All across the world today, Catholics will be observing Good Friday by hearing readings of the Passion. In most services the reading will be proclaimed by several individuals unlike the weekly reading of the Gospel as done by a single priest. Many churches will take this reading a step further and involve movement, blocking, and some rudimentary acting to portray the story. It's a nice way to help bring to life one of the longer readings of the Church's year.
But the Catholic Church has always used theatrical devices to help spread the Gospel. During the Middle Ages, Passion Plays and Mystery Plays, (such as the Chesterfield Plays, Wakefield Cycle, The Second Shephard's Play, and York Mystery Plays) were used to teach the illiterate and non-Latin speaking masses the stories of the Bible. Most were tied to the various festivals of the Church calendar and spilled out into the street in various secular forms.
And why not? Can you imagine a story with more high drama? An innocent man and perhaps a god is brought before the tyrannous governor. Pilate, in fact, was the first and ultimate villain of the Medieval stage. Often the actor paying him was paid more than Christ. These two meet in on of the best written scenes in history and it's a matter of life or death.
Their encounter is highly reminiscent of the encounter between Dionysus and Pentheus in the Greek Tragedy The Bacchae. And similar to the Catholic Church, Greek Theatre was highly intertwined with religious festivals. Sarah Ruhl too looked at the Passion plays through the centuries in her drama Passion Play.
It's a story that has resonated through the ages. And whether you are hearing it in a Church today or in a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, or some new script, we all will no doubt run across it again.
Happy Birthday: Bill Irwin (b. 1950)
April 12: Alan Ayckbourn (b. 1939)