Our Blessed Mother & The Saints

Mary in The Passion of the Christ

by Art Sippo

The Blessed Virgin Mary plays a major role in "Passion" which may surprise non-Catholic viewers. Catholics who have had the benefit of learning traditional Mariology will see in this film how well it harmonizes with the story in the Gospels. Mary is depicted as being so in touch with her son that at the moment of his arrest she immediately knows that something is wrong. When he is kept in prison, she can feel his presence through the stone floor beneath her feet and lies prostrate in a effort to be close to him. She has the empathy of a mother watching helplessly while her child suffers. Yet there is more to it. She also knows that something more is happening; something inevitable that she has dreaded. At the time of the crucifixion, she is the only redeemed human on earth, and so she sees the suffering of her son with greater clarity than anyone else. And though she accepts what must happen, she is still suffers with Jesus.

I think that is what Mel Gibson was trying to convey. Some people have been disturbed by the violence portrayed in the film and have complained how Jesus would have had to be superhuman to withstand it. I did not find it any more violent than what the Gospels described. I have always found the overly pious diorama montages of the crucifixion in Hollywood films to be too sanitized and unrealistic. We usually see a blue eyed Jesus posing for holy cards while calmly reciting his final words. I think that Gibson's vision gets it right. Jesus must have suffered horribly before he was crucified especially since he died so quickly. And if he was indeed God Incarnate, he would have had greater resources than an ordinary man. If you read the early martyrologies, you get the same impression about the Christian martyrs in the Roman Persecutions. If the stories are accurate, they suffered horrifically, way beyond anything that ordinary men and women could have endured. It was their calmness in the face of such torture that made such an impression on the Romans and led to many conversions. No servant is greater than his master.

Likewise, his Mother, who was conceived without sin, would have witnessed his suffering and death with more than merely human compassion. Grace elevates nature, it does not eliminate it. Mary was an exceptional person. She would have suffered with her son more than a mere human mother would have. They were soul mates who alone at that time shared the great secret of his true origins. Her suffering would have existed on both the natural and supernatural levels and therein lies her special role in he redemption of mankind.

Mary was not some blushing wall flower. She who was pure and sinless bore Jesus under a cloud of impropriety. She alone knew exactly who and what he was from the very beginning. She must have had high hopes that he would restore Israel, but that prophecy about a sword piercing her heart must have remained to haunt her especially as it all started going horribly wrong. Her son was vilified and rejected. He was turned over by the priestly dupes of the Edomite "king" of Palestine to the hated Roman infidels so that he might be tortured to death. Of all the people in the world, only she could have known what it all meant. She saw this, not with stoic detachment, but with faith, hope, and love. When she asks Jesus if she could die along with him in the film - a clear reference to the doctrine of the co-redemptrix - Jesus tells her to be a mother to St. John. He calls her to move beyond natural motherhood to spiritual motherhood for all of Jesus' brethren. He placed a burden upon her that would carry beyond his own death to help so that she might help complete the work that he had started.

Mary's immaculate heart alone of all mankind really could feel and understand what Christ was doing on the cross in all its complexity and paradox. Her perspective was therefore more like ours and less like that of a contemporary observer who could not understand the enormity of what was happening. When we stand before the cross it is a sign of contradiction. It is both the greatest shame of our humanity and its greatest hope. Knowing this, as she must have, Mary's comprehension would have run the gamut from sorrow to fascination and joy. Untainted by original sin, Mary was the only authentically human person who has ever lived. (Remember, Jesus was a divine person with 2 natures.) Her psychology and her faith would not be like that of us, her poor fallen children struggling in this vale of tears. She would feel everything -- good and bad --about the crucifixion more intensely than we would. But she would have known it both as a tragedy and as the victory that it was.

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate
March 17, 2004