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How The Passion Of The Christ Intensifies Devotion
The Wanderer ^ | March 25, 2004 | John J. White

Posted on 03/20/2004 1:31:31 PM PST by NYer

The secular press, the Anti-Defamation League, and Catholic university scholars have all weighed in on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ for its violence, its alleged encouragement of latent anti-Semitism, or its contradiction of some supposed historical "facts" about Pilate and the Romans who occupied first-century Judea.

  But what have we heard of the film’s message for 21st-century Catholics? What does Gibson hope to tell us through the film? People magazine states that one of the film’s major flaws is its assumption that the viewer knows the story. People writes that the failure to provide context or identification of characters weakens the story. It is true that while Gibson assumes that one is familiar with Jesus and the story of His death, the fact is that many Americans are not aware of the details that Gibson assumes.

  As I left the theater last week, I heard two teenage boys in front of me asking who some of the characters were — they had been able to figure out who the Virgin Mary was, but they had no idea who Mary Magdalen was, and they assumed that St. John was St. Joseph.

  Gibson’s failure to explain the context of Jesus’ death is not a flaw, but an artistic and devotional device. He is, at some level, directing the film at the initiated. Despite the fact that little has been made of it, the film contains a message for contemporary Catholics.

  Those who seek to judge this film in the same manner as they would a film on a secular topic, or even those who compare it to other onscreen treatments of Jesus’ death made over the past 30 years miss a major point about the film. Critics and Catholics should not be asking if the film is entirely historically accurate or if the violence is overwhelming; rather, we should look at the film in the context of similar meditations on Christ’s suffering that have been written throughout the ages. There have been many other films that have represented Christ’s death; none, however, sought to use the medium of film as a way to express what heretofore has only been expressed in writing or in the heart. The film attempts to be true to the traditional understanding of Jesus’ last 12 hours, and it does so in a most powerful manner.

  The Passion of the Christ is, first and foremost, a devotional aid. Gibson has stated the profound influence that the Dolorous Passion of Anne Catherine Emmerich had on his understanding of the Passion and, by extension, on his film. Scripture scholar John Dominic Crossan, hardly a friend to popular tradition regarding Christ’s Passion, even suggested sarcastically that Emmerich, an 18th-century German mystic and stigmatic, should receive an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay.

  Crossan, like others, misses the point; he refuses to go where Gibson wishes the film to take him. If Anne Catherine Emmerich were nominated for an Oscar, it would represent a great triumph not only for Gibson but for traditional popular piety. This movie clearly emerged from Mel Gibson’s reading, meditating, and praying through the Passion of our Lord as presented by Emmerich, as well as by his meditations on once-popular Considerations on the Stations of the Cross, and by his consideration of the sorrowful mysteries of the holy rosary.

  The film has more in common with Alphonsus Liguori than it has with Martin Scorsese. St. Alphonsus wrote his Considerations on the Stations of the Cross over 200 years ago. They were the standard meditations used at Catholic churches for weekly lenten observances of the stations until the late 1960s. Alphonsus left the Christian with an acute awareness of Jesus’ physical and psychic suffering as well as with the realization that each of us bears responsibility for Christ’s wounds. As Gibson points out by quoting Isaiah at the beginning of the film, the mystery of the Passion is in the fact that, despite our responsibility for Christ’s wounds, it is by these very wounds that we are healed.

  The Passion of the Christ is the film that St. Alphonsus or Anne Catherine Emmerich would have made if they had access to modern make-up and special effects. The times that Christ stumbles and falls, Veronica and her veil, even the appearances that Mary makes throughout the film all were drawn from these written sources. Crossan may claim that there are elements in the film that contradict the latest scholarship on Roman Judea, but Gibson’s goal is to present nothing which contradicts the Stabat Mater. Mel Gibson is faithful to the Gospel, and faithful to the Tradition. As a work of Catholic piety, the Scriptures and Tradition provide the canon against which the movie should be judged.

The Scriptural Scenes

  In the ten days since I have seen the film, I have found its sounds and images making their way into my prayer. For example, last Tuesday’s and Friday’s experiences of the sorrowful mysteries as I prayed the holy rosary in my car driving to work were deepened as Gibson’s images became part of my prayer. A priest with whom I work viewed the film last week. He told me that he experienced a particularly visceral appreciation for the sufferings of Christ and the shedding of His Precious Blood when he looked into the chalice at the consecration as he celebrated Mass on Friday because of the images that he carried home from the film.

