FOCUS (feb23fcs.htm)

February 23, 2004
vol 15, no. 54

No Glory without the Cross!

    A Commentary by

    by Gary L. Morella
    "Who needs to follow the example of Christ? Who needs to be made aware of just how horrific sin is when sin is not preached anymore, i.e., there is only Heaven with no hell or devil, the latter being inventions of Neanderthal traditionalists, to cause us needless anxiety. The natural is more important than the supernatural. Of course that is the false gospel of the liberation theologians who believe that Christ died only "to show humanity how to live - to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, to stand in solidarity with the marginalized," the last added, no doubt, to open the door for Christ's embracing the sin as well as the sinner - the tack of those who would have us believe that there is no such thing as sin; else man is guilty of discriminating against his fellow man."

   In coming across this news item from the Dallas Morning News the thought came to mind, "How can you be a believer and deny the necessity for God's sacrificial act of Redemption giving man an opportunity for salvation? That is denying that Christ is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. To do so is to deny the Sacred Tradition of the Church rooted in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, the former prefiguring the latter in terms of the New Covenant replacing the Old.

   From the Mass on Holy Saturday: "Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" As a result of original sin, we need Jesus Christ. This sin gave God the opportunity to share His Only Son with us. Christ's victory over sin won us more blessings than those lost through Adam's sin (CCC 420). In the words of St. Paul in Romans 5: 20, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." God worked through Adam's sin for our greater good and His Glory. [See the enclosure below The Exultet affirming how God turned the evil of Adam's sin into ULTIMATE GOOD.

   As I read further, I saw the Protestant roots of the difficulties, which Catholics need to be aware of since many fraudulently calling themselves Catholics, e.g., disciples of bogus new Biblical theorists such as Raymond E. Brown, and his hero Rudolph Bultmann, proponents of Biblical eisegesis instead of exegesis to rewrite Scripture to make God in their image, instead of vice-versa, have followed the Protestant example to the letter, carrying it to extremes that the Protestants didn't do, i.e., "out-hereticing" the Protestants.

   The reference is made in this article to "Mel Gibson's version of atonement theory." This is not Mel Gibson's version; it is THE VERSION taught by the Church since her founding upon the Rock that is Peter. About the only individual consistently quoted in this article who knew what he was talking about WAS Mel Gibson, as far as I could see. I seriously doubt whether anyone other than a traditional Catholic would have had the courage of his convictions to undertake such a fearless task in accurately portraying the last hours of Christ with knowledge of the criticism to come for the simple reason that, since Vatican II, non-traditional Catholics have been spoon fed an experiential "watered-down" version of Catholicism where reference to the Mass being a "Holy Sacrifice" would have no meaning for them. If you can't understand the Mass as Sacrifice, you don't have a prayer of understanding the need for Christ's ultimate Sacrifice on Calvary because you have no real comprehension of what the most beautiful prayer given by Christ to man in the form of the Mass is. From what I've seen and heard to date, Mel Gibson has done Catholicism proud as a spokesman in the public square. I cringe at the thought of a "spirit of VaticanIIite" fielding the tough questions that Gibson does effortlessly. It is refreshing to observe a Catholic not adding to the secular confusion of Catholicism.

   The comment is made that "Jesus' suffering is torn from the context of the Resurrection" with the statement that the Resurrection is all that matters, i.e., man can forget about what was necessary for the Resurrection to take place, THE CROSS! To say that "without the Resurrection the Cross is meaningless" IN NO WAY precludes the necessity of the Cross for the Resurrection. This is par for the course when the message today is that "sacrifice is too hard". Who needs to follow the example of Christ? Who needs to be made aware of just how horrific sin is when sin is not preached anymore, i.e., there is only Heaven with no hell or devil, the latter being inventions of Neanderthal traditionalists, to cause us needless anxiety. The natural is more important than the supernatural. Of course that is the false gospel of the liberation theologians who believe that Christ died only "to show humanity how to live - to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, to stand in solidarity with the marginalized," the last added, no doubt, to open the door for Christ's embracing the sin as well as the sinner - the tack of those who would have us believe that there is no such thing as sin; else man is guilty of discriminating against his fellow man.

   Mel Gibson is to be congratulated for defending the One True Faith, instead of being embarrassed by it.

Gary L. Morella

Editor's Note: Following is a blatant example Gary was referring to in his commentary above. It is a microcosm of the humanistic theology so many Protestants have embraced and how it has dumbed-down so many. Oh, satan has to love it! Gary has highlighted in red those points that one should take notice of below.

