By: Pam Mercer
Let me take you back to the morning of Good Friday in years past. The Church in our small Tuscan village is filled with spring flowers, some from the fields, others from florists – and the feeling is of spring life and joy. By sunset, the flowers are gone and in their place are the wooden statues of Mary, whose heart is pierced by an arrow and Christ, beautiful and holy and damaged. A group of women take the statue of Mary and hoist it up on their shoulders, while a group of men take the Christ and follow behind the women. The entire village, each person carrying a candle proceed behind. In the past, one of the village leaders, Giancarlo would walk along the line of mourners admonishing them to keep in a two-by-two line. He has gone on now, but his memory seems to keep us in order just the same.
We walk through the town and up the hill, singing. Georgia and Laura lead the chanting hymns that connect us to the past and give us hope for the future. The priest leads the way, followed by children in long white robes. Our girls were part of the children’s procession when they were younger, and I always wondered at the generosity of the Catholic Priest who allowed our half Jewish children to participate in this ritual that was of such great significance to the community we had raised them in.
As we walk, those carrying the statue are occasionally relieved by others to take up the burden and honor of carrying the sacred. We walk past huge bon fires made from the prunings of the olive trees, a harkening back to the Pagan times that must still be somewhere in our DNA. We carry our candles – long and protected with a plastic covering to keep the wind from blowing them out. There are 200 of us or more. Some of us gossip and chat until Giancarlo’s ghost wags a finger at us and returns us to the solemnity of the moment.
At the end of the procession, the statues are set down in front of the Church and one by one we approach Mary and the Christ. Some will touch the hem of her gown, some the wound in his side, some will kiss the feet of the venerated. Worshiped, adored, revered, grieved: they offer a moment of connection to the divine, forgiveness and wholeness, both in our own bodies and souls and in the body of the community.
In the end, the children take off their white robes and run to play hide and seek in the Piazza. The statues of Mary and Jesus are moved back into the church to wait for Sunday and for the coming years when they will accompany us once again on the journey up the hill and back to our homes.
I always say that I am 1/3 Protestant, 1/3 Pagan and 1/3 Catholic. But on Good Friday, I am simply myself participating in an ancient ritual that unites my past, present and future and reminds me of the sacredness of life and the importance of community.
Note: Our town's Good Friday celebrations are not happening this year due to COVID.