  From the very beginning of the movie, I found myself recognizing not only the story, the characters, and the dialogue, but even the very places and scenery itself were eerily familiar. The film recalls not only historical events but events made real through our prayer. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola instructs the retreatant how to participate in what he calls the "Composition of Place" as one of the preludes to prayer. Then, after creating the scene in the imagination, the one praying is to enter the scriptural scene as though he were himself a part of the action.

  There were several scenes and exchanges in particular that seemed to be drawn from my own experiences of praying the Passion according to Ignatius’ method. The scene when Peter and Jesus make eye contact as Jesus is led away and the cock crows was not only familiar, but it was exactly how I have pictured it when Peter’s denial has been a subject of meditation. Yes, Jesus has given me that very look that He gave to Peter. The scene beneath the cross when Jesus bequeaths His Mother to John was also virtually identical to my experience of that scene in my prayer. I have denied Jesus, and I have taken His Mother into my home.

  Even the violent treatment that our Lord received was more familiar than I expected. While praying the rosary, it takes several minutes to say the Our Father and ten Hail Marys as we meditate on the second sorrowful mystery, the Scourging at the Pillar. A Christian with a lively spiritual imagination will, while praying this mystery, create a scene in his mind not unlike the scourging as seen in the film.

  However, Sr. Mary Boys of the Union Theological Seminary is quoted in People as seeing "problems" with the way in which the film goes beyond the bare scriptural statement that Jesus was flayed in order to provide "lengthy, sinewy detail" into the scourging. Hollywood, the secular press, and Catholic critics like Sr. Boys who decry the film’s graphic violence fail to recognize that a graphic presentation of Christ’s wounds seen through the mind’s eye during a meditation has always been interpreted by spiritual writers as a great gift of grace to the one praying. Grace is a free gift; it is not always a gift that is easy to bear.

  In the buildup to the film’s release, there appeared a row over whether or not the Holy Father had seen the film, and, if he had, whether he truly made the remark: "It is as it was." This statement was at first attributed to him, and later recanted by the Vatican. If the Pope did see the film, and if he did make this statement, the negative reaction in the press to this quote provides another example of the film’s critics failing to understand the context in which a Catholic would experience this film. "It is as it was" is not a commercial endorsement of the film akin to an athlete endorsing an after-shave; it is the logical response of any faithful Christian who has spent time meditating on the mysteries by which our salvation was effected.

Unfashionable Meditations

  Sr. Boys’ difficulties with the film also serve to illustrate another message that the film seeks to deliver. Those raised on the Catholicism that emerged after the Second Vatican Council were taught to de-emphasize the Passion and to replace the Jesus of the Passion with the Jesus who is our friend and brother and who loves us. The emphasis was to be taken away from Christ’s suffering and placed on His presence with us in the here and now. Instead of accompanying Jesus on His awful journey through Jerusalem we were given books which told us to ask Are You Running With Me, Jesus? Jesus was to accompany us on our life’s journey, and not vice-versa.

  In her years at the Institute for Religious Education at Boston College, Sr. Boys was in the forefront of those who sought to remove the broken body of Jesus from the center of our spiritual life. Graphic meditations on the Passion and a sense of personal responsibility for Christ’s sufferings became unfashionable. They made us uncomfortable in our self-affirming society, so they were dismissed as relics from a less enlightened age when the Church supposedly manipulated the image of Jesus in order to make us feel guilty and bad about ourselves. Not only the stations of the cross but also devotions to the wounds of Christ, the seven dolours of the Virgin, and even to the Most Precious Blood of our Lord were cast aside.

  In theory, these devotions were to have been replaced by a renewed emphasis on Christ’s teaching and on His Resurrection. In fact and in practice, however, a de-emphasis on Christ’s death as satisfaction and propitiation for our sins often contributed to a watering-down of Jesus’ message, a faulty theology of the Mass, a cavalier attitude toward the Blessed Sacrament, or outright disbelief in the Real Presence and in the Mass as the unbloodied sacrifice of Calvary.

