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Rites of Passion

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

THE religious landscape of our country has totally transformed since the Ballintubber Abbey Passion Play was first performed in the abbey’s historic grounds 30 years ago this week.
One could argue that the recent decision by the Government to legalise the selling of alcohol on Good Friday has effectively put paid to Holy Week. One could also posit that an increasingly audacious secular State just plays lip-service to our long history of religious practice and Catholicism. Clerical scandals, indeed, were perhaps a convenient vehicle to subjugate the power of the princes of our diocesan system.
Although some would contend – and rightly so – that the religious orders and dioceses still shackle the State with their control and ownership of so many primary schools.
However, corporatism is the real ‘ism’ we all bow to these days. Its global power wields more weapons than any of the medieval crusaders and their suppression of Muslims in the Middle East and beyond. Indeed, the fallout from the global economic collapse has ensured that racism is alive and well and lurking down any street and lane where people of a different colour live – refugees from genocide and torture; asylum seekers from corrupt countries; displaced families isolated and vulnerable.
All we have to do is listen to that clown Donald Trump – leader of the so-called free world – to assess how high ideals have been thrown on the scrap heap of civilisation in the interest of white supremacy.

Universality of struggle
MEANWHILE, here in Co Mayo, down a narrow road to an ancient abbey, a sense of the common universality of struggle is played out each year. Tonight (Tuesday) and tomorrow night, the local community will once again gather for ‘The Triumph of Easter’.
It is entirely appropriate that these atmospheric grounds – replete with a deep history that transcends even the establishment of this church in 1216 by King Cathal Crovdearg O’Conor – provide the amphitheatre for this epic story of Christ’s crucifixion. In so many ways, the symbolism of the Passion of Christ as he walks the road to Calvary breaches all institutionalised religious boundaries.
Longtime curate, Father Frank Fahey encapsulated its significance some seven years ago in the pages of The Mayo News when he observed that the Passion Play challenged our ‘recent abandonment of Christ and the cry of the poor’.
“We are lamenting the demise of the Celtic Tiger but we are saying that in a few years time, the economy will be buoyant again. I hope we don’t return to the lack of compassion and community concern that existed during this period. The message of the Cross is the cry of the poor and even people who became very rich during the Celtic Tiger are crying now and they should not be abandoned either.”
He noted that times have changed so quickly and that this drama offered ‘a unique way for people to reflect on the symbolism and significance of Holy Week and Easter’.
Poignantly, he added: “I remember years ago, when teaching in Dublin, nobody worked on Good Friday, and between 12 midday and three o’clock, no matter what they were doing, they would remain silent.”
Now, with the new legislation, pubs and restaurants will no longer be silent on Good Friday. Tourism and the interests of the economy are given precedence over a historic day whose deep symbolism no longer seems to matter.
The fact though that a small community like Ballintubber continues to gather members from every generation to enact a scene that occurred over 2,000 years ago, on a hill called Calvary outside the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem, confirms a pervading spirituality that has no religious boundaries.
Indeed, it truly substantiates the importance of ritual and the perennial hope embodied by the feast of Easter.  

The annual Ballintubber Passion Play, ‘The Triumph of Easter’ will be held at 9pm tonight (Tuesday) and tomorrow night Wednesday, March 28. Wear warm clothing. Donations welcome.

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