Interview With a Carmelite Theologian
ROME, 5 MAY 2004 (ZENIT).
The relation between the passion of Christ and
the Eucharist also contains a reference to the Eucharistic dimension of
Mary, says a theologian and Vatican consultor.
To understand better the more important aspects of the film "The Passion
of the Christ," ZENIT interviewed Discalced Carmelite Father Jesús
Castellano Cervera, the president of the Theological Faculty Teresianum
who is a specialist in Marian studies and consultor to the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith.
As of Monday, the movie had taken in $579 million in receipts worldwide.
Q: "The Passion of the Christ" represents the Eucharist, one of the
central mysteries of Christianity. It does so at the culminating moment of
Jesus' sacrifice with a flashback to the ceremony of the bread and wine.
What is your assessment of this cinematographic representation of the
Father Castellano Cervera: I consider this contribution very opportune.
The synoptic Gospels and Paul tell us about the supper before the Passion,
as we know, and in it the institution of the Eucharist, while John, who
does not give an account of the Eucharistic institution, gives the whole
supper a Eucharistic meaning, from the washing of the feet, to the
The supper forms part of the passion of Christ. In the giving of his body,
which must be crucified, and his blood, which must be poured out for the
remission of sins, Jesus instituted the memorial of his passion and
redeeming death, and carried out a prophetic action, showing awareness of
what was about to occur in the last part of his life.
In the film, this flashback unites the passion with what Jesus
accomplished in the supper. On one hand it shows that, all that Christ had
anticipated is realized in the passion. The supper looks toward the cross.
And at the same time it reminds us that from that historical event, which
happened once and for all on the cross, the Eucharistic celebration
this in memory of me"
a "representation," in the striking sense of a "sacramental presence."
But the call to the supper and to the institution of the Eucharist at the
moment of the death on the cross confers great realism both to Jesus'
words in the Last Supper
when he anticipates already sacramentally his sacrifice and his offering
well as the realism of the Eucharistic sacrifice as total gift, painful
and at the same time full of love, obedient to the Father and a
sacrificial donation to us.
There is no doubt: The realism of the Passion highlights the "price" of
the gift of the Eucharistic sacrifice, also saying with the Council of
Trent that in the Eucharist are present "the victory and the triumph of
Q: A priest acknowledged that Gibson's film has enabled him to understand
more profoundly the sacrament of the Eucharist, in regard to the meaning
of the sacrifice and of the blood poured out to wash away the sins of men.
What is your opinion?
Father Castellano Cervera: I think that's right. There is always the
danger of trivializing the Eucharist when it is not regarded with the love
with which Christ instituted it for us, when it is not related to the
sacrifice of his death, and when it is not celebrated as a memorial of the
love of Christ for his Church and for the whole of humanity.
The priest who acts in the person of Christ cannot live the celebration
without seeking to identify himself with Christ's feelings, as the words
of the Missal also indicate.
A correct way to celebrate Mass, to bless the Father, to pray to the
Spirit, to offer the sacrifice of Christ and to offer oneself and the
Church, together with the holy and immaculate Victim, is to be able to
create also in the assembly a sense of the mystery, and to enfold it in
the living offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, in communion with Christ
who offered himself and continues to offer himself for us.
Q: Controversies aside, the critics share the view that no other film has
ever represented in such a precise way the figure of Mary. The Mother of
Jesus lives the tragedy and pain of the passion, even though she knows
that the plan of salvation is being accomplished. What would you like to
say in regard to this interpretation?
Father Castellano Cervera: The observation is correct. The historical
presence of Mary at the foot of the cross, according to John's Gospel, is
the key to understand that hers was a constant, intense and shared
closeness to the Son in his hour, in the hour of the Son and her hour,
from the supper to the cross.
Mary was not there by chance, but because she had followed her Son's
steps, as faithful disciple and Mother. The film is absolutely correct in
showing her in different moments of the itinerary of the Passion.
She was not a Mother who drew back before her Son's condemnation. She was
totally on the side of Jesus. But her human presence, letting herself be
seen by Jesus, as the film shows, has a message.
Mary wanted her Son to know of her participation, of her awareness of
living in profound communion with him, of what he probably revealed so
many times to the Mother, more or less explicitly: his passion, death and
It is a participatory presence of communion, of compassion, of maternal
association, in the realism of being near, of being seen, of presenting
herself without fear as the Mother of that condemned Son.
According to John, all that happened at the foot of the cross was the real
expression of what happened on the way of the cross. Mary accompanied her
Son in his agony. And she waited for his resurrection until the third day.
Q: One of the most striking scenes of the film is the moment when, at the
foot of the cross, Mary says to Jesus: "Body of my body, blood of my
blood." And in these words is hidden the mystery of the incarnation of the
Son of God. What would you like to say in this respect?
Father Castellano Cervera: Not only is it a reference to the mystery of
the Incarnation of which Mary is a witness from the beginning to the end,
from the Conception to the Ascension.
In the tragedy of the Passion, Mary indicates that that flesh that suffers
and that blood that is poured out in the flagellation, and all through
Calvary and on the cross, is flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood.
Deep down it affirms that there is a "compassion" of the Mother, that she
feels in her flesh and in her blood all that her Son suffers, as if each
pain was lived and suffered by her, with exquisite maternal sensitivity.
She knew it, she had heard it from Simeon as a prophecy. But now she was
living it with a realism that is perhaps unimaginable.
Also in the relation flesh/blood of the Passion and of the Eucharist, in
the film itself, there is a reference to the Eucharistic dimension of
Mary, "Eucharistic woman." The phrase is Augustine's
Christi, Caro Mariae" [the flesh of Christ is the flesh of Mary]
referring in the first instance to the Incarnation and, as a consequence,
to the Eucharist.
Q: There are those who have described the film as anti-Semitic,
anti-Christian, or too violent. How do you assess Gibson's film?
Father Castellano Cervera: It cannot be accused of anti-Semitism. Those
who play a disgraceful role in the film are the Romans, especially the
soldiers, terrible and merciless executioners.
On the whole, I liked the film. I think the version of the scourging was
excessive and, consequently, of the suffering implied in such carnage on
the way to Calvary, and some extremes of the crucifixion. There is the
risk of not making such atrocious suffering credible.
I think, all together, the Gospels are more sober in regard to the
physical pains. For Luke, the suffering and anguish in Gethsemane is more
intense, a spiritual pain, which also affects the body that sweats blood.
So much physical pain runs the risk of clouding the "sentiments" of Jesus
Christ, those of his heart, which are of obedience full of love of the
Father and of love for humanity to the giving of his life. In the Letter
to the Philippians, Paul talks about these "sentiments," which give
meaning to Christ's external suffering.
In "The Passion," I miss an emphasis on the priestly prayer of Jesus, a
real Eucharistic offering by Christ of his passion and death for the unity
of all. I don't find the translation adequate, in appropriate language, of
the great existential suffering expressed in the "piercing" words, as
described by H. Urs von Balthasar: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned
There should be more on the Resurrection. It is the Father's answer to
Jesus and to us of the enigma of the passion. The salvific force of the
Resurrection makes us understand the meaning of the effusion of blood and
of the giving of life. Blood and water gushed forth from the heart of
blood of the redemption, but also Holy Spirit of salvation, and of the
life of the Risen One communicated to us.
As the Gospel testifies, we need a Christ who returns from death with his
glorious wounds to say: "Peace be with you." And to hear that he breathed
on the Apostles, as John says, to communicate his vivifying Spirit. This
is how "the triumph of his death" is accomplished. ZE04050501