A Spirit Of Reparation

  The terrible scene after the scourging when the two Marys get down on their knees on the stone pavement to recover the Blood of Jesus with linen cloths after Jesus has been dragged through His own Blood was one of the most moving parts of the film, and was a scene related to the Eucharist as much as the flashback to the Last Supper was intended to be. My mind returned to my youth when a Host or a drop from the chalice which fell to the floor was a liturgical disaster that had to be cleaned up publicly, lovingly, even sorrowfully, and according to a detailed rubric. The reverence with which an accident was remedied left no doubt that what fell to the floor was the very Body and Blood of our Lord.

  St. Alphonsus, in his Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, urges us to incorporate into our visits a spirit of reparation for the outrages committed against the Blessed Sacrament. To many, the last 40 years have provided a catalogue of outrages against the Blessed Sacrament. That silent scene of the Virgin Mary quietly and completely wiping her Son’s blood from the floor is a loud cry for reparation.

  If The Passion of the Christ is primarily a work of devotion, the true measure of its success will not be at the box office or even at the Academy Awards, but rather in whether or not it inspires a return to a public and private piety centered on the Passion and death of our Lord. It may be a tall order to ask whether a contemporary filmmaker can capture the sentiments of great saints and doctors of the Church, but I believe that is what Gibson set out to do.

  The Passion of the Christ may prove to be the most important work in ascetical theology in the last 100 years. That we even think of it in these terms is an indication of the film’s potential for true and lasting greatness.


TOPICS: Activism; Apologetics; Catholic; Charismatic Christian; Current Events; Ecumenism; Evangelical Christian; General Discusssion; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach; Religion & Culture; Theology; Worship
KEYWORDS: catholiclist

1 posted on 03/20/2004 1:31:32 PM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; sinkspur; Lady In Blue; Salvation; Polycarp IV; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; ..

A priest with whom I work viewed the film last week. He told me that he experienced a particularly visceral appreciation for the sufferings of Christ and the shedding of His Precious Blood when he looked into the chalice at the consecration as he celebrated Mass on Friday because of the images that he carried home from the film.

2 posted on 03/20/2004 1:36:26 PM PST by NYer (Prayer is the Strength of the Weak)
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To: NYer
Those raised on the Catholicism that emerged after the Second Vatican Council were taught to de-emphasize the Passion and to replace the Jesus of the Passion with the Jesus who is our friend and brother and who loves us. The emphasis was to be taken away from Christ’s suffering and placed on His presence with us in the here and now.

I never thought much about it before I saw the film, but the Crucifix in the church where I grew up, featured a Christ that was fully clothed and crowned as a king. The cornerstone was dated 1942. I think this goes back a ways.
3 posted on 03/20/2004 2:22:40 PM PST by Desdemona (Music Librarian and provider of cucumber sandwiches, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary. Hats required.)
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To: Desdemona
I think this was not unusual. It is a northern Euopean thing to sanatize Jesus on the Cross which has only been carried to its logical conclusion by the modernists. I remember that the first tortured corpus I ever saw was in a Mexican church.
4 posted on 03/20/2004 2:50:12 PM PST by RobbyS (Latin nothing of atonment)
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To: RobbyS
It is a northern Euopean thing to sanatize Jesus on the Cross which has only been carried to its logical conclusion by the modernists.

That church was built by an Irishman, actually. Other churches had crucifixes that were more traditional, just marble without the blood.
5 posted on 03/20/2004 3:12:16 PM PST by Desdemona (Music Librarian and provider of cucumber sandwiches, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary. Hats required.)
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To: Desdemona
Well, the Irish have been accused of being Jansenistic in certain ways.
6 posted on 03/20/2004 3:39:48 PM PST by RobbyS (Latin nothing of atonment)
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To: NYer
Thanks for the post NYer. That had to be a lot of typing. Our copy of the Wanderer has not yet arrived, so I did enjoy this preview.

PA Lurker
7 posted on 03/20/2004 4:12:35 PM PST by PA Lurker
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To: NYer
I am not going to read the article.

But the headline proves points I was making before.

This movie is becoming an idol.

If all the people who saw the movie, instead sat down and read the Bible for 2 hours, we would be living in a different world.
8 posted on 03/20/2004 4:50:30 PM PST by RaceBannon (John Kerry is Vietnam's Benedict Arnold: Former War Hero turned Traitor)
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To: NYer
Great article!

When the Virgin and Mary Magdalene were wiping the blood from the floor, I did think of the care taken to clean any spilled wine from the Eucharistic Cup.

