The Silence After
Reflection on the Film “The Passion of the Christ”
Author: Fr. Marcelo Solórzano, O.P.
I was moved by the silence in the audience at the end of the film. It seems to be a moment pregnant with reflection. I would like to extend this period of reflection and ponder on what the film “The Passion of the Christ” has evoked in my own meditation.
The Passion of Christ would be but one more day in the drama of humanity’s sin, if Jesus was only a man like any other. These images of hate, horror, confusion and pain would be but one more day in the story of humanity’s rejection of God, if Jesus was only God. Yet Jesus is God and Man. Therefore Jesus is the only hope for the desperate condition of humanity. The Passion of Christ transforms a hopeless situation of sin and its consequences into hope for salvation and new life. The Passion of Christ confronts and horrifies us because it is a truthful picture of the hell we have created. Yet Christ is the only hope in the midst of such human hell. For any other purpose than to present the hope Christians find in this paradox, the representation of this drama would be nothing more than another circus act of human deformity for an audience thirsty for human monstrosity and tragedy. If this film evokes nothing but a morbid wonder for the deformities it shows, no matter how empathetic these feelings may have been, than it was nothing more than a circus act.
In his interpretation of the Passion of Christ, Mel Gibson has woven our Christian Faith and Hope into the desperate condition of human sin. In order to do this he has interwoven into the story four basic tenets of our faith. These are: Sin, the Eucharist, Baptism and Mary Mother of God. Mel Gibson did not invent the story of Christ or the major themes of faith he weaves into his interpretation of the Passion; instead he has achieved, by developing these tenets of faith, an excellent interpretation of the meaning of the Passion of Christ. I intend through this meditation to systematically show how the movie presents its interpretation of the meaning of the Passion of Christ through the use of these four tenets of faith; mainly, Sin, the Eucharist, Baptism and Mary Mother of Christ.
Sin is the consequence of human desires for the good subverted by evil. Evil subverts the good by perverting truth and as a consequence the desires and hopes of individual persons and societies. The film develops the condition of human sin in the instances of temptation, treason, violence, perverted religion and finally in the crowd. The movie unifies all these manifestations of sin by presenting the figure of the devil behind all of them. Let us turn to the meaning of the Passion within the problem of human sin.
In the first scene of the movie, three images bring the condition of sin into focus: the Devil, the snake and Jesus stepping on its head. These three images present the problem of evil, its origin, its nature and its final defeat in Jesus. Even though not identified by name, the figure of the Devil is evident by its portrayal in a perverted human image, its presence behind all that is violent, and finally it’s the character that tempts.
The Devil tempts Jesus while he prays in the Garden of Olives. This temptation is not the one portrayed in the Gospels which takes place in the wilderness after Jesus’ baptism. I will comment later on this irregularity. The Devil suggests to Jesus that what he is about to do is too much for one man. It is impossible! This is a subversion of the truth. It is true that Jesus’ mission is humanly impossible yet for God it is not. The crux of the matter lies in what does Jesus understands of his own nature? Who does Jesus think he is? Thus, this is an attack pointed at Jesus’ own understanding of his self. Jesus rejects it by turning to God: “Father, for you all things are possible…”
In the second and third temptations, the Devil again attempts to stop Jesus by questioning his identity. In these, however, he does it directly. The Devil asks: “Who is your Father?” “Who are you?” These questions are linked to Jesus’ vocation and mission. “Who do you think you are” “What’s your origin?” “Who are you?” The answers to these questions are a source of hope and a driving force to actions and responses that every human being will have towards life. To doubt these basic pillars of life would have a paralyzing effect on anyone. The perversion of these human foundations leads to false hopes (perverse desires) and as a consequence to perverse action (sin). Arrogance and selfishness, which are a result of a low or deflated self esteem, are perfect examples of this perversion. Both of these have as their source the perversion of the fundamental truths about our selves.
