here seems to know precisely where the statue is or which manifestation of the Virgin it represents.
Martyrdom still bearing fruit
THERE is something very beautiful about acts of unasked and unforced courtesy between different religions. Someone sent me a copy of a broadsheet put out by the Anglican vicar of Leybourne in Kent, the Rev. Richard Lea. He writes for his own people, mark you:
"The Feast Day of the Mar
tyr of Ley bourne falls this month on the 7th. John Larke became rector of Leybourne in 1527, in perilous times, when men's loyalty to God and the King were sorely tried by the private problems of Henry VIII and his public methods of solving them.
"Like many good men of his day . . . he was not forcibly struck by the justice of Henry s claim to be Head of the Church in England, just as today there are many good churchmen who dispute the authority of the Prime Minister to appoint bishops .
"John Larke, though rector of a parish whose importance none of us would dispute, would hardly have been a key figure in Tudor Church life.
"Nevertheless, Henry was more than a little anxious for his support. Either that, or else the Royal authority was locally asserted by a band of murderous thugs among a populace thirsty for a species of entertainment that would relegate 'The Exorcist' to the nursery.
"John Larke was hanged, then taken down from the gibbet while still alive, to be 'drawn and quartered' ...
"1 do not know the reactions of the flock whose pastor he had been for 16 years. "Hugh Woodward, who succeeded him, must have learned by his example to keep his opinions . . to himself. He survived as rector for the next 34 years, a Protestant under Edward VI, a Roman Catholic under Mary and finally an Anglican under Elizabeth ... "John Larke is alleged to have been a close friend of Thomas More. The Vatican has awarded him the posthumous title of 'Blessed', which ranks him a little lower than a saint ..
Loyal Anglicans may feel proud of him, despite the fact that he was murdered by their spiritual forefathers."
Diocese fighting to be free
ENGLAND is rich with the fruit and the promise of new dioceses. They are welcome, • for smaller is better in this respect. In Ireland, however, they are less generous with their mitres, though one old diocese is struggling to be free.
This is the diocese of Ross. It was founded by St Fachtna, who died in 590 The succession of bishops include Blessed Thady MacCarthy, who was bishop in 1482, deprived in 1488. and given Cork and Cloyne instead. He was beatified a Confessor in 1895.
In 1650, Lord Broghill basely hanged its Bishop MacEagan. Ross fell to the rule of Cork and of Cloyne but regained autonomy in 1857. Its last cathedral, though small. was in Skibbereen.
If it had its rights, Ross would be a rather small diocese. It would command that tremendous and most southern coast of Ireland which lords it over the ocean from Courtmacsherry to Ballydehob, It comprises West Cork, which is one of the most beautiful and entertaining places in Europe and whose people are both faithful and stubborn where their rights are concerned. My grandfather was one of its exports.
The restored diocese would consist of 11 parishes, all but one of them facing the Atlantic. 11 would have 22 priests and it . would have a population of 20,000that is, if it did not Fet the bit of Cloyne that is owing to it.
The smallest diocese in Ireland is Clonfert, where the bishop was once English tutor to Pope John. The next smallest is Achonry in Sligo with a population of 40,000. Its new bishop, Dr Flynn. defended its' size saying: "The bishop can get to know his priests and people well. There are no barriers, no problems of communication."
So in 1953 this diocese was engulfed in Cork and the Bishop of Cork the redoubtable Dr Lucey, whose speciality is not communication. He does not hold with parish councils and some of the schools of West Cork are rent with controversy. Dr Lucey thinks that the restoration of Ross is desirable but impractical.
There is a vigorous threeyear-old Diocese of Ross Restoration Committee. Its secretary is Mr Patrick O'Donovan, but then so is almost everyone in that part of the world. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Alibrandi, has said that the Irish bishops must decide the
Rome go unanswered for "decades." The Vatican took seven years to reply to a petition from Ross and that was in one sentence. A magnum silentium on Ross has fallen around the Irish bishops. And if anyone says that the diocese would be too small to be viable, they do not know West Cork.