And fragments of the film have recurred to me while praying the Sorrowful Mysteries.

9 posted on 03/20/2004 5:02:52 PM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . Ministrix of Venery (recess appointment), TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary . . .)
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To: RobbyS; Desdemona
But that was also about the time of the promulgation of the Feast of Christ the King. A number of parishes have a Christus Rex rather than a crucifix when they date from this period -- although the processional cross usually remained with the corpus of the Crucified Lord.
10 posted on 03/20/2004 5:03:36 PM PST by Siobhan (+Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet+)
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To: NYer
Thank you for posting this very good article.
11 posted on 03/20/2004 5:08:59 PM PST by Siobhan (+Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet+)
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To: Siobhan
But that was also about the time of the promulgation of the Feast of Christ the King. A number of parishes have a Christus Rex rather than a crucifix when they date from this period -- although the processional cross usually remained with the corpus of the Crucified Lord.

That is the case in our parish.

Christ is represented as High Priest. This parish receives catechumens into the Church twice a year - at Easter Even and at the Feast of Christ the King. So I think that is also part of the connection. Our processional cross does display the corpus.

12 posted on 03/20/2004 5:17:16 PM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . Ministrix of Venery (recess appointment), TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary . . .)
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To: RaceBannon
Hopefully those who watched the movie will now do that- pick up a Bible and read, and also talk to the Lord in prayer.
13 posted on 03/20/2004 5:31:47 PM PST by Gal.5:1
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To: Siobhan
Interesting. although my small East Texas church was also callled Chirst the King and had an ordinary crucifix over the altar..
14 posted on 03/20/2004 8:31:22 PM PST by RobbyS (Latin nothing of atonment)
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To: RaceBannon
Could not the same be said of a Billy Graham Crusade? But the Spirit has to follow YOUR script, right?
15 posted on 03/20/2004 8:35:23 PM PST by RobbyS (Latin nothing of atonment)
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To: NYer; RaceBannon
Those raised on the Catholicism that emerged after the Second Vatican Council were taught to de-emphasize the Passion and to replace the Jesus of the Passion with the Jesus who is our friend and brother and who loves us. The emphasis was to be taken away from Christ’s suffering and placed on His presence with us in the here and now. Instead of accompanying Jesus on His awful journey through Jerusalem we were given books which told us to ask Are You Running With Me, Jesus? Jesus was to accompany us on our life’s journey, and not vice-versa.

First, NYer, thanks for posting the article.

On Christmas Eve I went with my family to midnight Mass. While we singing before Mass, I looked up at the crucifix. I noticed that the knees were dirty. Then I began thinking about exactly what I knew about Christ's Passion. I knew that Christ had fallen, and had been scourged and crucifed but had never really contemplated it like I did that night. (long before the movie). That was what it's all about, the sacrifice for my sins.

As I've said before, I've seen the movie 3 times. I even took "hand outs" of the relevant chapters in the four Gospels and about 80 OT references to share with the high school kids I was taking.

I must agree with the italicized statement. It's a problem that exists in many churches beyond RC. People want that touchy-feely-kiss-and-hold-hands, no sin, no guilt Christianity. Look at the Methodist decision about the Lesbian pastor, ECUSA, our own RC skeletons to name a few. PC culture twisted the original message of God so we now expect Jesus to follow us in our life as we choose to live and feel good about ourselves. My faith tells me that I must leave my sins behind and follow Christ, not the other way around. It reminds me of this article about The Problem with Self-esteem.

Sorry about the rant/babble boys and girls, I'm feeling quite fed-up with what we're being told we must accept as Christians. I'm sure others of you are as well. It's time to fish or cut bait.

16 posted on 03/20/2004 8:40:00 PM PST by Jaded (My sheeple, my sheeple, what have you done to Me?)
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To: NYer; All
St. Alphonsus wrote his Considerations on the Stations of the Cross over 200 years ago. They were the standard meditations used at Catholic churches for weekly lenten observances of the stations until the late 1960s. Alphonsus left the Christian with an acute awareness of Jesus’ physical and psychic suffering as well as with the realization that each of us bears responsibility for Christ’s wounds.

Click Here For The Way of the Cross according to Saint Alphonsus Liguori

For me also, The Passion of the Christ is deepening meditative images. Loved the Wanderer article, then found this website through Google and am printing it out for private devotion. Brings back long-ago childhood memories of Friday night Stations, always accompanied by Stabat Mater.

