The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton

CHAPTER FIVE: The Passion Play

It is Good Friday. Today, Mum, Dad and the children are going to be in a Passion play. They are going to dress up and act out a play about Jesus.

The play will be performed outside in a large park. Mum is glad the sun is shining. If it was raining all the people acting in the play would get wet.

When Kate went to see Sleeping Beauty with Granny, they sat in a theatre and watched the play. At first the stage looked like a palace ballroom. Then as Kate and Granny sat still in their seats, the scenery was moved. The stage was transformed into the princess' bedroom and later into an overgrown forest.

There will be lots of different scenes in the Passion play too. The play will start in the Upper Room where Jesus and the apostles celebrated the Last Supper. The play will end at Calvary where Jesus was crucified and died. But in this play, the scenery will stay still and it will be the people who will move. They will walk from one scene to another and from one end of the park to the other, until the play is over. Mum hopes Annie will be able to walk all that way. She thinks she might have to carry Annie if she gets tired.

There are lots of different characters in the Passion play. The most important one is, of course, Jesus. All the apostles are in the story too.

This year Dad is going to be Saint Peter. He has a long brown robe and a cloak. He is wearing sandals on his feet.

Edward has been given the part of the Roman standard bearer. He will march at the head of the Romans as they proceed to Calvary with Jesus. Edward has a short red tunic and a helmet and sandals that lace up his legs. He doesn't really like his costume. It is rather short so he has insisted on wearing his shorts underneath.

Joe is going to be Pontius Pilate's water boy. He has borrowed an altar boy's alb, from Father Brown, to wear as his costume.

Mum and the girls will be wailing women. They will follow along behind Jesus as he carries his cross to Calvary and pretend to cry. Mum has made them all long tunics and they have mantles covering their heads. At the right moment, they will hide their faces in their mantles and make loud wailing noises. Even Annie is dressed up. She is the tiniest wailing woman of all. She looks so cute in her miniature robe.

A lady journalist from the local newspaper is at the park. She has come to take photos of the Passion play. She will also write a story. Next week, everyone will be able to buy the newspaper and read all about the play.

The lady journalist introduces herself. Her name is Kay. Kay wants to take photos of everyone in their costumes. When she sees Annie, Kay exclaims, "Oh isn't she adorable!" Annie smiles sweetly. She loves all the attention. She is quite happy to stand still for lots and lots of photos.

A lot of people are coming to see the Passion play. Car after car and bus after bus arrive. There will be a huge crowd.

It is almost time for the play to begin. Dad makes his way over to the first scene, the scene of the Last Supper.

Dad has a lot of lines to say. He hopes he doesn't forget any of his words. Some of the other actors have their lines written on tiny pieces of paper which they have hidden in the palms of their hands. But Dad is relying entirely on his memory.

All the actors are ready. The man playing the part of Jesus has arrived. He has long hair. (It might be a wig.) He also has a beard which is definitely his own. Jesus stands behind a long table. On the table are plates and cups and various items of food. In a basket is a freshly baked bread roll.

The twelve apostles are sitting around the table. It is easy to work out which one is Judas. He is the rather thin and shifty looking man. Most of the other apostles are fatter and happier looking. Some are bald. Others have hair. They all have beards.

Mum and the children are not in this scene so they can stand with the crowd of spectators to watch. Annie is sitting on the ground next to Mum. At least Mum thinks Annie is sitting next to her. Suddenly Mum notices a pair of feet sticking out from under the tablecloth which is covering the Last Supper table. She recognises those feet. They are Annie's. Then a chubby hand pops out. It grabs the freshly baked bread roll off the table. The hand and the roll disappear back under the tablecloth. Mum is horrified. She wants to call to Annie. But she can't. The play has started.

Soon Jesus is ready to celebrate the first Mass. He reaches for the bread but, of course, the basket is empty. For a moment he looks puzzled. He wonders what to do and then he decides he will have to use a pretend loaf of bread. He gazes up to Heaven and says, "This is my Body..."

