What Lies Behind Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ

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LTRP Note: This weekend many evangelical Christians will attend showings of Mel Gibson’s production, The Passion of the Christ. For most, they do not know what Gibson’s intention and goal was for this film. They would be surprised to learn that he turned to a Catholic mystic nun for inspiration of the film, and after the release of the film, he made clear his hope was that the film would lead people to the Catholic Eucharistic Christ and to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a co-redemptor and co-mediator.

The Passion and the Christ – An Analysis
Roger Oakland and Jim Tetlow

On Ash Wednesday 2004, The Passion of the Christ premiered in North America. Never has a film on Christ’s passion garnered so much attention. In its first two weeks, the movie grossed over 200 million dollars and is poised to become the highest grossing R-rated movie in history. Its subsequent release around the world has the potential to influence multiplied millions of viewers.

Though The Passion of the Christ was produced and directed by a devout Catholic–Mel Gibson, Catholics are not alone in the endorsement of this monumental movie. Perhaps the greatest support for the movie comes from evangelical Bible-believing Christians. In an effort to win souls to Christ, these Christians sponsored all types of evangelistic events that revolve around the movie….

Not surprisingly, many Catholics are also using the movie as an opportunity to evangelize. Ascension Press and Catholic Exchange have provided a Catholic guide and witnessing companion to the film titled A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About “The Passion of the Christ.”
Co-author of the guide, Matthew Pinto, shared with Zenit news agency [a Catholic news source] how the book will “help Catholics and non-Catholics understand the Eucharistic and Marian significance shown in the movie, know the case for Christ, learn about the Church Jesus instituted and respond accordingly in their faith lives.”1

In the interview, Zenit asked Pinto the following question: “Why is a particularly Catholic guidebook important in order to understand the movie?” Pinto replied:

A Catholic guide is necessary because the Gospels are completely Catholic, as is the movie. Even still, many will not see or understand the more sublime teachings that the director and writers are putting forth through this epic film…. [T]he heavily Eucharistic and Marian emphasis of the film is something that a well-catechized Catholic will easily see, but many uncatechized Catholics and many Protestants will not deeply grasp.

As stated in the introduction to the book, understanding the profound Marian and Eucharistic imagery and theology really requires a deep understanding of Catholicism.

Our Protestant brothers and sisters, who are to be commended for their evangelical fervor and creativity in promoting this film, are generally not schooled in these issues.2

Some have asked the question: Was it Mel Gibson’s intention for the film to focus on the Catholic Eucharist and Mary? In an interview given on EWTN, while explaining the “very moving and emotional and efficacious” aspects of the Catholic Latin Mass, Gibson stated his goal and intention for making this film:

The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the “sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar–which is the same thing.”3

This interview was broadcast around the globe on EWTN–the world’s largest Catholic television broadcasting organization. Of course, all Catholics are required by Rome to believe that Christ is repeatedly sacrificed on Catholic altars at every Mass. Might this movie influence others to embrace this unbiblical belief as well?

Though the lasting effects of this movie will not be known for some time, it has already had a profound influence on the cast and crew. Jim Cavaziel–the actor who played Jesus, explained how those involved in the film were changed. In the following statement made by Carl Limbacher taken from an article titled “Mel Gibson’s ‘Christ’ Reveals Crucifixion,” written January 25, 2004, we are told that many in the crew converted to Catholicism:

In his first nationally broadcast interview anywhere about his starring role in [the film], James Cavaziel–Gibson’s Jesus–detailed on Friday the ordeal of filming the Crucifixion scenes, noting that the overall experience prompted many in the crew to convert to Catholicism.4…

In an interview with Christianity Today, Mel revealed his surprise that evangelical Christians were among the most receptive to his film depiction of Christ and Mary. From the interview:

Gibson: “I’ve been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has–hands down–responded to this film more than any other Christian group.”

What makes it so amazing, he says, is that “the film is so Marian.”5

Gibson knows that Protestants don’t regard Mary in the way Catholics do. And Gibson goes beyond many when he calls her “a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix.”6

During The Passion, we see much of Jesus’ agony through Mary’s eyes. The strong spiritual link between Jesus and Mary is prominent throughout the movie. Her participation, her “co-redemptrix” work, is also suggested in the film. Yet, many Christians do not recognize the significance.