THANK YOU, MEL GIBSON!!!

17 posted on 03/20/2004 8:43:11 PM PST by trustandhope
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To: RobbyS
Billy Graham is an apostate, and I completely advise you to avoid him.

Go home and read your bible instead.
18 posted on 03/20/2004 9:19:13 PM PST by RaceBannon (John Kerry is Vietnam's Benedict Arnold: Former War Hero turned Traitor)
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To: RaceBannon; GatorGirl; maryz; *Catholic_list; afraidfortherepublic; Antoninus; Aquinasfan; ...
Race says:

I am not going to read the article.

How can you comment without reading? Is your hatred of the Catholic Church that overpowering?

19 posted on 03/20/2004 9:39:15 PM PST by narses (If you want OFF or ON my Catholic Ping list, please email me. +)
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To: RaceBannon
Race anethmaizes Billy Graham:

Billy Graham is an apostate, and I completely advise you to avoid him.

Have you ANY authority to proclaim another baptized Christian an "apostate"?

20 posted on 03/20/2004 9:41:21 PM PST by narses (If you want OFF or ON my Catholic Ping list, please email me. +)
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To: RaceBannon
But of course Your Holiness :-).
21 posted on 03/21/2004 1:13:35 AM PST by RobbyS (Latin nothing of atonment)
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To: Desdemona
I have been in a couple of churches with the risen Christ, never went back to them..
22 posted on 03/21/2004 2:15:55 AM PST by .45MAN (The NewTestament is Concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is Revealed in the New)
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To: .45MAN
I have been in a couple of churches with the risen Christ, never went back to them..

Yes, but when it's the parish your parents belong to and you are in grade school or younger, you sort of don't have a choice.

I didn't realize it, but at the time there were the traditional vs. modernist forces in full battle there. I lived in a house with one of the full steam ahead modernists. I'm somewhat considered a pariah because I happen to LIKE organ music.
23 posted on 03/21/2004 5:09:01 AM PST by Desdemona (Music Librarian and provider of cucumber sandwiches, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary. Hats required.)
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To: RobbyS
Now, DROP AND GIVE ME PENNANCE!!

Sorry, that was just the Pope in me...
24 posted on 03/21/2004 5:14:03 AM PST by RaceBannon (John Kerry is Vietnam's Benedict Arnold: Former War Hero turned Traitor)
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To: RaceBannon
Sorry, you gottta learn the correct lingo, first.
25 posted on 03/21/2004 5:46:31 AM PST by RobbyS (Latin nothing of atonment)
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To: NYer
  The Passion of the Christ may prove to be the most important work in ascetical theology in the last 100 years. That we even think of it in these terms is an indication of the film’s potential for true and lasting greatness.

Best review I've read. A bump for the greatest movie ever made.

26 posted on 03/21/2004 6:38:28 AM PST by Aquinasfan (Isaiah 22:22, Rev 3:7, Mat 16:19)
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To: RaceBannon
If all the people who saw the movie, instead sat down and read the Bible for 2 hours, we would be living in a different world.

But people don't do that. Even if they did, this movie would still offer great spiritual benefit.

Drama is the most powerful artistic medium. God created this art form. Using the theater to present Christ's Passion is the fulfillment of God's Will for the it.

Additionally, the movie makes it possible for devout Christians to understand Jesus' suffering more fully.

27 posted on 03/21/2004 6:45:50 AM PST by Aquinasfan (Isaiah 22:22, Rev 3:7, Mat 16:19)
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To: narses
Apparently so.
28 posted on 03/21/2004 7:42:21 AM PST by Jaded (My sheeple, my sheeple, what have you done to Me?)
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To: Aquinasfan
I truly believe this film was brought about by God to bring the Church to its knees (repententance) and spiritual revival. I think it will result in a certain number of people being saved, but I think its greater purpose is to bring Christians into a deeper relationship with Christ.
29 posted on 03/21/2004 5:46:59 PM PST by gal522
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To: gal522
I think its greater purpose is to bring Christians into a deeper relationship with Christ.

That's what my priest thinks too. Maybe I'm engaging in wishful thinking, but I'm hoping that it will bring lots of conversions.

30 posted on 03/22/2004 4:48:00 AM PST by Aquinasfan (Isaiah 22:22, Rev 3:7, Mat 16:19)
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