In an article written for the Spanish newspaper “La Razón,” the renowned Italian journalist Vittorio Messori recounts his experience seeing “The Passion of the Christ,” saying the movie is greatest film about Jesus Christ ever produced because of its “radical catholicity” and the providential signs that marked its filming.
“What Gibson was attempting with ‘The Passion’ he has achieved: it hits you”, is the title of the article by Messori, who attended a private screening of the final version of film at the invitation of Mel Gibson and Icon Producer Steve McEveety, together with a several other prominent Europeans.
According to Messori, there was complete silence in the theater even after the credits finished rolling and the lights were turned on. “Two women are quietly weeping; the bishop at my side is pale white, with his eyes closed; his young secretary nervously prays the rosary; the beginnings of a timid and mild applause quickly fade in embarrassment. For several long moments nobody gets up, nobody moves, nobody speaks,” he adds. Messori says that “what we were told is true: ‘The Passion of the Christ’ hits you. The effect on us was just as Gibson intended.”
Messori said the experience was disconcerting after years of believing he “knew everything” about the Passion. He discovered that he only “thought he knew it all,” because “everything changes when the account is rendered into images that transform it into flesh and blood, into evident acts of love and of hatred.”
Providence and Perfection
Messori underscores the providential signs that occurred during filming: “conversions, the overcoming of drug addictions, reconciliation between enemies, the ending of adulterous relationships, appearances of mysteries individuals, explosions of extraordinary energy, extras who fell to their knees when Caviezel’s extraordinary Jesus passed by, even lighting strikes, one of which hit the cross but hurt no one. And after, coincidences that also were interpreted as signs: the Virgin Mary was played by a Jewish actress whose last name, Morgenstern, it was later learned, means “Morning Star” in German, as is recited in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Moreover, Messori says that for Gibson, the movie “is a Mass: do it, therefore, in a dead language, as it has been done for centuries. If the mind does not understand, better. What matters is that the heart understands that everything that happened was for our redemption from sin and opened for us the doors of salvation, as we read in the prophet Isaiah, which is a presented during the film’s prologue.”
Production-wise, adds Messori, “the film is of the highest quality. The works of Pasolini, Rossellini, and Zeffirelli seem poor and archaic by comparison. Gibson’s work has keen insight, majestic photography, extraordinary costumes, desolate, and when necessary, majestic sets, incredibly effective makeup, and a professional crew, guided by a director who is also a distinguished colleague.”
Messori explains that the film presents “the faith in its most Catholic form—with the approval of the Pope and so many Cardinals, including Ratzinger—full of symbolism, which only the trained eye can fully discern.”
For Messori, “the radical ‘Catholicity’ of the film stems from the total rejection of any fictionalizing, from taking the Gospels as true history: the events, we are told, took place just as the Scriptures describe them. Its Catholicism is expressed in the recognition of the divinity of Jesus in complete union with his humanity.” And this “radical Catholicity,” he says, is also seen in the “Eucharistic aspect,’ reaffirmed in its materiality: the blood of the Passion is forever united to the wine of the Mass, and the martyred flesh to the consecrated bread. It is also seen in the strong Marian tone: the Mother and the devil are always present, the one with her silent suffering, the other with his evil satisfaction.”
Messori also reveals that “if we need two hours on the sacrifice, we only need two minutes to remember that that was not the last word: from Good Friday we go to the Resurrection, which Gibson has portrayed by drawing from the words of St. John, which I also suggested. The shroud is ‘emptied,’ leaving behind a sufficient sign to ‘see and believe’ that the one condemned has triumphed over death.”
Messori concludes his article with the question, “Anti-semitism or Anti-Judaism? We should not fool around with such serious words. Having seen the film, I believe the American Jews who have admonished their fellow Jews to see the film before condemning it are right.”
“It should be clear that what weighs upon Christ and reduces him to that state is not the fault of this person or that person, but rather the sins of all mankind, without exception,” he adds. “Isn’t the John who takes Mary into his care a Jew? Are not the devout Veronica, the impetuous Simon of Cyrene, the women of Jerusalem who weep with desperation, and Peter, who after forgiven, would die for the Master, all Jews?”
“This work, says Gibson, made bitter by those who aggressively sought to stop it, intends to propose anew the message of a God who is Love. And what kind of Love would this be if it excluded someone?”, concludes Messori.