Mass On The Set Of The Passion: It Was Mass The Old Way
By Michael H. Brown
During the filming of the now-famous movie, The Passion of the Christ, Mass was held at 7:30 each morning in a converted office at Cinema City at the east side of Rome (when filming was there), and presiding for much of the time was Father Stephen Somerville of Queensville, Ontario, near Toronto, who has detailed the fashion in which Mel Gibson prepared spiritually for the shooting -- confirming Gibson's taste for the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
"I said Mass for seven weeks of the filming," Father Somerville told Spirit Daily. "It was the old Latin Mass, the traditional Latin Mass -- not the new Mass in Latin. It was the old Catholic Mass that was used until the 1960s."
Somerville said that he "has become a traditionalist priest" though he is now retired and doesn't have a church. He met Gibson's father Hutton while filling in for a traditionalist priest at St. Jude's Shrine in Stafford, Texas, near Houston, where Hutton was living. When asked if he was loyal to Rome, Father Somerville said he is "loyal to Rome but I'm loyal to the Rome of all time, not just the Rome of right now. John Paul is the Pope and I respect him, but I disagree with many things that he is teaching."
In October of 2002 a letter by Father Somerville renouncing liturgical reform was posted by the St. Pius X Society. The Society of St. Pius X was founded by a schismatic bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, and suppressed by the Vatican. Lefebvre was excommunicated for illicitly consecrating priests, but since then there have been attempts at reconciliation.
Father Somerville -- who technically remains under the jurisdiction of the Toronto archbishop -- said that many of those working on the movie couldn't make Mass because they had to apply make-up. "So we just had a small group of people, five or six on the average, and Jim Caviezel often came, but he particularly had to go for a long siege with the make-up artists, so sometimes I would give him Communion with a Host reserved from Mass," says the priest. "We converted a small room into a chapel. We improvised a decent-looking altar, and Mel sent somebody out to buy everything we needed -- vestments, nice candles. There were a few chairs and a sofa and there it was. Mel knelt on his knees on the floor behind me and answered the prayers in perfect Latin."
At times Caviezel would attend Father Somerville's Mass in full costume before the day's shoot -- though not during the bloody scourging scenes.
About 25 square feet in size, the tiny chapel had a few chairs and a simple wooden table raised against one wall to act as an altar. Above the table, the wall was decorated with various religious ornaments, including a picture of the Virgin Mary. Father Somerville had previously noted that he always began and ended Mass with a hymn, something that Gibson, joining in with his monotone, seemed to enjoy.
Somerville said he was there for the trial scenes. He didn't note any miracles, but emotions flowed. "There were some moments of strong feeling on the set," he recalls. "I was there for the scourging."
Asked about the role of German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich -- who some have tried to downplay as an influence -- Father Somerville said that Gibson "made practical use of Emmerich in the movie. A lot of the details that you see visually in the movie are in the Emmerich book."
Father Somerville says that Gibson is "more of a traditionalist Catholic than I am. He's not as hard-line as his father, but nevertheless," adding: "Many films about Christ have been made. But this one was made by a master actor and director with profound Christian conviction."
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