The serpent appears after the words of temptation. This image functions as an allusion to the first time humanity is tempted by the Devil (Gen 3: 1-15.) The story of Genesis tells how our first parents suffer the consequences of listening to temptation and acting against God in the Garden of Eden. Because this story has been brought into the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Olives a link has been drawn by the movie between the two stories. In the Garden of Olives Jesus takes the place that Adam and Eve have in the Garden of Eden. Nevertheless, by contrast to them, Jesus rejects the Devil and its lies by stepping on the serpent’s head. This action is also an allusion to the story of Genesis. (Gen 3: 15)
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism is also an allusion to the story of Adam en Eve. This artistic freedom taken with the Gospel remains nevertheless in line with the Gospel’s intention. In Scripture the Devil tempts Jesus trying to pervert his mission and power to serve. Jesus by nature has human and divine power. As the “new Adam” he has the power to initiate actions that can affect the future of humanity and as God, what is divine and eternal. The Devil intends to corrupt that power into selfishness, the cult of evil for power, and vanity. In the movie the Devil tempts Jesus about his identity to pervert his mission. All this makes the origin of sin evident and anticipates Jesus’ victory over it. The movie shows that the sacrifice of Christ as the new Adam is destined to transform the sin of humanity into Jesus’ victory over it. With the destiny and purpose of Jesus’ approaching sacrifice in focus, the story now can present the problem of human sin in its different manifestations.
The story personifies human treason to the love of God with two characters. These are: “Kefas” (Aramaic for: rock or today, Peter) and Judas. They are two followers and friends of Jesus who betray him. Peter betrays Jesus despite his resolve to follow him unto death. Judas betrays him as his teacher. Judas calls Jesus “rabbi” or teacher and identifies himself as Jesus’ disciple. It is thus that Judas may be called a traitor for once identified as a disciple he can not be identified as his enemy. Judas betrays his teacher and his own commitment to discipleship.
The sin of treason bears with it a double sting. It betrays the self and the other. Betrayal has no way out. It can’t be reversed. Both Kefas and Judas suffer greatly what they have done. They suffer for what they have done to Jesus and to themselves. Kefas’ look of pain and repentance before Mary show his interior anguish. He prostrates before Mary as if seeking from her forgiveness and reparation for his deed. He is unable to find reparation and runs away. Judas speaks to the priests in a desperate attempt to reverse the damage he has caused, but fails (Mat 27: 3-5.) He experiences his pain and anguish as a gang of accusing “demon-children” that persecute and stone him. Judas with no solace, but his own incapacity to atone for his treason, chooses to end his torture and commits suicide. The condition of traitor is irreversible. Betrayal of an eternal God is by its nature eternally irreversible. Human strength alone can’t repair treason against God. Jesus will be the atonement for betrayal after the resurrection (Jn 21:15.) The transforming power of the Passion of Christ is the only hope of redemption for the traitor.
Violence is perhaps the most salient characteristic of the film and for this reason it has been a point of scandal. Because of the graphic nature of the violence portrayed, many have been unable to see the film and its meaning. It may seem the film is one more glorification of violence as entertainment, because of the amount and quality of violence portrayed in it. Nevertheless, the Passion of Christ is Jesus’ confrontation with human sin and its consequences, and these are truly horrifying. The film shows the true and monstrous face of violence. Why fix it for our sensibilities? There is violence at Jesus’ arrest and judgment, at his flagellation, in the sadism of the soldiers, in the pressing crowd and his crucifixion. The image of the Devil strolls behind all of them as if encouraging it. It is a commentary on its origin and nature which belongs to the realm of sin and evil.
