The Drama of Faith: The Church and the Stage | Mark P. Shea | CWR
The historical relationship between the Faith and the theatre is a complicated and revealing one
You enter a ritual space and take your seat in the midst of a large audience. At the front or perhaps the middle of the hall (often a vast and airy one, but sometimes a small and intimate one) is another part of the ritual space that is marked off from the area you and your fellow audience members occupy. In that ritual space are various pieces of furniture and props for use during the public act that is about to occur.
Music sounds. A chorus and a cast of ritually costumed figures appear and begin to go through a set of carefully scripted words and physical actions. There is a place in the script for audience involvement, with call and response between the figures in the ritual space and the audience. Various cast members recite words of poetry and prose and sometimes burst into song. One player in particular portrays, in a stylized form, the central hero of the drama, the tale of a conflict in which the hero passes through all the trials of life with which we ourselves are familiar: poverty, hunger, friendship, love, betrayal, suffering and death—and comes at last to a glorious and moving triumph. It is a tale in which, after a struggle and a grand act of self-sacrifice, the hero saves his friends from the powers of evil, the humble are exalted, the bad guys get their comeuppance or are themselves so changed by the conflict that they are reconciled with the hero in friendship and love. In the end, the hero receives his reward and the acclaim of great and small. Through participation in this drama, all involved have offered to them a chance at catharsis—purging—from the ills, spiritual and physical, which burden them as human beings. The audience members become participants in mysterious realities revealed in and through words that are made flesh before their eyes, and they experience a sense of contact with something transcendent. At the conclusion, there is an exeunt omnes (all depart), and the stylized ritual concludes.
So here’s a pop quiz: are you at a production of a play by Sophocles, or at Mass?
A Religious Art Form
The historical relationship between the Faith and the theatre is a complicated one.