Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" He sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city and a man will meet you carrying a jar of water. Follow him. wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'" Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there." The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Imagine a finely produced one-hour movie about Christ, and imagine that movie as a requirement of worship, every Sunday morning, instead of the ritual of the Mass. It is fair to suggest that it would not take long for that movie to become unbearable to watch. However noble film depictions of religious subjects are, there is something ultimately unsatisfying and unreal about them.
But to thoughtful Catholics, the same cannot be said of the Mass. There is something far more real and satisfying about entering into the Mass week after week, and for many, day after day.
For the most part, when we see a good movie there is little desire to see it again soon, much less on a weekly basis. Hence, the creative moviemaking business feeds a continuing need to produce new movies, usually with improved special effects. The box-office success of every generation of action movies, for example, depends upon whether the filmmaking thrills can supersede those of the previous generation. The special effects of “Star Wars” by standards today look amateurish. Nevertheless, even the finest of movies leaves one with the sense that the experience is “not real.” In the end, depictions of reality in film remain mere depictions.
Movies about Christ may be noble in many ways, but are also unable to satisfy as a “real” encounter with Christ. An important part of the reason, it seems, is the difficulty in portraying Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity as “real.” How could an actor convincingly repeat the words of Christ who dared to say, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (Mt 34-35)? In this and in every other quotation of Christ it is impossible to invoke an actor’s personality impressively enough to be persuasive, and it is impossible for a film to really re-present the drama.
Attempts at realism in other genres of art have the same shortcomings. In the renditions of the great painters and sculptors, it may often seem that Christ looks too much like the artist, or is too chubby, or distracts by wearing the cloths of contemporaries. In movies, the personal adjectives in a writer’s attempt to describe the personal qualities of Christ fall short of the reality. Of course Christ is “intelligent” and “witty” but an actor’s depiction of the intelligence of Christ necessarily is woefully inadequate of the reality we have come to know from reading and hearing the Gospels.
Our expectations upon hearing the Gospel provide us with a clue as to truly experiencing the “real” Christ.
Christ was born into the world in the fullness of time (cf. Gal 4:4-5). It was a time without video cameras, audio recording devices, television and movies. The depiction of the personality of Christ depends upon the memories and writings of the followers of Christ and the evangelists. Scribes and scrolls would document His words and mighty deeds and the ancient ritual of the Mass would represent both. Hence the primary means of entering into the life and person of Christ is not be dramatic representation (although the Mass might rightfully be referred to as “a drama”), but by word and ritual that is obedient to the command of Christ, Who instructed the first priests to ”Do this in memory of me” Lk 22:19.
Even before we consider the mystery of the sacraments, there is something about ritual that is more “real” in repetition than other forms of representations. The objective reality of the ritual with its familiar prayers and Gospel quotations allows us to enter into it day after day or week after week with new personal insights on the person of Christ. In hearing the word in the context of the ritual of the Mass, we ourselves are changed and are increasingly disposed to answer the question Christ poses to each of us. It is the most important question of our existence: “Who do men say that I am?” (Mt 16:13-17). “Who do you say that I am?” In answering the question, within the context of the ritual of the Mass, we are not to be distracted by a filmmaker’s prejudices or an individual actor’s narrow representation. Even the personality of the priest-celebrant is subsumed in ritual by vestments that symbolically echo the maxim of John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
The full power of the personality of Christ can only resonate in the hearts of men, by God’s design, in response to the proclaimed and received word of God. It is fitting that the most satisfying encounter with Christ is not the result of movie representation or the depictions of the great artists, as worthy as they as they may be. The great mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist begins in word, continues in the ritual of the Mass and concludes with a sacrament, a true if mysterious Communion that alone satisfies a hungry heart.