…Gibson’s [film] is based, in part, on visions and messages received by a nineteenth century Catholic mystic. The revelations and visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich are contained in the book titled The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The book states:

[S]he was accustomed to have divine knowledge imparted to her in visions of all kinds, and was often favoured by visits from the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven.7

The dedication page reveals Emmerich’s devotion and passion:

To the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Help of Christians, and Refuge of the Human Race.8

Because of the tremendous interest in The Passion of the Christ, this book has become an instant best seller. Catholic bookstores rightly market it as “The Book that Inspired Mel Gibson to Film The Passion of the Christ”9 … The book is replete with references to the “Sacrifice of the Mass,” the “Real Presence,” and the “Blessed Eucharist.” …

Understandably, many Christians are unaware of the Catholic references in the movie. The extra-biblical scenes are seen as simply artistic license or harmless Catholic affinities. However, this is clearly not the case.

Mel Gibson has stated that the movie “reflects my beliefs.”10 It is clear that he is a Catholic director with Catholic theological advisors, producing a Catholic movie, intended to evangelize people into the Catholic Church….

Michael Brown has written and reported on The Passion of the Christ extensively on his web site. In an article titled “Passion is seen as a movie with potential to cause profound and lasting effects,” he explains the role the movie may have in uniting Christians:

Granted, it’s only a movie, but it could help unite Christians. I have never seen a better possibility for popular ecumenical dialogue. We all have common ground–and though Gibson is Catholic (a traditionalist at that), his most fervent support so far has come from Baptists, Pentecostals, and evangelicals.11 …

In 2007, a Definitive Edition of The Passion of the Christ was released. It proved to be very revealing. One of the many special features in this edition is a “Theological Commentary” with remarks by three Catholic theologians and producer Mel Gibson running concurrent with the film. Gibson, along with the others made it very clear that the “Marian theme” and the “Eucharistic theme” were intentionally “interwoven” into the film.12 Their comments left no room for doubt–The Passion of the Christ is an evangelistic tool to win the world to the Eucharistic Christ! (Excerpt from Another Jesus by Roger Oakland and Jim Tetlow)

Quotes from Gibson’s Definitive Edition of The Passion:

So be it. Yes, she [Mary] was cooperating with this, salvific work. I tried to make that obvious.

I think the flashbacks in this film are really excellent in pulling that together. That the Eucharist embodies the passion of Christ.

Quite a few spokespeople for the various Christian denominations commented that although they had never appreciated the role of Mary in redemption, that this film caused them to take a brand new look at it. And to develop a new appreciation for Mary that they didn’t have before. And I think it is one of the most important achievements of this movie. And I say that as someone who was a Protestant minister, who converted to Catholicism later.

Click here to read the transcript of the Definitive Edition commentary.

1. Interview with Matthew Pinto by Zenit, “A Guide to ‘The Passion of the Christ”
(Zenit, February 23, 2004, http://www.zenit.org/article-9470?l=english, accessed 09/2007).
2. Ibid.
3. Terry Mattingly, “The Passion of Old Words and Symbols” (On Religion column, http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/column/2004/01/21).
4. “Mel Gibson’s ‘Christ’ Reveals Crucifixion” (NewsMax.com, http://newsmax.com/archives/ic/2004/1/25/145119.shtml, January 25, 2004, accessed 09/2007).
5. David Neff, “Mel, Mary and Mothers” (Christianity Today, February 20, 2004, http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/commentaries/passion-melmarymothers.html,
cited March 6, 2004).
6. Ibid.
7. Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
(Taken from the online ebook at http://www.cath olicplanet.com/ebooks/Dolorous-Passion.pdf;
ebook was prepared from the 20th edition of the book, which was published in 1904
by Benziger Brothers in New York. The copyright for that edition is expired and the
text is in the public domain), p. 3.
8. Ibid., dedication page.
9. Taken from http://www.passion-movie.com/promote/book.html, accessed on 09/2007.
10. EWTN to Air 2nd Exclusive Interview with Mel Gibson on “The Passion of the Christ”
(EWTN News, January 13, 2004, http://www.ewtn.com/vnews/getstory.asp?number=42801,
accessed 09/2007).
11. Michael H. Brown, “Passion Is Seen As A Movie With Potential To Cause Profound And Lasting Effects”(http://web.archive.org/web/20040406032404/www.spiritdaily.org/
Quickhive+articles/gibsonviewing.htm, February 2004, accessed 09/2007).
12. The Passion of the Christ, Definitive Edition (20th Century Fox, 2007).
Among those selected to participate in this discussion were Father William Fulco,
professor of antiquity at Loyola University and translator of the script into Latin
and Aramaic; Father John Bartunek, theologian, priest and scholar; and Catholic apologist (former Protestant pastor) Gerry Matatics.

Related Information:

SPECIAL REPORT – Mel Gibson Reveals True Purpose of the Passion – Leading People to Catholicism!

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