The success of Mel Gibson's recent movie, The Passion of the Christ, which represents the last 12 hours of Jesus before His death on the Cross, is unprecedented in the history of motion pictures: even without the support of any major Hollywood studio (Gibson had to pay for the whole production, about $30 million from his own pocket), this film managed to become one of the ten top-grossing movies of all times.
Everything in this movie is so different from what people are used to see from Hollywood (filth and evil), that it is a miracle that this movie was even showing in theaters. In fact, it is no ordinary movie. It is a real gift from God, for it became for millions a religious experience, causing them to reflect on Christ's Passion, on how much Jesus loved us to be willing to suffer all of this for each one of us to save us from sin and open to us the doors of Heaven. And this was indeed Gibson's intention in making this movie, by making it so realistic in all of Jesus' sufferings, to show how much God loves us.
It is for this reason that this movie received such an enthusiastic support from many religious authorities. For example, Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta, wrote in a letter he addressed to the faithful of his Archdiocese on February 10: “I believe that all people should see this film. And as your Bishop, I would urge all Catholics of the Archdiocese to see this film. It will not leave you the same person you were before — you will never again not be able to picture the scope of our Lord's suffering and the terrible price He paid in order to save us.”
Asked by a journalist how the Passion story affected his own life, Gibson replied: “If you follow Christ — if you really follow Him — you have to follow Him to Golgotha. That's what it's about. It's the narrow path. The seed has to die in the furrow in order to bear fruit. You know, He warned us: `The disciple isn't greater than the master.' This is the real Faith. It's the Gospel. And people forget about that — I forgot about it for 15 years. You look everywhere else to find peace and meaning in your life — all these soothing techniques and spiritual quick fixes. But Christ already gave the answer. He showed it to us in His Passion. I didn't make it up, and I'm no saint, but I believe it's the only path that's not a dead end.”
Just to show in what spirit this movie was made, every actor on the set attended Mass every morning before they started to film. Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, was 33 when the movie was shot. Maia Morgenstern, a renowned Romanian actress of Jewish descent, played the role of the Virgin Mary: “Morgenstern” means “morning star”, one of the titles under which the Virgin Mary is invoked.
Gibson was quite clear to Caviezel from the start that it was his intention to film Jesus' suffering with as much authenticity as possible. Himself a practicing Catholic, Gibson based his movie on the four Gospels and on the writings of two religious mystics, Anne Catherine Emmerich and Mary of Agreda, which provide details that are not found in the Bible. For example, in the movie, the Roman soldiers use a rope to stretch Jesus' arm closer to the nail hole. In Emmerich's “The Dolorous Passion”, one can read: “When the executioners had nailed the right hand of our Lord, they perceived that His left hand did not reach the hole they had bored to receive the nail, therefore they tied ropes to His left arm... and pulled the left hand violently until it reached the place prepared for it.” Mary of Agreda's “City of God” says: “When they stretched out the other hand, they found that it did not reach up to the auger-hole; for... the executioners had maliciously set the holes too far apart.”
If we do not deepen and study our Faith, we will not understand why Jesus accepted to suffer so much and die on the Cross; it will be a scandal, and one will say, like the bad thief in the movie: “What! He (Jesus) is kissing His cross! Is He crazy?” Jesus kissed His cross, because He knew He was accomplishing our salvation, and that He had come on earth especially for that moment. This mission of Christ, to become the “Lamb of God” who is sacrificed for our sins, was foretold in the Scriptures, especially in Isaiah, Chapter 53:
“Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, He was taken away.”
Another moving scene in the movie: On the Way of the Cross, Jesus says to His Mother: “See, Mother, I make all things new.”
The recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, the chapter devoted to the Apostles' Creed, explains Christ's redemptive death in God's plan of salvation (nn. 599 to 623):
“Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: `This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.' (Acts 2:23.) This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed Him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.
“To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore He establishes His eternal plan of `predestination', He includes in it each person's free response to His grace: `In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.' (Acts 4:27-28.) For the sake of accomplishing His plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.
“The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of `the righteous one, my Servant' (Isaiah 53:11) as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. Citing a confession of faith that he himself had `received', St. Paul professes that `Christ died (1 Cor 15:3) for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.' In particular Jesus' redemptive death fulfills Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering Servant. Indeed Jesus Himself explained the meaning of His life and death in the light of God's suffering Servant. (cf. Mt 20:28.) After His Resurrection He gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.
“Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: `You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers... with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.' (1 Peter 1:18-20.) Man's sins, following the original sin, are punishable by death. By sending His own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God `made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.' (2. Co 5:21.)
“After agreeing to baptize Him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed Him out as the `Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows Himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel's redemption at the first Passover. Christ's whole life expresses His mission: “to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45.)
“By embracing in His human heart the Father's love for men, Jesus `loved them to the end' (John 13:1), for `greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' (John 15:13.) In suffering and death His humanity became the free and perfect instrument of His divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for His Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted His Passion and death: `No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.' (John 10:18.) Hence the sovereign freedom of God's Son as He went out to His death.
“Jesus gave the supreme expression of His free offering of Himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles `on the night He was betrayed' (1 Co 11:23). On the eve of His Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of His voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men: `This is My body which is given for you.' (Luke 22:19.) `This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.' (Mt 26:28.)
“The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of His sacrifice. Jesus includes the apostles in His own offering and bids them to perpetuate it. By doing so, the Lord institutes His apostles as priests of the New Covenant: `For their sakes I sanctify Myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.' (John 17:19.)
“Christ's death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through `the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:19), and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the `blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'
“This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father Himself, for the Father handed His Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with Himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered His life to His Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.
“`For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.' (Rm 5:19.) By His obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who `makes Himself an offering for sin', when `He bore the sin of many', and who `shall make many to be accounted righteous', for `He shall bear their iniquities' (Is 53:10-12). Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.
“It is love `to the end' (John 13:1) that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when He offered His life. Now `the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.' (2 Co 5:14.) No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes Himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible His redemptive sacrifice for all.”