    Not all believers share Gibson's view that Jesus died to atone for sin


    The Dallas Morning News

    (KRT) - For some, the controversy is over who killed Jesus.

    But for others, it's why he died - whether his death was necessary to atone for the sins of humanity.

    Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which opens in theaters Wednesday, raises questions other than anti-Semitism for some Christians. At issue is whether the death of Jesus was necessary to reconcile the world to God - a view no longer sacrosanct in some circles.

    The movie, reflecting the deeply held views of its director, answers affirmatively on the side of traditional Christianity. But in churches and religious schools, some believers are raising doubts.

    "It doesn't make sense to me that God would need to be satisfied by sending his son to be killed," said Kip Taylor, a religion major at Texas Christian University. "That's a vengeful God and not a God I want to worship."

    For most Christians, Jesus' death has long been considered the fulfillment of Scripture - entirely sacrificial, virtuous and redemptive.

    "It's the central point of what Christians believe," Gibson told ABC's Primetime.

    But it's a belief being questioned like never before by some mainline Protestants, particularly the historical peace churches and liberal theologians.

    "My death is no more important than my birth or every day in between. Why should it be any different with Jesus?" said Kelly Webb, after a class on the Gospels at TCU. "If all that mattered was his death, why did he spend three years teaching and preaching?"

    The Gospel of Mark (10:45) states unequivocally that Jesus died "as a ransom for many." I Peter 2:24 says, "In his own body, he brought your sins to the cross."

    And the Letter to the Hebrews is filled with sacrificial language about Jesus.

    Paul's letters have been the primary biblical basis for asserting that Jesus died as a ransom for human sin. But modern scholarship tools now allow Christians to see other views in the sacred texts.

    "Historically, the church has homogenized all the voices in Scripture and made them fit this understanding of God," said Dr. Elizabeth Johnson of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.

    A specialist on Paul, she believes his sacrificial references are misinterpreted.

    "It's not that God is mad and Jesus takes the licks for us," she said. "Paul's much more interested in what it means to say that Jesus' death changes the structures of the universe, brings in a new creation and makes life out of death."

    Some biblical passages portray Jesus as an innocent man who didn't deserve his fate, scholars say. But others verses suggest that his death was foretold from the beginning - that he had a God-given mission to die.

    "Mel Gibson comes down on the side that says crucifixion was a necessary part of God's plan for salvation," said Dr. Adele Reinhartz, a New Testament scholar from Canada whose forthcoming book, "Jesus of Hollywood," is due out this summer.

    If Jesus didn't die for sin, the ramifications are enormous for Christians. The church's doctrine of original sin is called into question. So, too, are the meaning of redemption, salvation and Jesus' mission on earth.

    "It's just bad theology to say God had to kill his son as a payback for sin," said Dr. Sandra Schneiders, a New Testament scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. "It makes God sound bloodthirsty."

    Perhaps, she said, redemption is found in Jesus' teachings about the kingdom of God. Maybe he came to earth to show humanity how to live - to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, to stand in solidarity with the marginalized.

    Or maybe he died simply for his unpopular, even subversive beliefs rather than for the sin of the world.

    That kind of thinking goes against classical atonement theology.

    "It's our belief that by the sin of the first people, original sin, that the gates were closed to us, to eternal life, and that his sacrifice as a redeemer of all mankind was to open the gates to all of us again," Gibson told "Primetime."

    That viewpoint dominated the early centuries of the church, when the primary statements of faith were written. The Nicene and Apostles' creeds punctuate beliefs in the virgin birth, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection - but say nothing about Jesus' teachings.

    The most popular atonement theologies combined aspects of the ransom theory (Jesus' death freed humanity from Satan's hold), the satisfaction theory (Jesus' death makes amends for humanity's sin) and sacrificial theory (Jesus' death is the ultimate sin offering to God).

    "Atonement theologies say our connection to God is through Jesus' suffering," said the Rev. Flora Keshgegian, a theologian at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. "Others have wanted to stress that connection is through Jesus' humanity."

    Suffering is so integral to atonement theory that in interviews, Gibson interchanges the phrases "the Crucifixion" and "the sacrifice." From his vantage - and that of the shapers of Christian doctrine - there is no other way to understand the cross.

    "Mel is not trying to get the record straight about who killed Jesus," said Dr. Daryl Schmidt, head of the religion department at TCU. "He's providing a visual way of understanding his version of atonement theory."

