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.

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The film also includes the sixth station--a woman called Veronica ministering to Jesus--which is not mentioned in the Gospels. "Veronica breaks through the crowd and boldly goes where no one is willing to go for fear of the Romans," says Pinto.

In the movie, after Christ has been removed from the cross, Mary, his mother, is seen embracing him. Again, though the scene is not based in scripture, it is often portrayed in paintings and sculptures. "It's a Pieta scene that will go down in history like Michelangelo's," says Tom Allen, editor of the website Catholic Exchange. "It's a Pieta for our times."

Although the Gospels and the Stations of the Cross provide the basis for much of the film, Gibson also relied upon the visions of prominent Catholic mystics, says Paul Thigpen, author of "The Passion, Reflections on the Suffering and Death of Jesus Christ." Thigpen's book discusses the private revelations of 19th century nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, and 17th-century nun, Maria of Agreda.

The scriptures don't record every second of Christ's life or death, which leaves room for artistic interpretation, such as the incorporation of other texts, Thigpen says. So when making "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson used Emmerich's "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" and Maria of Agreda's "Mystical City of God, A Divine History of the Virgin Mother of God" to fill in the gaps.

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Thigpen concludes there are many scenes in the film that are obviously based on Emmerich's and Agreda's visions. The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the devil taunts Jesus, comes from Emmerich's revelations. Scripture does not record such a temptation scene.

In general, both Agreda and Emmerich speak of seeing demons surrounding the events of the Passion, although the Gospels never mention satanic interference. Further, at one point, while carrying his cross, Christ appears to be caressing it lovingly. Both women also suggest this idea.

When the persecution of Jesus by the Romans begins, Mary says, "It has begun, Lord. So be it." This statement is a summary of a long monologue that appears in Agreda's writings.

Having witnesses address Jesus during the trial scene as "The Bread of Life" does not occur in the Gospels, but does in Emmerich's account. Her revelations are also the basis for Nicodemus' objection to the Sanhedrin's proceedings and images of Christ chained in a subterranean prison with Mary nearby.

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