Over time we have abandoned the practices that make life interesting
A year of Covid has crushed the texture from our lives. For the millions of working-from-home-workers, life is especially flat. One day is much like the next — the same surroundings, the same people, the same routine.
I’m not sure that we’re quite prepared for the shock of the great unlocking. If all goes well, then by the summer we’ll be back to the way things were before the pandemic. Whereupon, a painful discovery awaits us: which is that our pre-Covid lives were pretty humdrum too.
However, there is one institution that could and should re-texture the passage of time: The Church. The great Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter still provide annual landmarks for believers and non-believers alike; but there’s so much more that our churches could do to re-infuse the calendar with shared variation.
The Church has an immense wealth of liturgical seasons, saints’ days and solemnities to draw upon, with all the tradition and colour that goes with it. And yet it’s been cleared away like so much clutter. For a Catholic like me, it’s easy to blame the Reformation — which stripped the calendar along with the altars. But that’s by no means the whole story. With honourable exceptions, Catholic parishes in this country are as bland and same-y in their practices as their Anglican counterparts — if not more so.
For instance, there’s nothing to stop our churches from making a big thing of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day — but instead Hallowtide has been abandoned to the plastic occultism of trick-or-treat. On the opposite side of the year, is Whitsun or Pentecost Sunday. The associated parades and ‘Whit walks’ were, within living memory, annual features of British life — and yet are all but forgotten in the 21st century. Corpus Christi is another moveable feast and opportunity to bring traffic to a halt with a procession, but these days you’d be lucky to see one on our streets (though a few still happen).
Why is the Church so reluctant to dress up in public? Perhaps, because it has confused its search for relevance in the modern world with merely fitting in with it. This couldn’t be more misconceived. A Church that tries to copy the fleeting fashions of modernity will a) do it badly and b) lose its soul.
Of course, what ultimately gives the Church its purpose is who it believes in. But outside the embrace of faith, the Church’s role is to be a place apart — a sanctuary of unmodernity that anyone can experience as soon as they step within a church or when the Church steps out of its buildings to re-enchant our daily lives.
On Good Friday — that weirdest of our bank holidays — I hope that the Church understands that weirdness is nothing to be afraid of.