Jesus stops Kefas from taking the path of violence. Jesus says: “All those who take the sword, die by the sword” (Mat 26:52). His victory will not come by the sword or by violence. In fact, one of the contemporary interpretations of the coming of the Messiah was that he would triumph politically and militarily. Instead, Jesus’ action brands violence as impotent for salvation. The non-violent stance that Jesus takes unmasks violence as the monster it truly is. Jesus’ Passion stands in contrast to all who choose violence for whatever reason, especially against the innocent. This confrontation takes the form of an icon in the words of Pilate to the crowd as he presents the disfigured Jesus to them: “ecce homo” (Jn 19:5). The consequences of violence stand before us in the marks all over the Body of Christ. God in the Passion of Christ suffers with those who suffer violence; he rejects it and confronts us with its fruits. In the end, God takes violence to the tomb.
Perverted religion is the third instance of sin developed in the “Passion of The Christ”. The accusing priests, Caifas in particular, are the portrayal of what happens to religion when it acts in the service of sin. Those who accuse Jesus abuse their religious power for their own purposes. They pay a traitor, they send their soldiers at night and in hiding, and finally they manipulate the religious institution to their ends and reject God. The perversion of the first two is obvious for this reason I will focus on the last.
Religious institution which has the purpose to mediate people’s relationship with God can be perverted. The flagrant lies of the temple soldier to the roman soldier, and the protests of some of the priests at the irregularity of the process, relate to us that this trial has purposes and means not recognized in the Jewish religious institution. It is being manipulated for a purpose other then that for which it was established.
During the trial they accuse Jesus of acting with the power of Satan. This accusation appears in scripture in a different place. I assume it is used here in order to draw from the meaning it has in its separate contexts (Mat 20:25, 12, 35; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15). In his answer to this accusation Jesus shows his accusers as incapable of recognizing the work of God in his actions. Furthermore the accusation is tied to the sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in Mtt 12:31-32; Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10. The religious leaders who have as their purpose the mediation of the relationship between God and his people are incapable of recognizing God’s action when it's right before them! Not only do they prove incompetent to recognize the action of God but they call it satanic. Something is blinding these leaders and certainly it is not their knowledge of God or his institution.
The priests filled with hate whish a violent death for Jesus. Are they jealous? Do they feel threatened? Based only on these scenes it is difficult to judge the priests’ reasons for their hate. However what is evident is that these religious leaders no longer serve God but instead have placed themselves against God. Perverted religion rejects God unto death. Since Jesus is God and Man, his activity is that of Adam and God. To reject Jesus is to reject both God and the new Adam.
Pilate’s conversation with his wife is used in the film to develop the theme of the perversion of truth. This conversation does not take place in the Gospels except for a message that Pilate receives from his wife (Mt 27:19). The movie combines this reference to the brief exchange about the truth between Pilate and Christ. (Jn 18: 37-38) It serves to open a window into Pilate’s conscience. Pilate’s conversation with his wife focuses on the capacity of the individual to listen and recognize the truth. Its conclusion is that one can only listen to truth if one can recognize it. Pilate’s wife claims to be able to recognize it. In contrast Pilate affirms that he can not and instead offers his version of the truth. It is defined by the politics of his situation. Pilate exchanges truth for his own skin. The search for truth can not serve a selfish end. Truth is only sought and found for its own sake. Pilate affirms “this is my truth… it’s my blood.” Pilate, who seems to act in favor of Jesus, is actually acting in fear (Jn 19:8). Truth is not recognized when sought in fear. Truth has consequences and these may prove to go against any selfish interest. Perverted truth is the result of fear and not of love.
Christ’s suffering is the consequence of his truth. Perverted truth is the cause of Jesus’ unjust suffering as the new Adam and as God. The Passion of Christ is visible proof that the consequences of actions based on perverted truth are the sins of injustice that hurt God in our neighbor.
The Unconscious Crowd
Finally there is the unconscious crowd which follows Christ along the way of the cross throwing stones with indignation, spitting at Jesus, and pouring out their hate. What has happened? It is a question we ask ourselves every year on Palm Sunday when we find ourselves screaming with the crowd “crucify him!”