By now Annie has crawled back to Mum with her delicious bread roll. There are crumbs all around her mouth. Mum is just about to scold Annie when the Last Supper scene comes to an end. All the spectators are starting to move. They begin hurrying along the pathway to the next scene. There is a lot of pushing and shoving. Everyone wants to get to the next scene as quickly as possible. They want a spot at the front where they'll get a good view.

Mum hasn't got time to say anything to Annie. She grabs Annie's hand and then, making sure the other girls are following, Mum also hurries to the next scene. Annie can't keep hold of her bread. It falls to the ground and is left behind. Annie starts to cry.

Jesus and the apostles are now in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mum has wiped Annie's wet face with a tissue. She rocks Annie gently in her arms hoping Annie will stop crying before the actors start speaking again. This time Mum is very careful to keep a good hold of Annie.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is asking his apostles to keep watch with him. He asks them to pray. He then goes off to one side of the scene, where there is a big rock, to pray alone. The apostles lie down and pretend to fall asleep. Jesus returns. He is very disappointed when he sees the sleeping apostles.

Soon it is time for Judas to betray Jesus. The shifty looking man kisses Jesus on the cheek. Joe is watching closely. He has squirmed his way to the front of the crowd. He wants a good view. He knows that Jesus is going to be arrested by two mean-looking thugs. Joe likes this bit. The thugs stride heavily up to Jesus. They have metal pudding bowl helmets on their heads and metal breast plates. They are clutching thick sticks and scowling in a belligerent fashion. They take their sticks and pretend to beat Jesus. Joe starts to look excited. Mum catches sight of his face and is horrified. "Joe!" she says. "That's Jesus they are beating." Joe wasn't really thinking about Jesus. He was just enjoying the fight. He tries to keep a sad look on his face.

Dad is the star of the next scene. Or rather, Dad is the coward of the next scene. The servant girl sees Peter warming himself by the fire. She asks him if he is one of Jesus' companions. Peter looks horrified and vehemently denies knowing Jesus. And then the cock crows. It is quite a strange sounding crow. A man has cupped his hands to his lips and is doing his best to sound like a rooster. Annie thinks the sound is wonderful. She wonders if she can crow like a rooster. She makes crowing noises all the way to the next scene. Mum walks along pretending to be deaf.

The next scene is Pontius Pilate's palace. Pontius Pilate is sitting on an enormous chair. He is wearing a white tunic underneath a red-edged robe. Annie stands quietly for a moment watching Pontius Pilate. She thinks she has seen him before. Lizzie and Celeste have also seen him before. They know who Pontius Pilate is. "It's Mr Vince, the dentist," they whisper loudly. Annie gets all excited and starts to wave. Mr Vince notices Annie. He wants to wave back but he is supposed to be Pontius Pilate so he just gives Annie a big wink instead. In return, Annie decides to make her best rooster noise for Mr Vince.

Now the crowd is shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Mum looks around. It is amazing how involved the people are getting. Their voices are getting louder and louder. Annie is yelling too. She doesn't know what they are shouting about. She is just enjoying making a lot of noise.

Joe's turn comes next. He has a bowl of water and a towel. He has to take them to Pontius Pilate who will use them to wash his hands. But Annie wants to help carry the bowl. Joe tries to push her off and the bowl rocks and the water sloshes all down Annie's front. She screws up her eyes and opens her mouth wide. She is going to cry. Joe sees his opportunity and hurries up the steps to Pontius Pilate while Annie's eyes are closed. Pontius Pilate has to wash his hands in pretend water.

Jesus is now going to be scourged. Mum thought this might upset Annie. But Annie is already upset over the water. She is sitting in the dust howling. She misses the scourging all together. But Joe and the other girls are in the front line of the crowd, watching the whip as it lashes back and forth against Jesus' back. They are watching closely, trying to work out how the red marks are appearing on Jesus' back. "Do you think it is red paint?" Celeste asks. "Do you think it hurts?" The man with the whip is working hard. The scourging looks very realistic. Jesus is groaning.

