This is a continuation of a series that dives into the meaning behind the scenes in the film. The Passion of the Christ. This is part 4 of 5.
Mary: True and Holy Mother
When the condemned criminals are led to the street, Satan makes an appearance. No one seems to see him (her?). But in this scene, Mary locks her gaze on him as if playing the game of blink where whoever blinks first loses. In this particular "blinking game" Satan looks away first as if a sudden realization comes upon him that he might not be winning after all.
Satan seems to know that there is something different about Mary. She must be made of something else to be able to "see" him when others don't. It is her holiness, of course, that is different from all created humans. Catholics believe she was conceived without the stain of original sin. Adam and Eve were created holy – that is blameless in the eyes of God – and thus in union with him to the extent that they shared his divinity. When they committed the first sin, they lost that. That weakened nature was passed down to all generations. However, to prepare a womb worthy to carry God the Son for nine months, the woman should have no stain of sin whatsoever – not even original sin. Any stain of sin would mean that that person was under the power of the devil – that unholy creature. So it would be utterly absurd if the Holy Son of God would be born of a mother that was under the power of an unholy creature. No way! So through the same merits of Christ's redeeming actions of his passion, death, and resurrection, God – because he can do it – applied them to Mary. So, because Mary is a "new creation" or like a new Eve before the fall, she is also in union with God whose divine nature is shared with her. This must have shone brightly for Satan to notice.
In the movie, Mary stares him down as if putting him in his place. Some people have a notion that the forces of good and evil are equally battling it out. It is as if one camp belongs to the God of good, and the opposing camp belongs to Satan, the god of evil. That is nonsense of course. God is almighty and infinite, while Satan is only a broken finite creature that can do only what God allows him to do. So the fight is not exactly equal: God will win, of course. He has seen it and has proclaimed it in the Book of Revelation where all people of creation are citizens of a New Jerusalem. When Mary stares him down, it is a metaphor for good winning over evil in the end – even if evil seems to be winning at the moment.
Mary might be immaculately conceived, but she is a mother nonetheless. She never lost her motherly instincts. She wants to get closer to her son as he carries the cross. John knows an alleyway and leads her there. As she loses sight of Jesus it temporarily distances her from the horror of the passion. Through a flashback, she remembers a time when the child Jesus accidentally falls and she runs to his aid. The flashback is interrupted when we are transported back to the grisly reality of what is happening. Because of the weight of the cross, Christ falls, and Mary instinctively runs to his aid once again.
It is one of the scenes that are sure to bring tears to our eyes. The scene is effective because we know how a mother can have unconditional love for their children. This reveals to us what kind of love Mary had for Jesus, her son.
She comes running saying, "I'm here. I'm here." And that is all Christ needed to know that someone was with him sharing his passion. To this Christ answers: "Behold, Mother, I make all things new." These are all non-scriptural texts, but it explains Christ's mission and puts a "bookend" to this series of scenes.
It is a bookend because the phrase refers to the last book of the Bible, Book of Revelation 21:5: "The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." This was said in reference to a new heaven and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem. This, this is the mission of Christ.
Suspension of the Cross
When Jesus was being crucified two things are shown that are not recorded in the Gospels. The first is that soldiers set the nails of the hands too far apart that they pull and dislocate Christ's shoulders. Several mystics have indicated this such as Venerable Mary of Agreda, and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. Another mystic, St. Bridget of Sweden, was given prayers by Christ, which were approved by Pope Pius IX in 1862. In those prayers the description given by Christ of his crucifixion was: Remember the very bitter pain you suffered when the Jews nailed your sacred hands and feet to the cross with big blunt nails, and not finding you in a pitiable enough state to satisfy their rage, they enlarged your wounds and added pain to pain, and with indescribable cruelty stretched your body on the cross, pulled you from all sides, thus dislocating your limbs...(Excerpt of the Prayer of St. Bridget of Sweden)
During the crucifixion scene, the cross is slowly turned over so that the executioners can bend the nails lest it gets pulled off during the writhing of the victim when the cross is raised. It is a horrific scene because we anticipate that when the cross is turned over, Christ will land with his face on the rocky ground.
But, the vision of Mary of Agreda describes that when the cross was turned over, angels prevented Christ from getting hurt this way. The angels made sure that there was an empty space. In the film, this is shown so that the cross was seen as if it was suspended. We don't see the lower part of the cross so we don't know if it was caught in between some rocks. The film leaves to the imagination of how something like this might happen. The point, however, is not what the miracle is, but who it was for.
Although Mary of Agreda doesn't mention anyone seeing this miracle, the film shows Mary of Magdalene noticing it. This comes at an appropriate time because we see her distraught, weeping uncontrollably as if about to lose hope. We have to remember that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and the Jews had very specific ideas of what the Messiah was supposed to do. One of them was to fight their enemies and release them from bondage. So to see Jesus in captivity of the Romans and about to be put to death didn't quite fit with the Messiah they envisioned. Christ's disciples prematurely abandoned him because they lost hope of him being the Messiah – how could he be the Messiah if he was going to die (that, and the fear they might be hunted down and be put to death as well.)
So, in the film, this miracle was meant for Mary Magdalene. It was a small miracle for her sake; to give her strength. And we see it in the film: she straightens up with a newly determined countenance. Sure, she is still suffering, but now she suffers with hope. Hope and suffering are not mutually exclusive, and that it the lesson of this scene.
This series is continued in part 5.