Latin Mass on Set of the Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is a direct fruit of the Latin Mass, and the Latin Mass is a direct fruit of the Passion of the Christ. What do I mean by that? By the end of this blog post, you will (God-willing) understand.

Mel wearing Our Lady’s Scapular.

A Fraternity of Saint Peter priest in Denver, Colorado once made the most astonishing and jaw dropping statement. While on the pulpit, in the middle of a homily, he said: “we have a lot of crime in this neighborhood. Over there we have drug dealers, over here we have prostitution and sexual assault, over there…and then over here…. and over there…. but do you know why? Because we are right here. Because the Traditional Latin Mass is right here and Satan hates it.” Immediately I recalled all the areas that appear sinful, but have the most growth of Traditional Masses: California, for example appears to be the most dreadful liberal state- filled with evil laws, demonic leaders in power, drugs (the list really goes on and on) but did you know that “the sunshine state” actually has more Latin Masses than any other in America? San Francisco, immediately might make you cringe, but it’s the Latin Mass home base led by one of the most traditional bishops in the country: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (his name literally means “heart of a lion”). And this is not even including the good that comes from the March for Life.


Story from: Mass of Ages Winter 2020

The Passion of the Christ may well have helped pave the way for the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

A sequel to Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, is planned, but the success of the original film should be seen in light of the grace granted by the Traditional Latin Mass, as Alberto Carosa explains amid the recent announcement that a sequel to Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ is due to be released sometime in 2022, some have recalled the spiritual assistance which took place behind the shooting of the Gibson’s original film. The obituary of the French born Fr Jean-Marie-Charles-Roux, which appeared in the Messa in Latino Italian portal in August this year, described how he worked as chaplain to the film crew during the shooting of The Passion of the Christ in 2004, while another report in the National Catholic Register (on September 24) said that: “Priests of the Legionaries of Christ provided spiritual support to Gibson and his crew when in Rome and on set.” To be more specific, the main aspect of this spiritual assistance was the daily celebration of the Old Latin Rite throughout the shooting of the film, which took place in two main locations, the Cinecittà studios in Rome and the city of Matera in Southern Italy.

Thanks to my direct experience in this matter, I can throw some light on one aspect of life behind the scenes during the shooting of the film, whose spiritual relevance, dimension and implications cannot be overestimated. It all started when I received a phone call from Mel Gibson in the early autumn of 2002, a couple of days after I had received an email from his assistant asking for help. During our lengthy and pleasant conversation, he explained that he needed to find a priest willing to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass daily on the set throughout the shooting of his film, including during an extended stay in Matera. This request was being made not only for him, but on behalf of others involved in the production of the film, first and foremost the actor who played Jesus, James Caviezel (whom, to my delight, I found to be among the devout traditional minded faithful).

My response to Gibson was that finding a priest to say the Tridentine Mass on the set in the Cinecittà studios in Rome would not be all that difficult; the problem was finding someone in Matera. We decided we needed a retired priest without regular parish commitments – and one willing to move to Matera for at least a couple of months. The solution came through Msg Gilles Wach, Prior General of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a well-known traditional Latin Rite congregation of pontifical right based in Gricigliano (near Florence). He agreed to ask one of his priests, Abbé (in the French sense of father, not abbot) Michel Debourges, who accepted to serve as chaplain in Matera.

This solution could not have been more fitting, considering that Abbé Michel Debourges had worked for many years in theatre (notably with Jean Vilar), cinema, and television before discovering, albeit belatedly, his priestly vocation. Msg Wach reached him at his home in Montpellier, inviting him to fly to Rome and then be driven by limousine to Matera. But the late Father Debourges was just one of the priests associated with Mel Gibson’s project and specifically one of the three traditional priests involved in the offering of a daily Tridentine Mass for the film. Incidentally, I had to deal with each of them, because I was also asked to arrange a suitable venue for the Sunday Mass in Rome, since the Cinecittà studios would be closed.

The other two priests who served during the Rome shooting of the film were the late British-born Canadian Fr Stephen Somerville and the above-mentioned French-born Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux. Born in London to devoutly Catholic parents, Fr Somerville moved to Canada when he was two, attending seminary school at the Grand Séminaire of Quebec in 1952. He served in parishes across southern Ontario and studied theology in Rome. A former member of the advisory board of the International Commission on English Liturgy, Fr Somerville retired as a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2002 (partly in protest at the many distortions made in the translations of liturgical texts from Latin into English), just in time to accept Gibson’s flattering invitation to come to Rome to celebrate Mass in late 2002 and early 2003. “I once told Mel you’re spending $25 million to create a simulation of the crucifixion,” the 72-year-old priest said at the time, “when I can do the same thing in half an hour” (referring to his God-given priestly power to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ).