In the movie Jesus looks upon the crowd and remembers his entrance to Jerusalem when he was hailed with Palms and shouts of Hosanna! This is an allusion to the whimsical crowd we consider every year on Palm Sunday. This is the unconscious crowd that acts as easy prey of novelties, scandals, fashions and currents. This is the uncritical crowd which seeks not the truth nor takes responsibility for its actions. For this crowd conscience is too heavy, boring, complicated, and a nuisance. Behind them also strolls the image of the Devil.
This is the crowd that pressed upon Jesus to witness his miracles. They ate at the multiplication of the loaves and gathered around him to hear him speak wonders and newness. They seek a spectacle from the Passion of Jesus. It is enslaved humanity for it lacks any direction other than for that which is pleasing. For the crowd there is no good or evil only likes or dislikes. It is the tragedy of human autonomy fallen pray to the latest fashion, sensation or scandal. Crowd is all that won’t stop to think if the latest current or that which moves them is just or good. The crowd acts evil unconsciously without any thought or decision, as it claims that “everybody else is doing it.”
The crowd participates in social sin because it is unconscious. For example anyone who ascribes to racism because it is the only truth he/she knows, is prey to social sin and if his/her ignorance is culpable (which means that having access to truth he/she did not seek it) his/her sin is also individual. The Passion of Christ denounces both, the social sin of the guilty crowd and the culpable ignorance of all those who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.
Evil in all of its forms affects Christ for it affects humanity. Evil, as rejection of God and consequently as rejection of humanity, is the cause of the suffering of peoples and of Jesus the man-God. The icon of Christ in his Passion, the “ecce homo,” is the image of humanity lost in a labyrinth of suffering because of sin. Christ innocent of sin suffers because of it. Jesus is God rejected by humanity. He is God who by the incarnation unites his destiny to that of humanity even unto death on the cross. This is at the center of divine activity for our salvation. Jesus is the innocent lamb that will be God’s sacrifice for our salvation. He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
The next theme woven into the drama of the Passion of Christ is the Eucharist. The movie is full of allusions to this tenet of faith. The first allusion is in a reference to the Jewish Passover. Passover is the day the Jews celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:1-20). In the movie at the very moment that Jesus is arrested Mary rises disturbed and says: “how is this day different than any other?” One whom I assume is Mary Magdalene responds saying “…we were once slaves…” This is the conversation prescribed for the Passover meal between the children and adults. The meal as prescribed in the scriptures involves the sacrifice of a lamb “without blemish” whose blood will save them from God’s wrath over all the firstborn of Egypt. The meal also calls for unleavened bread. The juxtaposition of this reference to the beginning of the Passion of Jesus denotes an intention to relate the Passion to the Eucharist.
Christians have considered Jesus from the beginning as a type of the Passover Lamb, the “Lamb of God.” In the Gospel the Baptist refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” (Jn 1:29) The reference reappears in John’s book of the Apocalypse at the center of the eschatological (pertaining to the end times) figure of the Heavenly Jerusalem. As in the Mass all of the saints stand around the altar of the Lamb. It is a celebration of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins, his Passion. As such scripture and Christians refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God in whose blood we are saved.
Unlike the ritual lamb of the Jews, Jesus as the Lamb of God gives himself willingly, in freedom and for love. Jesus’ willing sacrifice as the Father’s Lamb is emphasized in the film every time Jesus affirms his readiness and disposition to his Father. This is made clear especially at the flagellation. The free gift of himself is affirmed just before he is crucified when Jesus remembers his own words; he says “no one takes my life… I myself give it.”
