Alberto Carosa’s article on “The Untold Story Behind The Passion of the Christ” (News, September) tells us less about Mel Gibson and his film than about the Tridentine Latin Mass and Mr. Gibson’s dedication to it.  Why is The Passion important?  Why did it stir up a cacophony of denunciations as antisemitic, consequently (and presumably unintentionally) stimulating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the producers?  Surely not because of the Latin Mass.  The Jewish critics were not upset by the use of Latin, even though the Romans and Jesus do speak Latin in the movie.  They were afraid that the long, drawn-out, and extremely realistic presentation of Jesus’ suffering at the hands of Jews would inflame Christians to commit antisemitic atrocities.  This did not happen, and that ought not be a surprise.  Although most of the Jewish leaders appear in an extremely odious light, it is perfectly evident that Jesus and His disciples were also Jews.  Even more significant, it is evident that it was the Romans under the imperial governor Pilate who ordered the atrocities, and it was Roman soldiers who performed them.

From my perspective, the film brought home to millions of viewers the reality of what Jesus suffered.  Viewers simply could not avoid recognizing that execution by crucifixion is incredibly painful and degrading.  It is all too easy for churchgoers to skip through the contemplation of the Crucifixion as fast as they can say the words of the Apostles’ Creed—“[He] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”  The very duration of Jesus’ suffering as displayed in The Passion profoundly moved many viewers who had “already read the book” but did not really know and could not imagine what it was actually like.  Perhaps the trouble that Mel Gibson went through to have the Mass in Latin said every day on location, so that he and others could attend it, kept them going during the shooting, but it is certainly not the Mass, with its liturgical beauty, that comes through in the movie.  A young man of my acquaintance, no tender-hearted dreamer, told me that he cried during the movie when it really hit him what Jesus had gone through for his sake.

It is not the beauty of the Latin Mass that stirred Mel Gibson but the Gospel itself.  The Latin Mass is beautiful, and it puts the vernacular translations I have seen to shame, but, if it conveys a sense of the sufferings of Christ, it must be because those attending it already have a clear sense of what they were.  “Sub Pontio Pilato crucifixus, passus, et sepultus est” reports the story, but The Passion imposes it on the viewer.

The movie, like everything human, has flaws, but to spend much time pointing them out is to miss its importance.  The Latin Mass is beautiful (although Calvin called it “a perverse mockery” and worse, but that is not our point here), but the beauty of the Mass is not what we should learn from Jesus’ suffering.  However many priests Mel Gibson may have secured to say Mass for him, that is not what he was showing us in his film.  Mr. Carosa’s essay can be read with full agreement only by those who are committed to pre-Vatican II Catholicism, probably a minority among Chronicles’ Catholic readers.  Too much material in this vein will make too many of Chronicles’ nontraditional Catholic readers wonder whether they are not reading an English version of Abbé George de Nantes’ Contre réforme catholique.  Chronicles has, as the saying puts it, other fish to fry.  Keep frying.

        —Harold O.J. Brown
Charlotte, NC