What's Catholic About 'The Passion'? A Lot

The Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and Catholic mystics' visions shape Mel Gibson's work.

What's in "The Passion of the Christ" that's not in the Bible? Mel Gibson has said that while drawing most heavily from the Gospels, he also based his movie on extra-biblical sources, many of which fuel his Catholic faith. Scenes corresponding to the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and visions of Catholic mystics appear in the film.

The Stations of the Cross are a Catholic devotion meant to evoke a contemplative experience of Jesus' last hours. The faithful follow a series of 14 pictorial images representing scenes of Jesus' condemnation, his road to Calvary, and his crucifixion. The images often are shown on the walls of Catholic churches so believers can move from one "station" to another, reflecting on Christ's suffering. The traditional 14 stations trace events as follows:

1: Jesus is condemned to death. [All the Gospels agree.]

2: Jesus bears his cross. [All the Gospels agree.]

3: Jesus falls the first time beneath the cross. [Although plausible, no falls are explicitly mentioned in the Gospels.]

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4: Jesus meets his mother, Mary. [Although John 19:26 says Mary was standing nearby as Jesus died, the Gospel does not mention a meeting while he was carrying the cross.]

5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross. [Mark 15:21]

6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. [The theme of a woman wiping the sweat and blood from Jesus' face, using a veil that later bore his image, is not recorded in scripture. It most likely originated in a 14th-century French legend.]

7: Jesus falls a second time. [See number 3.]

8: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem. [Luke 23:27-32]

9: Jesus falls a third time. [See number 3.]

10: Jesus is stripped of his garments. [All the Gospels agree. This is seen as a fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, which says, "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing."]

11: Jesus is nailed to the cross. [Although the Gospels say Jesus was crucified, they do not specify the method used. Ropes were a possibility. However, John 20:27 implies nails were used; in it, the risen Christ invites Thomas to touch the holes in his hands.]

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