His self giving love is manifest in four different moments. The first is the gesture by which Jesus embraces the cross. It is an action resented by those being crucified with him. This protest is an artistic element that calls our attention to Jesus’ gesture. He embraces the cross with intent, with love! The second sign of self giving love takes place as he looks to the crowd and remembers his words “love your enemies…if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? (Lk 6: 27, 32; Mtt 5:43-44). He is in the course of living it out himself, not as a commandment but motivated by his own heart and spirit. As the third sign of his love Jesus remembers again his words, as he looks upon the priests who wait for his crucifixion. Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd… (Who) lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:11) The last sign of his love takes place when Jesus prays to his Father for the forgiveness of his executioners. “Forgive them... they know not what they do.” It is only love that can propel such transcendence of self and seek the other even when he/she hurts us. This form of love renders null and void the angry force of violence and revenge.
During Jesus’ trial there is another brief allusion to the Eucharist. One of the accusations raised against Jesus is a reference to his “Bread of Life” discourse (Jn 6). “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53) The allusion to the Bread of Life discourse links Jesus’ Passion to its meaning in the Eucharist. Jesus feeds us with his saving sacrifice (body and blood) in the Eucharist by which we partake of his life and destiny.
At the end of the flagellation, Jesus remembers the washing of the disciples’ feet (Jn 13, 4). St. John presents this gesture in lieu of the words of the institution of the Eucharist, “this is my body…this is my blood.” This gesture points directly to the saving action of the Passion of Christ. Jesus is the suffering servant of humanity. On Holy Thursday we proclaim this Gospel because it is the gesture by which Jesus chose to explain his saving sacrifice which we receive at every Eucharist.
The fourth allusion to the Eucharist takes place when Pilate washes his hands. As Jesus looks upon this he remembers his last supper, or institution of the Eucharist, where he and his disciples are washing their hands. Even though this does not appear in the biblical accounts of the Last Supper, it is an ancient Jewish custom (see Mt 15:1). This link to the Last Supper also brings forth the celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The priests at every celebration of the mass wash their hands before the consecration, praying for their purification from sins.
Finally during the crucifixion Jesus remembers the breaking of the bread at his Last Supper. He is shown breaking bread with his disciples, as he speaks the words of the institution of the Eucharist. The words used at every Mass are the same words Jesus used to institute the sacrament. Before his sacrifice Jesus gives his disciples the tangible means by which they will live and partake of his presence and loving grace at the culminating moment of his self-giving love, the Passion.
By means of these allusions to the Eucharist the movie presents the meaning of the sacrifice of the Passion as a meal by which we are nourished with the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. This is the meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice celebrated at every Mass. In this way the meaning and grace of the Passion of Christ reaches through the centuries and to everyone at every mass. It is the vision, eschatological hope, and participation in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. This is what the church invites us to take part in by our Faith through Baptism and Confirmation.
The movie presents four elements that draw from the Passion of the Christ its baptismal meaning. The first one happens as Jesus is being tried. Jesus looks up and sees a dove above him. The dove for Christians is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. This symbol is drawn from Jesus’ own baptism. For this reason the dove over Christ during his Passion is an allusion to his baptism (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32). To refer to the Passion as a Baptism is not in disaccord with scripture. Jesus himself does it in the Gospels. He speaks of a cup he will drink and baptism he will receive (Mk 10: 38). At the end of these words he affirms that he did not come “…to be served but to serve, and give his life as ransom for many.” (Mk 10: 45) Elsewhere Jesus says: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” (Lk 12: 50) During Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan a voice from heaven speaks (Mk 1: 11) part of the beginning of Isaiah’s Song of the Servant of Yahweh: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him…” (Is 42:1).
This servant of God is a suffering servant: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Is 50:6) “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like the lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Is 53: 7) Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit as the Suffering Servant of God. The Passion as Baptism is not alien to scripture. Jesus’ Baptism is also for every Christian his own baptism. Baptized in Christ by water and the Spirit Christians die with Christ and are born to a new life in him. Saint Paul protests to the Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in to Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rm 6:3-4 also see: Rm 2:12-13; 1Pt 3:21-22)
Through baptism in Christ we receive new life. An allusion to this belief is presented when Mary approaches Jesus along his “via dolorosa” and he proclaims to her “...see how I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5) These words of Jesus to his mother evoke the baptismal meaning of the new life in Christ that comes through his death and resurrection. In the story of Jesus’ Baptism the dove over the waters is also an allusion to the story of creation. Jesus is the new creation that emerges from the waters of chaos. Therefore, Jesus heads the new creation as the New Adam (Rm 5:14; 1Cor 15: 22-23).
