Movie on the Mass Opens Friday

A 3-D animated movie about the Mass opens in select theaters this weekend. It hardly seems possible. Yet, it’s true. That alone makes the movie, “The Greatest Miracle” a “miracle.” Trust me when I say it’s unlike any other movie you’re likely to ever see on the big screen.

“The Greatest Miracle” opens on select screens in 14 states Friday, December 9. It’s opening at multiple theaters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. To learn more about the movie and where it’s showing near you, visit the film’s website.

“The Greatest Miracle draws the viewer into the Mass by artistically portraying what we as Catholics believe to be taking place, but what we as human beings are incapable of perceiving [through] our earthly senses,” said Most Rev. David L. Ricken, DD, JCL, Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisc. “It is my sincerest hope that this film will deepen our understanding and appreciation for the gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Faith.”

The film was produced by Pablo Jose Barroso and Dos Corazones Productions, who have produced “Cristiada,” the film with major celebrity names about the Mexican Cristeros War, which is expected to open in theaters in the spring of 2012. Bruce Morris, visual writer of “Pochahontas” and “Hercules” served as director. Mark McKenzie, who worked on “Dances with Wolves,” wrote the score for the film.

While those who are promoting the film are marketing it as appropriate for all ages, I would urge caution with the youngest viewers. The film received a PG-rating because of the inclusion of demons and a portrayal of purgatory.

The story follows the intersection of three individual’s lives at Mass. While the quality of the film certainly doesn’t rise to the level of Pixar or Disney animation, there’s plenty to like in the movie.

Here’s what I liked and disliked about “The Greatest Miracle.”

What I Liked
In that the film portrays our Guardian angels, how they help us, and how they bring our petitions and offerings to Heaven, I give the film two big thumbs up. This, in fact, is one of the most glorious aspects of the film. C.S. Lewis says that “there is no neutral territory.” We’re born on a battlefield. The supernatural battle that the angels wage on our behalf is depicted well in the film. It brought to mind Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness.” It was a joy to see what we believe, yet are unable to see, portrayed so respectfully and reverentially on the big screen.

Another beautiful element of the film is its portrayal of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We believe that Christ is present in the person of the priest during Confession. The film depicts this in a truly touching way.

I also found the depiction of the Communion of the Saints, the juxtaposition of Christ on the Cross and the Eucharist, and the beautiful portrayal of the Blessed Mary Virgin moving. They make this film well worth seeing.

What I Didn’t Like
The filmmakers should have paid greater attention to some of the finer details. There are several small inconsistencies that are noticeable. For example, at one point it appears that there are few people in Church. The next time, there are many. It appears that people are going to Confession after Mass has started. During the Our Father, the parishioners are sitting down. During Mass, characters are moving around the Church and walking up toward the sanctuary. I found these elements problematic.

My major caution is that while the filmmakers attempt to portray the supernatural, there are some images that could be potentially frightening for younger children, and possibly less-than-helpful.

For example, early on we see numerous depictions of demons coming from the Church floor and walls, crawling about the Church, tempting and distracting people who are on their way to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While we are continually tempted, the way it’s depicted could be troubling for some younger viewers in that it associates the demons seemingly coming from parts of the Church itself. One demon transforms itself into a temptress to distract two men waiting in line for the Sacrament. Another demon opens it’s mouth and flies at the camera - an image that, in 3-D, young children would be frightened by.

At another point, a female character approaches the altar. As she does so, the floor of the sanctuary appears to open up and a hand is shown coming out to grasp at her ankle. The imagery is meant to portray purgatory. While the lesson the film is teaching is valuable, I couldn’t help but wonder if younger children might not somehow associate the sanctuary with purgatory, and worry that those in purgatory are somehow below the sanctuary waiting to grasp at them. I simply found it a bit disturbing rather than helpful.

Granted, the children at Fatima were given similar visions, and worse, and were able to handle them. A little fear may be helpful. Parents would certainly want to discuss the film with their children afterwards.

In speaking with my own five children about the movie, here’s what they had to say.

Polling my children, none of them liked the portrayal of purgatory.

“The story-telling was good, but the animation was weak,” said my 15-year-old son. “It looked like an old video game.”

“I liked how it went through the Mass and showed the angels coming near the altar,” said one of our 13-year-old daughters.

“I like how it showed what happens during the Mass,” said our 11-year-old daughter.

All in all, as I said earlier, you’re unlikely to see anything quite like this on the big screen again, so take the opportunity to see it while it’s still in theaters.