By Pat Shortall
It is a natural human instinct to love hearing good news, unless of course there is begrudgery lurking. The story of the Passion and Death of Christ Jesus is anything but good news! In what is often titled “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, we must patiently wait until The Resurrection, to learn of a successful conclusion. Happy ending perhaps, but not happy ever after.
We are all familiar with and remember very well, this story associated with the rosary’s sorrowful mysteries. Most of us were just seven or eight years beyond our embryonic stage as we learned about the happenings during Holy Week 2000 years ago. Our feelings ranged from concern to sympathy when first we learned of the young Man tragically put to death for what would appear to be nothing at all. An injustice difficult to comprehend. Being told that He died for all our sins seemed to be beyond our comprehension too. It was even more depressing for young minds, when realising that this was the Baby, who had being born in a stable at Bethlehem just a few months previously, but was now a grown-up adult. We were quickly educated as to understanding about the passage of time and how a few months can be squeezed to become many years.
Yes, the sad series of events was difficult to accept at the time. There was the final meal – The Last Supper, where Jesus surprisingly announced to his loyal and trusted friends that, “Someone is about to betray me”. Then later that evening, He asks His Father, if it be His will, to intervene in what was about to unfold. Jesus had possessed the knowledge of His betrayal. We learned of the shock and horror of the slicing off of a soldier’s ear and then whipping and beating. So much to take on board.
As we are all now well aware, the tragic sequence of distress did not end there; we learned that someone went to a lot of trouble, twisting some brambles into a crown with piercing thorns and placing it on Head of Jesus, we almost felt the pain. Then the deafening shouts from the crowd, as they agreed what punishment should be meted out to the King of the Jews. At this stage, most of us I’m sure, had heard enough.
Once again, revisiting my classroom days, certain sections of the story seemed to be explained more vividly. Nevertheless, it was unlikely to be forgotten. We also learned that all those present at the place of the Skull on that Good Friday, experienced the moments of darkness at 3pm, followed by a most violent thunder and lightning storm.
It is no wonder then that clever film producers latched on to story and in many cases made it a box office success. It is also no wonder that in the year 1634 the villagers of Oberammergau in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps brought the harrowing tale to a new level. It was agreed that in their promised depiction of the passion, that the person who was to be crucified must not object to being nailed to a cross with real nails. The story of the passion is re-enacted in thanksgiving for deliverance from the scourge of the bubonic plague of 1633. The pledge was in gratitude from the local community and they kept their word. Not even one person in the village of 5,000 died during the plague.
The Oberammergau passion play takes place every tenth year between May and October. It is reported, that at least half a million people oversubscribe the event. The promise was kept intact until 2020. Then because of the worldwide Corona-pandemic, the passion play had to be postponed for two years. Thus, the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play will now entertain its following from the 14th May to the 2nd October 2022.
Closer to home, in Ballylinan, Co. Laois, a group in the village community have also taken the passion to the stage. Their inspiration was gained as a result of some local people actually visiting Oberammergau in the early nineties.
Speaking to one of the Ballylinan passion play members recently, I learned he was credited with having played the part of one of the soldiers in the last two performances. That meant he was involved in the act of beating Jesus at the pillar. I asked him, how hard was the beating? His reply was that he asked the person who played the main role the same question. He was advised to “beat so hard that skin would be broken, the audience must see blood and scars.”
In Kilkenny, The Passion was staged on each Good Friday from 1997 to 2008 in St. John’s Church. It was christened, The Journey to Calvary. It was a much-severed version to that portrayed in Oberammergau or Ballylinan. The local writers concerned themselves with the happenings between both Palm and Easter Sunday. Only the most important elements of the week were highlighted, but was just as much meaningful and thought provoking as the others.
The Journey to Calvary can be heard on the Sunday Serendipity programme on Community Radio Kilkenny City (88.7FM) on Palm Sunday with a repeat broadcast on Easter Sunday. It is produced and directed by Lake Productions in association with Sunday Serendipity. Listen out for many familiar voices.