The third allusion to Baptism takes place when the Roman soldier kneels before Jesus while blood and water flow from Jesus’ side. The soldier is bathed by this water and blood. In scripture he is a Roman soldier making a confession of faith: “…Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mk 15:39) However, it does not take place after Jesus’ side is pierced, nor the words are spoken by the same soldier who pierced him. The soldier in the film does not speak; he simply kneels before Jesus and worships. This is the equivalent to the profession of faith portrayed in the Gospel. The soldier kneeling before Jesus with Mary and John to his side, bathed by Jesus’ water and blood, is the image of the newly baptized. In the Gospel we hear a soldier’s confession of faith; in the movie we witness his Baptism.
The movie so far has brought forth the meaning of sin, its response by God in Jesus Christ and the invitation to partake of his salvation and new life by Baptism and the Eucharist. Let us move to the movie’s treatment of Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
Mary is treated in the film as mother of Jesus and as mother and icon of the Church. Mary’s motherhood helps to understand Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century declared Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos) for the purpose of affirming faith in Jesus’ human and divine natures. There is nothing more human than being born of a mother. God partakes of the human condition and nature by being born of a mother. Thus, Jesus is understood by way of his relationship to Mary.
The movie introduces Mary’s motherhood by way of Jesus’ memories. Jesus remembers working as carpenter when Mary calls him to supper. The exchange is brief and tender yet in it the relationship of mother and son is established. Mary as mother nurtures Jesus; Jesus as son is obedient and loving. In this relationship Jesus is revealed as one like us. The feelings evoked by the scene are known to sons, daughters and mothers of the human family. Jesus’ human nature is as essential to salvation as is his divinity. Mary’s motherhood is like a key that opens a window into the nature of Christ by way of human experience.
During the trial there is a second allusion to Mary’s motherhood. Jesus refers to himself as “Father here is the faithful son of your loyal servant.” In these few words are contained his divine nature (“Father”), Mary’s fidelity as mother (“son of”), her fiat and vocation (“loyal servant” Lk 1:38) and Jesus’ own loyalty and vocation (faithful son). Mary’s complete abandonment to God’s will opens a window into Jesus’ own obedience to the Father.
Mary’s motherhood is developed further in a scene where Mary remembers the fall of her child as she witnesses the collapse of her adult son under the cross. Mary hastens to his side and repeats the words: “here I am, here I am” It is not only the pain of one mother for her son, but the pain of every mother for the fall of their children. It is human motherhood seeking to console in the mist of suffering. This is a key into a further understanding of the suffering of Christ, God with us, and his mothers’ toil to intervene for her child-(dren). In the Gospel passage of the wedding at Canaan, Mary is like a type of “Eve” or woman. When Mary intercedes to Jesus for the lack of wine at the wedding, Jesus addresses her as “woman” not mother, mom or Mary. (Jn 2:4) Whereas the first Eve intervened for sin to come into the world, the “new Eve” intervenes for the New Covenant, a “New Wine” (new blood), for our Salvation in Christ. Mary as a type of Eve reveals the meaning of the Passion, she intercedes for salvation, and partakes in it.
Mary in this movie is also the traditional Mother of the Church and its image. As such, Mary announces, proclaims, accompanies, partakes and intercedes for Salvation. In the movie Mary announces the profound meaning of the Passion when she asks: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In the movie it is Mary who ties the meaning of the Jewish Passover Lamb to the meaning of the Passion of Christ. In the same way the Church proclaims in every Mass the meaning of the Passion when it repeats the words of the Baptist “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29). When Mary arrives to the buildings where her son is to be judged and sacrificed she declares: “now it begins.” Thus she announces the beginning of the sacrifice of her son and our Salvation. She is also the only one who really knows what (really) is taking place.