Jesus has been forced to carry his cross. He is on his way to Calvary. At the head of the procession is Edward carrying the Roman standard. Mum and the girls are with the other wailing women. They watch Jesus as he struggles beneath the weight of the cross. The crowd is singing a very stirring and mournful hymn. A few ladies in the crowd start to cry. Now it is the wailing women's turn to cry. They all howl loudly into their mantles. All except Annie. She doesn't feel like crying any more. She is beginning to feel thirsty. Suddenly she thinks she sees Dad. Perhaps he will get her a drink. She slips away through the crowd. When Mum takes her face out of her mantle, Annie is gone.

Mum looks all around her but there is no sign of Annie. The crowd is so thick it is impossible to see a short little girl. Mum can't shout out Annie's name. It would interrupt the play. She gets a panicky feeling inside her. She doesn't know what to do.

Annie can't find Dad. All she can see are lots and lots of legs. She tries to get out of the crowd. The only place where there are no people is at the front of the procession. Annie runs in that direction. And then she spots Edward. He is at the front still carrying his standard. "Edward! Edward!" she shouts.

Edward is very surprised to see Annie next to him. He quickly looks around but there is no sign of the rest of the family. He can't leave Annie by herself. He bends down and tells her to climb up on his shoulders. Then hoisting the standard back up into the air, he continues along the road to Calvary.

Now Annie is enjoying herself. She is up high and can see over the tops of everyone's heads. It is a wonderful place to be.

The procession has now arrived at Calvary. Annie can see two crosses. Two men are already tied to the crosses. They are the two thieves. Between the crosses is a space. This is where Jesus' cross will be erected. When Annie realises Jesus is going to be put on the cross, she starts to wail. Mum, who is still looking for Annie, hears the wail. She hurries up to the front of the crowd and is so surprised to see Annie high up on Edward's shoulders. Quickly she rescues her. Edward is glad Annie is climbing down. His shoulders are very sore. He feels like he has been carrying the cross.

The people are all gathering around the crosses waiting for the crucifixion and death of Jesus. There is almost total silence. It is only a play but everyone is thinking, "This really happened. Jesus was put to death on a cross. He died for me." A few people are weeping. Then it is all over. Jesus has died. His body is taken down from the cross and he is carried off to the tomb.

The crowd starts, slowly and quietly, to disperse. Mum and Dad and the children are now able to find each other again.

Mum is crying. Not pretend tears into her mantle but real tears that roll down her face. Dad puts his arm around Mum to comfort her.

"It's been such a difficult day," sobs Mum. "Annie was so badly behaved. She stole the bread from the Last Supper table. She cried at all the wrong times. She crowed like a rooster and did lots of shouting. She got soaked with Pontius Pilate's water and covered in dirt. Then she got lost. I was so worried about her." Mum then looks around the scene of Calvary and adds, "And then they crucified Jesus and he died!"

While Mum has been crying, Annie has fallen asleep on the grass. She is a very dirty little girl. All the dust has stuck to her damp robe. There are dirty streaks on her face where the tears have rolled down. But beneath all the grime she still looks beautiful. Dad lifts her up carefully and everyone walks slowly back to the van. The Passion play is over for another year.

The next week, the local newspaper arrives in the mailbox. "Look at this!" shouts Kate, running into the house clutching the paper. "It's Annie!"

On the front page of the newspaper is a huge photo of Annie. It was taken when she was clean and tidy, before the Passion play began. She is smiling sweetly at the camera. There is a big headline to go with the photo. It says:

Angel Annie, the Passion Play's Tiniest Wailing Woman.

"Angel Annie?" Dad looks at Mum and Mum looks at Dad. Then they burst out laughing.

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