Last night I went with our RCIA candidates to see The Passion of the Christ. The movie realistically depicts the final twelve hours of Jesus’ life: his agony and arrest in the garden; trial before the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate; scourging; carrying of the cross and the crucifixion itself. It was violent – especially the flagellation and crowning of thorns, accompanied as they were by sadism and mockery.
The movie does not simply recreate the passion, but, more important, gives a mediation upon it. The film shows it as the culmination of Jesus’ struggle against the powers of evil. For parents wondering about taking their children to the movie, I would say that the most disturbing part is not so much the violence, but the portrayal of Satan and of devils in the guise of young boys. To see innocence suddenly change into hideous cruelty is shocking. In a horrific scene the demons drive Judas to despair and suicide.
Peter also despairs after his cowardly denial of Jesus. However, instead of putting an end to his life, he throws himself before Mary whom he calls, “Mother.”
Next to Jesus, Mary plays the central role in the movie. We experience the passion through her eyes. After witnessing the scourging, she cleans the bloody floor, and then follows Jesus as he carries the cross. One of the soldiers asks who the woman is. The other replies, “the mother of the Galilean.” The soldier stops as if suddenly aware that the man they are torturing is a human being.
While the movie is not anti-Semitic, I found myself wondering how a modern Jew would feel watching it. I wondered if they would have similar feeling to mine when I read a book or watch a movie about the Holocaust: a feeling of shame that so many Catholics did nothing or even actively participated, but also some pride that many Catholic priests, religious and laity did act heroically.
So it was with Jews at the time of Jesus’ passion. The movie depicted religious leaders like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea taking great risks to defend Jesus. Simon, although pressed into service, showed tender compassion as he shouldered the cross. My favorite was Veronica. The scene where she approached Jesus to wipe the blood from his face brought tears to my eyes.
The movie brings out the connection between Jesus' passion and the sacraments. Perhaps seven times it refers back to the Last Supper. The words “This is my Body” and “This is the cup of my Blood” are clearly linked to crucifixion itself. Besides the Eucharist, baptism is also shown. After Jesus’ death, the soldier opens his side. First blood, then water spills out. The soldier kneels as drops of those precious liquids shower him.
I loved the final scene. (This is a spoiler so read no further if you have not seen the movie.) In a darkened cave, we see slab of stone with a cloth upon it. The cloth slowly deflates and we glimpse a human figure. The nail wound clearly visible on his hand, he stands and begins to walk with a firm step.
Like most people, we left the auditorium in silence. We gathered and I asked them if they wanted to say a prayer together. Most of our group was either preparing for the Easter sacraments (baptism, confession, confirmation and Eucharist) or sponsoring someone who was in that process. We joined hands, a circle of about twenty. Other movie goers stood around us. I said a prayer thanking Jesus for so much love in suffering for us and asked for both forgiveness and help to be able to love like he did. Then we said an “Our Father,” and, conscious of her role in our redemption, we prayed a “Hail, Mary.”
And from Mark Shea: Hands down the finest film ever made about Jesus Christ. Period.
For more information see: A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About The Passion of The Christ. We want to give you a tool so that you can fortify your own faith and knowledge, and provide answers and guidance to those who are wrestling with important theological questions after they view Gibson’s film. Arm Yourself with the Truth You need to prepare yourself to answer questions they’ll ask, such as:
Homilies on the Passion:
Passion (Palm) Sunday:
Bulletin (Holy Week Subtext: Jewish-Christian Relations)
See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm
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