Catholics call Mary “mother of the Church” because of the words Jesus spoke to John from the cross, and because she is the Mother of Jesus, the one into whose body we are all baptized. In the movie Peter and John refer to her as mother, making an allusion to Mary as Mother of the Church and to the Church as Mother. This allusion awakens the imagination and evokes a new layer of the meaning of the Passion of Christ. Peter repentant of his act of treason against Jesus turns to Mary and falls before her seeking forgiveness through her. Peter in repentance seeks forgiveness from the one he calls “Mother” as Catholics do in the sacrament of reconciliation before God through the ministry of the Church, our Mother.
For Catholics Mary is also an image of the Church. Mary after the flagellation of her son gathers Jesus’ blood which is being poured for the salvation of many. Mary is the Church that keeps and dispenses the saving blood of Jesus. The movie shows an image of the “pieta” after Jesus’ body is brought down from the cross. Mary as Mother and image of the Church sustains the body of Christ. In this interpretation of the “pieta” Mary’s hand rests over Jesus’ chest with her index pointing to his heart. This can be interpreted in two ways. She points to her son’s heart or simply to her son. In either case, she shows the Lamb of God, our salvation. Mary is the image of the Church whose mission is to point towards salvation in Christ. One of the icons of the Orthodox Church, where Mary holds the God child, is called “one who shows the way.” Mary as Mother and image of the Church points the way to Salvation. In the Catholic Church we have a traditional saying “To Jesus through Mary.”
There is a scene where we are confronted with a choice between Jesus’ way and the way of sin. In this scene Mary is the image of the Church as the choice of the baptized. At the center of the scene Jesus carries his cross and to each side are Mary and the Devil. Jesus rejects sin, carries his cross and dies because of sin. In the scene the camera shifts several times between Mary and the Devil. It seems to suggest as it focuses on Mary who shares the passion of her son: “you can follow the way of Christ in his Church and share his Passion, die to sin and partake of his destiny with Mary.” Then as the camera moves to the Devil it seems to say: “or, you can partake of the Devil’s life, and all his lies, and next to him be unjust, violent, hateful, and share his destiny.” The consequences of each decision are portrayed at the end of the Film. The Devil screams defeated from the depths of the earth surrounded by the bones of his dead. Jesus rises from the tomb, victorious over death, in a new day and as a new creation, to gather his people into new life.
Mary accompanies her son through his Passion, and because she is his mother she shares it in a most intimate way. In the movie Mary accompanies the Savior as Mother and Church. Mary goes to her Son when she finds out he’s been apprehended. Mary seeks him where he is held prisoner underground. Mary begs to be taken close to him while he carries the cross. Mary hastens to comfort him, repeating to him that she is there by his side. She accompanies Jesus to his death on the cross and as she kisses his feet in worship soiled by his blood she begs to die with him. Mary is Jesus’ loving mother and the disciple who shares in the life and death of the Savior in a most intimate way. Mary is a symbol of the baptized who seek to partake in the sacrifice of the Messiah through his Eucharist even unto death.
We’ve reached the end of his Passion and find ourselves in active silence considering the meaning of all that we’ve just witnessed. What to say? What to think of such drama! What is my response? Before Christ no one is a simple spectator for that in itself is a choice, the choice of the unconscious crowd. God’s choice at the end of the film is clear; the choice of God is “the resurrection of Christ!” With Jesus we may choose the cross of compassion, truth, conscience, justice and love. We receive life in Christ through Baptism, communion with him in the Eucharist and we are confirmed as his Church next to Mary.
After the silence and consideration we must choose.