Many characters from Midnight Mass are Christians of Catholic tradition and the show makes extensive reference to Christian terminology and passages from the Bible. The story of the series is very personal for director Mike Flanagan, who grew up in the Catholic traditions of the Christian faith. While viewers don’t have to be Catholics or even Christians to understand the show, some may have questions about Flanagan’s symbolic use of the religious rituals featured in the story.
The first episode of the series features St Patrick’s Church, the location of Crockett Island in which much of the action from Midnight Mass occurs. Church worshipers await the return of their elderly priest, Monsignor Pruitt, and are surprised when the much younger Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) arrives to announce that he will replace Pruitt. From episode titles to the clothing worn by church leaders, the events of the series are surrounded by Christian and Catholic terminology and traditions.
Flanagan’s shows are very attentive to detail and often include hidden Easter eggs, such as the many ghosts hidden in the background of both. The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Mansion. In the case of Midnight Mass, the Easter eggs are not hidden in the background, as Flanagan instead masks the hidden meaning of the religious rites of Catholicism used in the show. While viewers can understand the basic premise of the show without knowing all of the Catholic traditions and the Biblical canon, the lack of certain knowledge can miss out on the parallels and symbolism that Flanagan invokes through their use. Whether you’re watching for the first or the fifth time, here’s some useful basic information to know when you watch. Midnight Mass.
Mass in Christianity and the Catholic Church
The title Midnight Mass should alert viewers to some basic facts about the show, such as the importance of Catholicism to the plot. However, in reality, the concept of Mass itself is extremely important in the Catholic Church. Mass is a tradition specific to the Catholic Church, although many Christian denominations hold regular meetings consisting of similar practices. It is a rite that practicing Catholics are expected to participate in every Sunday, but many Catholic churches offer the option for members to participate on weekdays if they wish to attend mass more than once a week. There is an annual custom of holding midnight mass on Christmas Eve which the show takes on the title, although the show does not take place on Christmas Eve.
Individual churches vary in the details of how Mass is performed, but the basics remain the same. Participants take part in a few different practices that occur at Mass, such as singing hymns, reading and reciting scriptures, and teaching the priest as outlined in Midnight Mass. The most important practice at Mass is that of communion, in which church members ingest a small portion of bread and wine. It was at one of those St. Patrick’s Day gatherings in Episode 2, “Book II: Psalms“, that miracles begin to happen and it is later revealed that Father Paul used the regular Mass and Communions for more than traditional religious reasons.
Meaning of the body and blood of Christ
Since Communion is the most important rite of Mass and is the channel through which Father Paul implements his plan on church participants in Midnight Mass, it is helpful to understand what the practice symbolizes for Catholics. The practice of communion is rooted in the biblical accounts of the Last Supper found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. During this meal, Jesus circulates bread and wine and says of them “Eat, it’s my body” and “Drink it’s my blood“with the idea that the objects are representative of Jesus sacrificing himself so that others can live.
Christians have applied these passages to their meetings, and the Catholic Church has applied these words of Jesus to their Mass practice and interpreted them more literally than other denominations. Catholic tradition has it that when participants take the bread and wine, the items are transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. Flanagan took up this interpretation which the Catholic Church applied in passing and took it to an even more extreme level in Midnight Mass.
What are chasubles? Importance of color explained
Another visual symbol that Flanagan uses in Midnight Mass is that of the chasuble, a garment that has long been worn by the Catholic priesthood. The first reference to clothing comes in episode 1, “Book I: GenesisWhen Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan), a devout member of St. Patrick’s Church, points out to Father Paul that he wears the wrong chasuble for a regular Sunday mass. At this point in the show, Father Paul is wearing a gold chasuble and is seen wearing chasubles of other colors in later episodes.
The garment is similar to a poncho in shape, worn on the head of the wearer and sitting on all other garments, the different colors correspond to the occasions of the calendar year. The colors that Father Paul puts on Midnight Mass are gold first, followed by purple, red, then gold again. The gold chasuble is worn only at Christmas and Easter and represents the birth and resurrection of Christ. Purple is worn during Lent and represents preparation and sacrifice. Red is worn on several holidays, including Good Friday (the feast in remembrance of the death of Jesus) as seen on Father Paul in the series, and represents passion and blood. The timeline of Midnight Mass takes place during the Lent period leading up to Easter, a holiday during which Catholic churches hold special vigils to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Flanagan, in another brilliant piece of visual storytelling that works so well in Midnight Mass, discreetly uses the colors of the chasuble to mark the phases of Father Paul’s plan to bring the Islanders back to the resurrection from the dead.
Bible Books and Christian Biblical Canon
Each episode of Midnight Mass is titled after a book in the Biblical Canon. The first four episodes are named after the Old Testament books, while the last three are named after the New Testament books. The books used for the episode titles in order are Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and Revelation. These books are symbolically significant for their corresponding episode through their individual themes and contents.
Episode titles follow the narrative arc of Midnight Mass from start to finish, until the first and last episode are named after the first and last books of the Bible, Genesis and Revelation. Psalms, Proverbs, and Lamentations are Old Testament books that are each filled with poetry and nuggets of wisdom. The Gospels provide historical accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament. while Acts of the Apostles shows how his disciples built the church in the ancient world. The themes of each of these books are explored in their corresponding episodes, such as when Erin Greene refers to the grief of the Israelites in the book of Lamentations while she grieves.
The journey of the apostle Paul and Pruitt
The character of the apostle Paul is heavily used in episode 3 of Midnight Mass by Father Paul in parallel with Monsignor Pruitt’s trip, although Pruitt’s journey is more frightening than that of the apostle. Father Paul details the apostle’s conversion to the Christian faith found in Acts 9. Paul was once a persecutor of Christians until Jesus appeared to him in a shining burst of light as he traveled, leaving him blind. After three days and a visit to a disciple of Jesus, Paul regained his sight and became a disciple of Jesus himself, spreading the teachings of Jesus throughout the ancient world.
Flanagan isn’t the first director to use a biblical allegory to enhance an on-screen story, but his use of Paul’s tale is extremely effective compared to the character of Monsignor Pruitt. The conversion of the apostle Paul is a great example of a second chance in the Bible, as someone who was welcomed into the Christian faith even though he had once upset Christians. Viewers of Midnight Mass soon learned that Father Paul wanted a second chance to right some wrongs he had committed in his youth and viewed the “gift” of youth he had received as the opportunity he needed to right those mistakes while at the same time spreading the gift to others.
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