Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Good Friday is a day I find strangely difficult. I can't really explain why. Maybe because, coming to the most solemn part of the Christian year, I feel simply unable to respond adequately.

For the past three years (or is it more?) I've gone to the inter-parish Stations of the Cross in Ballymun. It's always inspiring to see how many people turn up, and how sober and serious they are about it. But it always leaves me with a strange sense of hollowness.

Then there is the solemn celebration of our Lord's Passion at three-- the one day in the year, most years, that my father takes himself to church (outside special events). The priests abased before the altar, the dramatic reading of the Passion, the kissing of the Cross, the empty tabernacle-- it's a ceremony of considerable drama, full of profound gestures. And yet I always seem to come away feeling strangely defeated.

I don't feel this about Christmas, or about the Easter Vigil Mass, or about Maundy Thursday, or about most parts of the Christian calendar. Only today.

Of course, I know the spiritual life is not about emotions or imagination. And it's a good thing. Because today I always seem to feel I'm running on empty. Or maybe the death of God's only son is just too big for me to take in.

Perhaps this sense of emptiness is even appropriate to the day. I don't know.

Incidentally, my father was able to sympathize with me on the awfulness and banality of our modern hymns. He had been listening to sacred music on the radio and he said the contrast is shocking. I try to get to Mass every day-- I'm lucky to work in a university where lunch-time Mass is available every day in term-time. And Sunday Mass is my least favourite Mass-- because of the hymns. I even find myself dreading it. Silence, in my view, is a thousand times better than those awful hymns.

There is one hymn often sung in Ballymun that has the lyrics:

Come back to me with all your heart,
don't let fear keep us apart.
Trees do bend, tho' straight and tall;
so must we to others' call.

Long have I waited for your coming
home to me and living deeply our new life.

The wilderness will lead you
to your heart where I will speak.
Integrity and justice
with tenderness you shall know.

Long have I waited for your coming
home to me and living deeply our new life.

How can't people hear how insipid this is? It dies on the tongue as you sing it. It dies in the brain as you think it.

My father has suggested I complain to the parish priest. But I think he's a fine parish priest and I don't want to make his life difficult. Besides, I'm sure I would earn the hatred of the choir. Maybe the old-fashioned advice is best-- just offer it up.


  1. I was listening to the priests sing the Passion this afternoon, and noting, with half a mind, that there were conventions for each part, a certain set of notes that preceded an utterance by Our Lord, a different set of notes if the speaker was to be Pilate or the chief priests. The priest singing Our Lord’s words always set them to a specific, stately framework that almost seemed to be chiseled in vast stone as he sang. After the Crucifixion, the careful chant of the narrator soared into a different mode entirely, a flight of rising sorrow the more devastating for its restraint.

    One would hope this effect had contributed to my sorrowing for my sins in many years past; I’m sure it has. But for an instant this afternoon the grave conventions of the music struck me, too, as though I was a traveler come in from very far away, stumbling into a holy place where a people with long memories heard their wise men sing again the deeds of their forebears. (I've had "Beowulf" much on the brain of late, and I can't say that a novel some fellow in Dublin has been serializing is exactly helpful when it comes to getting off the topic of poetic tradition). You're very right in saying that the spiritual life is not about emotion, but for that moment it was riveting to hear a story told about a hero, and to realize the story, the huge story, was still going on, and that I had a bit to play in it.

    That said, no matter how you slice it, Good Friday does leave one feeling a bit. . .gutted? I'm always rather taken aback to go out into the street and find that the very sun is carrying on much the way it always does; somehow there is a part of my brain that expects the entire world to look horrified, to be struck dumb.

    As for worship songs. . .I'm sorry. You have my most wholehearted sympathy on that subject. Can it really be that difficult to write something with a decent melody and words hearty enough to bear thinking about after the last echo has died? Evidently it can.

    It's early, but, since I don't think I'll have much of a chance at a computer over the weekend, a very joyous Easter to you and yours (and joyfully silent Mass for the occasion, I hope). -Molly

  2. Thanks, Molly, and a joyous Easter to you and yours too! (Unfortunately, no chance of a joyously silent Mass for me!). I have so much to say in response to your kind comment, but I'm just running out the door now and wanted to reply quickly in the hope of catching you. I agree with everything you wrote!

  3. It was dreadfully kind of you to try and get a word in edgewise before my Easter Migration. You did, in fact, succeed, though the clock did not allow me to say so. And it was indeed a joyous Easter. -Molly

  4. You're welcome, and I'm glad you had a nice Easter!

  5. I feel like the odd one out as I don't think I felt like this.

    I don't really like choirs either. During the summer, our choir goes on "holiday" for 2 - 3 months, and the Mass is much shorter... MUCH shorter. I don't understand why they even have the choir. It's obviously not the reason people go to Mass. Most people in my church don't even wait for Mass to officially end. Maybe they would if the choir didn't eat up so much time - time which my mind spends wandering, defeating the purpose of it existing in the first place.