But what is most important, because of the film and Mel Gibson’s association with traditional Catholicism, the old rite Latin Mass gained an unprecedented visibility…

In fact, the overwhelming success of the film should be seen in light of the overflowing grace granted by the Traditional Latin Mass, all the more so for those who are not afraid to show their allegiance to it. Even if these elementary and simple concepts are difficult for most of our contemporaries to grasp, they are there in the Gospel, in which Our Lord proclaims: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His Justice and everything else will be given unto you.” To seek first the Kingdom of God means foremost to render true glory to Him. Indeed, during their interview with the Catholic television network EWTN, Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel said their intention was to glorify God, by reproducing His Passion as faithfully as possible. But the success of the film should not be gauged only in blockbuster or audience terms, but most of all for its spiritual fall-out. Stories of conversions, also supported by the rediscovery of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, were reported from around the world, and not only among the viewers, but also among the cast and staff of the film.

I will never forget at Sunday Mass in Rome seeing Mel Gibson dressed as an altar boy with his white surplice and black robe (an attire that perfectly suited him) and watching him following the priest in procession from the sacristy toward the altar. Among other attendees that day were Jim Caviezel, producer Steve McEveete (also a co-producer of The Lord of the Rings series), and other actors and members of the cast from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities. This time, it was all for real, and the “set” was an old, small Catholic church in the ancient heart of the Eternal City. But what is most important, because of the film and Mel Gibson’s association with traditional Catholicism, the old rite Latin Mass gained an unprecedented visibility before, during and after the shooting of the film, thus producing a worldwide impact that, according to some commentators, may have helped pave the way for the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum a few years later in 2007.


When we reflect how the Latin Mass is the true channel of graces flowing through Our Lady’s Sorrowful Heart, untainted by protestant prayers and form of worship, I cannot help but see how it penetrated the entire film in every aspect. For so many years I have thoughtfully pondered why Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ had so powerful an affect on me since my youth. Just the soundtrack alone is enough to place me in a scene of Our Lord’s Passion with real, and quite frankly divine, emotion. But when I found out what exact Mass was celebrated on set everyday, it dawned on me. Just like the Latin Mass, nothing is random or spontaneous or “ad-libbed”; it is all planned and there for a reason. From the specific rubrics to the reverence that are enforced to serve a King, it is the real way Our Lord wanted His Apostles to worship. I can think of nothing in the film that was wanting: the music as I mentioned, the cinematography, the Latin (the universal language of the Church) and Hebrew, Gibson using Sister Anne Emmerich’s visions as recorded in The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and let us not forget just how well each actor seemed to be perfectly cast.

From Pontius Pilate, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Judas, Simon, Veronica, Our Lady, John the Apostle, the Centurion and even the devil. To this day when I picture the foot of the cross, I cannot help but see those actors come instantly to my mind. I just cannot picture anyone else playing the roles; it’s as close as we are going to get on earth or to the “real thing”. And how could I forget Jim Caviezel? Who, has the same initials as Our Lord, was exactly 33 years old when he was cast, during the film was struck by lightening, his hours spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament so that “when they see me, they will see Him”, had two heart surgeries from catching pneumonia, accidentally injured through the scourging scene and then later had his shoulder dislocated “by accident”. Right. When we speak of serious spiritual warfare, that is only the obvious fruit, from a film that seeks to imitate, in the closest way possible, the bloody sacrifice of Our Lord.

The reason the imitation of Our Lord’s Passion, in this film, was such a success was because the unbloody sacrifice of the Latin Mass, a Mass that teaches a soul perfect and pleasing sacrifice, was on set everyday. When a priest friend of mine forever led me to the Mass of the Apostles, the only words I needed to hear from him to make this change, was: “Our Lady would be more pleased if you attended the Latin Mass; it’s Her favorite Mass”. Mel Gibson is not perfect, but I believe, as he said in an interview, that “this film has saved me from myself”. He is my personal hero in Hollywood because while he has been shunned by the world and while this film won no awards (even though it’s the best movie ever made), this masterpiece saved, and continues to save a lot of souls. Gibson is a sinner, he has made mistakes, but are not these the very instruments Our Lord chooses to carry out His greatest work?