>On Reviving Acts of Popular Piety

>This morning the Torygraph is reporting that a staging of a Passion Play, written by Peter Hutley, will take place in London’s famous Trafalgar Square this year on Good Friday, April 2nd at 3:15 p.m. Mr. Hutley, a convert to Catholicism, is described in The Times as a “successful property magnate”, who has staged Nativity Plays at his estate of Wintershall in Surrey, outside London, for many years. The Wintershall website features information and photos regarding other productions staged by Mr. and Mrs. Hutley over the years. This particular recounting will feature a cast of over 100 actors, and has the backing of His Excellency Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.

While this event is unusual for today’s Britain, Passion Plays were acts of popular piety quite commonly held in Europe and throughout the British Isles in the Middle Ages. The most famous example of the still-extant Passion Plays has taken place since 1634 in the village of Oberammergau, Bavaria, in the last year of every decade. The Oberammergau performance is considerably larger, featuring 2,000 participants, but tickets are expensive and difficult to come by, and the venue somewhat remote for the average attendee. By contrast, the location for Mr. Huntley’s re-telling of the events of Holy Week, arguably the most iconic public square in the British capital, will no doubt ensure significant attendance, particularly as there will be no charge to those wishing to see the play.

Renewing pious traditions such as this are very often left up to the individual, and I wish to commend Mr. Hutley for his efforts to bring the message of Christ to the people of London in such a compelling fashion. We are so bombarded with messages of selfishness in the media (and, regrettably, the arts) in our present day and age, that actions such as his ought to serve as an encouragement to all Christians to rejoice in their faith and not fear to spread the Good News. Indeed, it serves as a challenge to us all to do more.

The “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy” issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in December 2001, quotes from Pope John Paul II’s address on the subject of popular piety, where he noted that “[g]enuine forms of popular piety, expressed in a multitude of different ways, derives from the faith and, therefore, must be valued and promoted. Such authentic expressions of popular piety are not at odds with the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy. Rather, in promoting the faith of the people, who regard popular piety as a natural religious expression, they predispose the people for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.”

Perhaps we are not blessed with a significant fortune as are the Hutleys to spend on such an unique enterprise, but any one of us can engage in or revive acts of piety in our own way. For a number of years now, I have thrown a party for my Catholic friends on the Night of St. John, an ancient Catalan celebration of the nativity of St. John the Baptist. It is a relaxed, not a grand affair, but we have a special cake named for and eaten only on St. John’s birthday, and we have a priest give a reflection on the life of St. John to remind us of his importance in pointing the way to Christ.

You, dear reader, may be able to do something yourself, even if just to get the ball rolling in your community. When was the last time your parish had a May Crowning, for example – is this something that you can approach your pastor about? What about celebrating your parish’s patronal feast day with a special mass, procession and reception, to which all members of the parish are invited? Could you provide a simple bouquet of inexpensive flowers to be placed alongside the image of a saint displayed in your local church on his or her feast day? Maybe that would also be a day to give the statue or painting a good cleaning or dusting in honor of the person whom it represents?

There are many acts of piety we can perform which give glory to God; we only need to take it upon ourselves to consider how we can go about doing so, however limitless or limited our means.