The Passion of the Christ

Week 1: Mary

Week 2: Sin Week 3: Eucharist

Week 4: Sacrifice

In the weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter, the Register will use Mel Gibson's film to look at key aspects of Church teaching about the characters and events from the day Christ died.

Mary as the New Eve

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

— God's words to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, called the protoevangelium (first Gospel).

“The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the ‘new Adam’ who, because he ‘became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,’ makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam. Furthermore, many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the ‘new Eve.’ Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ's victory over sin: She was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”

— Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 411

The movie opens with a clue to what Gibson wants to do. He wants to put Jesus' sacrifice into the big picture of man's rejection of God in the Garden at Eden.

Christ in the movie is the new Adam.

• Adam sinned in the garden at the tempting of the snake. Christ accepts his Father's will in the garden and crushes the snake.

• After the scourging, Pilate brings Christ back to the praetorium and says, Ecce homo (behold the man). The first readers of the Gospels would recognize this as an unintentional reference to Christ as the new Adam — Adam means “the man.”

• Adam founded the human race. Christ re-founded it through his sacrifice for us. He tells Mary, “Look, Mother, I am making all things new.”

Mary in the movie is the new Eve.

• Satan's litany of Nos in the Garden is the opposite of Mary's Yes. He tells Christ, “No one can bear the burden of man's sins. No one. Ever. No. Never.” But in words that echo the Annunciation, Mary says, “It has begun. So be it.”

• At the Crucifixion, Mary looks at Christ and says, “Flesh of my flesh.” These were Adam's words when he beheld Eve.

• Just as Christ is called “the man” after he is scourged, Mary is called “woman” at the crucifixion.

• “Woman, behold your son,” Christ says. Christ isn't putting John in charge of Mary in this scene. He's struggling to speak in his last moments in order to put Mary in charge of John, and with him, each of us, the whole Church. He's making her the new “Mother of the living,” the new Eve.

Refuge of Sinners

“In the Hail Mary, we say, ‘Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death’: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the ‘Mother of Mercy,’ the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender ‘the hour of our death’ wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her Son's death on the cross. May she welcome us as Our Mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.”

— Catechism, No. 2677

Mary in the movie is the refuge of sinners Catholics invoke in Marian litanies.

• The apostles know this about her. They come to her with their problems and call her “Mother” in the movie. She's the first one Peter speaks to about his sin, knowing that she won't reject him. Notice also that Judas stays on the opposite side of the crowd from her as he broods about his sin but keeps it to himself.

• During the scourging, there is a flashback to the adulterous woman being faced by the angry mob. In the movie, the sinner of that story is identified with Mary Magdalene. With her prostitution and apparently no children, she is the opposite of Mary, the Virgin Mother. And yet in the movie she's inseparable from Mary, refuge of sinners, who accepts us, ennobles us and brings us to Christ.

• Mary and Satan shadow Christ during the way of the cross. She follows because she's faithful to him and will go where he goes. Satan shadows him because he will hound the just man to his death. This comes from Gibson's meditation as he was battling despair. He might suggest that they both follow us, too. But Satan disappears in the movie when he sees Mary close by.

• Then, of course, there is the beautiful scene of Jesus meeting his mother. Mary remembers comforting the boy Jesus when he fell and rushes to his side again — but this time, it's he who comforts her. She's our Mother, too. When we're hurt by sin, she rushes to us saying, “I'm here!”

• Last, there is a Roman centurion in the movie who begins to recognize Christ's uniqueness. In the movie this happens first when he encounters Jesus' mother. Mary, refuge of sinners, meets us where we are and reorients us.

The Feminine Genius

“The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the ‘feminine genius’ and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the ‘handmaid of the Lord.’ Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious but authentic ‘reign’ as ‘Queen of heaven and earth.’”

— Pope John Paul II's 1995 “Letter to Women,” No. 10

The unique role of women in the Church and in the world is celebrated in the movie.

• Throughout the movie Mary, whom we first see serving Jesus, is the strongest of the disciples. The apostles gravitate toward her. A glance from her urges him on at the scourging and at the crucifixion.

• This feminine genius is evident in the movie in characters such as Claudia (Pilate's wife), who knows immediately that Jesus is special when her husband is unable to. Pilate's confrontation with Jesus is the opposite of Claudia's and Mary's. He is dubious and conflicted; the two women are serene and focused outside themselves.

• Veronica is another example of “the feminine genius.” Where the crowd is infected with hatred, she sees Jesus simply as a man in trouble who needs help. She pushes forward to give him water and to wipe his face.

Our Marian Vocation

“We are accompanied by the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom, a few months ago, in the presence of a great number of bishops assembled in Rome from all parts of the world, I entrusted the third millennium. During this [Jubilee] year I have often invoked her as the ‘Star of the New Evangelization.’ Now I point to Mary once again as the radiant dawn and sure guide for our steps.”

— Pope John Paul II's 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte

Each Christian's vocation is a Marian vocation.

• It's a paradox that Christ is the strongest man in the movie, able to endure so much, and yet is closest to the “motherly” virtues of Mary. The movie shows him washing the feet of the apostles and telling them over and over again to love all, even their persecutors. Motherhood is marked by unconditional, unrecognized service and love in the same way.

• Veronica shows in a very practical way what a Marian vocation looks like. She serves Jesus and, as a result, receives his image.

• Simon the Cyrene is a “manly” exam ple of a Marian vocation. He helps carry the cross, defends Christ and then practically carries both Christ and cross up Calvary — just as Mary has shared Christ's burdens, comforted him and carried the apostles emotionally.

• At the Crucifixion, Mary calls Jesus “heart of my heart.” For Gibson, that's probably a reference to the Immaculate Heart and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This ancient devotion shows the unity of Mary's heart with Christ's, a unity that makes them inseparable.