Monday, March 01, 2004

Parsing TPOTC: The Sacramental Imagination

Over the next few days and possibly weeks, Fr. H and I will be recording our comments and observations concerning "The Movie." I think I am going to take a more thematic approach and look at the movie from the sources that seem to inspire its creation. We hope you find these edifying.

As the context for these comments, I would like to open with a quote from the Catechism paragraph 1085: "In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal Mystery that Christ signifies and make present....The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is--all that he did and suffered for all men--participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life."

Mel Gibson's TPOTC is strongly informed by this understanding the mystery of the Cross. Because it is an event that stretches through the years, it follows that a.) the echoing of this event plays in the background of every human life both before and after its happening and b.) there must be a way to come to have access to this reality. Hence, when Gibson depicts the passion he has the sacramental economy in mind as this unique way that we have access to this mystery of the Passion.

Consider the scourging at the pillar. All in all, from my reading of Roman history and custom, this was accurately depicted. But what was interesting was the focus upon the torturers. Anyone else notice how they were being sprayed with the blood? In the savagery of their assault they were being sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb. Here we have an Old Testament allusion. I am not positive that Gibson intended this particular "sacramental" component but it was clearly there. You can also compared this to the piercing with the lance. The soldier is sprinkled, almost doused with the effluvia coming from the side of Christ. But more on that later.

Then there is the Crucifixion itself. Interspersed into the setting of the nails and the hammering were scenes of the Upper Room. And as the cross is being set into its place, the institution of the Eucharist takes place. The fact that commentators, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have failed to mention this concerns me. From the Catholic side, it concerns me because it suggests that it so taken for granted that it slipped right past people. From the Protestant side, it confirms my fears that this movie would remain "untranslatable" for them. Because they have so blocked from their minds the reality of the Holy Eucharist they cannot see. They miss the forest for the trees.

Last, the water and blood flowing from the side of Christ has several layers of meaning. First, following the most ancient interpretations from the Church Fathers, this blood and water are the signs of the sacraments being given to the world. Second, these gifts are given to all. The effluvia from His side splashes on the Roman soldier, Cassius, as a sign of salvation for all. Third, it is the final act of giving that keeps on giving. The response is not repulsion as any of us might feel when sprayed with someone's blood. The soldier kneels. It is, as if, this open side were a new river of grace opened for the sake of all.

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