A Passionate Encounter With The Passion




by the editors of CatholicExchange.com

Ascension Press, 2004 70 pages, $5.95 (bulk rates available)

To order: (800) 376-0520 ascensionpress.org

A picture may well be worth 1,000 words, but even before its commercial release, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was the subject of enough newspaper and magazine articles to fill a small library. Some have heralded its arrival; others have fretted over its possible effects on the social order. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on it.

Now there is an informative Catholic guidebook to cut through the fog of confusion and provide some much-needed guidance on how to respond to this film.

A Guide to the Passion is the principal element in a collaborative effort of a Catholic Internet portal and a Catholic publisher to seize the opportunity for evangelization and catechesis that is presented by this earth-shaking cinematic event.

The Catholic Passion Outreach is the brainchild of Tom Allen, a former actor now writer-editor who heads CatholicExchange.com, and Matt Pinto, co-founder of the popular apologetics magazine Envoy and president of Ascension Press, which produces and markets catechetical and adult-education materials.

Together with their respective staffs, they have written a concise, enthusiastic booklet that examines Gibson's film in a question-and-answer format. Initial questions address concerns about fidelity to the Bible and historical authenticity. For those who might be unfamiliar with the Gospel message, many of the answers explain in contemporary language the theological significance of the actions that are depicted on the screen.

“As horrific as Jesus’ death was, we need to appreciate a fundamental truth of human existence: Authentic love involves sacrifice,” they write. “Love involves the total giving of self. Love means ‘[laying] down one's life for one's friends’ (John 15:13). So there is transcendent meaning in sacrifice and suffering.”

The Guide makes perfectly clear that arguments over whether to blame the Romans or the Jewish leaders of first-century Palestine miss the point: “To understand who is really responsible for Jesus’ death, the Church says the best place for each of us to look is in the mirror.” Answer No. 80 goes on to quote perennial Church teaching verbatim, as found in No. 598 of the Catechism.

The writers do a good job of highlighting and explaining relevant Catholic doctrines such as the mystery of the Eucharist, the reason why it was instituted during a Passover meal and the Blessed Virgin Mary's role on Calvary.

Because The Passion of the Christ is an extremely graphic motion picture about the sufferings of the Word-made-flesh, there are also Q&A. As with a more artistic emphasis; these discuss images in the film that might be disturbing or enigmatic. Besides the scene-by-scene analysis, the booklet includes three chapters of solidly Catholic apologetics (for example, “The Case for Christ”) and appendices describing the Stations of the Cross and the sorrowful mysteries.

The Guide to the Passion came off the press a few days before Ash Wednesday, when the film hit theaters. The booklet is meant to be not only read but also given away. Big discounts are offered to those who purchase large quantities. The low cost will enable lay Catholic associations to distribute it at movie theaters. All profits from the booklet will go toward promoting the film and other evangelization projects.

Catholic Passion Outreach has also designed a publicity program for dioceses and parishes and has made available free downloadable manuals for small groups that want to discuss the film and the Guide. (Visit www.Evangelization.com.)

A Guide to the Passion is an impressive and useful resource that can help Catholics come to grips with the moving experience of viewing the film. It can also help those who want to understand what the movie has to say about the Catholic faith — and what the Catholic faith has to say about it.

Michael J. Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.