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St. Mary Magdalen's
Catholic Church
Willesden Green
London NW10
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Monday, April 16, 2012
Palm Sunday 1st April 2012
Liturgy is Theatre?

When I was in my first year at Allen Hall seminary we had a rather charismatic Benedictine teaching us liturgy who began his first lecture with the words, “Boys. Liturgy is theatre," accompanied by rather expansive arm waving. Much to Dom Anthony’s disappointment I never fully subscribed to that particular notion even though there are costumes, prescribed words and actions and, at a stretch given that we use candles and incense, occasional pyrotechnics.

However, the liturgies this week make me think of the time that the early Lloyd Webber/Rice musical Cats was on in the West End. When you looked at the listings in the newspaper, the New London theatre carried a unique warning which I have never seen attached to any play other then the feline one: it read, “Latecomers will not be admitted once the auditorium is in motion.”

On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate at 8.00pm the Commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. In that Mass we do more than just act out the Last Supper – that really would just be theatre. What we celebrate is the reality that the bread and the wine blessed and shared become one and the same with the broken body and blood poured out when Christ dies on the cross. Therefore, it makes little sense to come to Thursday evening and not come at 3.00pm on Good Friday for the Lord’s Passion and vice versa. By the same token, since we leave on Friday afternoon in silence because the Lord is in the darkness of the tomb, missing the climax of the whole action in the resurrection of Christ celebrated first at the Easter Vigil at 8.30pm on Saturday is also to impoverish ourselves spiritually.

An analogy for the Easter Triduum is provided by JRR Tolkein. Three of his books – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King – are better known by the single title as The Lord of the Rings. What sense would it make to read The Two Towers on its own? If we did, we wouldn’t know why the action was occurring which is explained in the first book nor see the outcome unfolding in the third.
Of course, not everyone can come to all three services because of work and other commitments but the fact remains that the three liturgies are a seamless garment. Therefore like the soldiers who cast lots for Christ’s clothing, let us try not to tear into pieces what should be admired as one. The Divine action played out in a human auditorium gets in motion on Thursday. We are free to come and go as we please, but we would understand it best by staying for it all.

Fr Kevin

posted by Sinead Reekie at 9:05 am