    It's shock-and-awe theology that says the level of agony endured was a measure of the depth of God's love for humanity. Only a few seconds of the movie are given to resurrection, and virtually none to Jesus' life.

    The R-rated movie is so blood-splatteringly brutal that theologians have accused Gibson, a Catholic, of embellishing the Gospels. A Catholic archdiocese has cautioned that Jesus' suffering has been torn from the context of the Resurrection.

    Churches usually stress that the life, death and Resurrection must be understood together. That's because without the Resurrection, the cross is meaningless, said Dick Davis, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Dallas.

    "What brings salvation is that God says the cross is not the end of the story," he said.

    The film's focus is on Jesus' final hours, when the Gospels say he was arrested, whipped and hung on a cross to die. Evangelical leaders invited to advance screenings say the movie accurately reflects the Gospels - a claim some biblical scholars dispute.

    "There's no Gospel ever written that tells it quite this way," said Dr. Schmidt, a New Testament specialist. "He's pulling one line from Matthew and another from John and creating propaganda in the service of the church's atonement theology."

    Some churches are promoting the movie as the "greatest evangelical tool in 2,000 years" (overlooking, perhaps unintentionally, the New Testament).

    Across the country, congregations have bought out tickets for the opening days of the movie.

    Christians accustomed to the tepid crosses of Easter pageants will be jolted by the film's depiction of "just how much Jesus suffered" for them, said the Rev. Troy White, a Baptist minister from Mt. Pleasant in East Texas.

    "When they were driving the nail in his hand, it was like I was doing that," he said. "I saw myself there. I saw how he died for my sin. I was shaking."

    Suffering, he said, is not something that spa-pampered Americans are used to seeing. He called the movie a "scriptural reality check."

    Evangelical singer Christy Nockels said the movie made her rethink Jesus.

    "I guess I'd always thought since he was God's son he probably didn't feel pain or that God didn't make him suffer," said. Nockels, of the husband-wife duo Watermark, based near Nashville, Tenn.

    Gibson, who said he put more than $25 million of his own money into the project, told "Primetime" that the movie represents his artistic vision of the Crucifixion, based on his reading of the Gospels.

    In Gibson's world, the best of Catholicism is pre-1960s and in Latin. It's a world where the crucified body of Jesus still hangs on crosses to remind believers not only of God's sacrifice, but that there's no easy path to salvation.

    Protestant churches favor crosses without Jesus' body to emphasize his Resurrection, rather than his bloody death, as the cornerstone of their theology.

    Other Crucifixion movies, such as "The Last Temptation of Christ." Simply imply more violence than they show. But "The Passion of the Christ" is relentless. Gibson insists that's because Jesus' death was horrific.

    From that suffering comes redemption, he insists.

    "It's excruciating to watch, particularly when Jesus was being beaten," said Don Donahue, an executive for the Rocketown Christian record label near Nashville. "I was feeling sick. I was weeping. But I came out with a deeper desire to serve the Master."


    The Exultet is the poem proclaimed at the Easter vigil in praise of God for the light of the Paschal candle - for the coming glory of the Resurrection.

Father Cassian Folsom
A leading Roman liturgist, a Benedictine of the Sant'Anselmo monastery

The Exultet is the long and beautiful poetic text proclaimed by the deacon, priest or cantor during the Easter vigil as a type of lucernarium or hymn of praise to God for the light of the Paschal Candle. This ancient text, which may go back as far as St. Ambrose (died 397), entered the Roman tradition through the 9th-century supplement to the Gregorian Sacramentary. It is a masterpiece of the liturgical tradition, and of very great beauty.

Since beauty leads us to the mystery of God, a greater appreciation of the beauty of the Exultet can help lead us to the very heart of the paschal mystery of Christ. Let us consider the beauty of both the form and the content of the Easter Proclamation.

Beauty of form: The poetic style of the Latin text is formal and elegant, communicating at once the sacred quality of what is being said and the warmth and fervor of the speaker. The ancient chant melody is at the same time lyrical and solemn: transporting the listeners beyond the mundane cares of everyday living, tugging at the heart, and inviting all present to a deeper kind of prayer.

The setting in which the Exultet is proclaimed is extremely important for its effectiveness. The Church is in shadows, lit only by the candles of the faithful and by the single flame of the paschal candle itself. Such an atmosphere is conducive to prayer; while electric lights are fine for seeing the things of this world, candlelight is better. All wait in hushed expectation for the opening words of the Exultet: "Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!"

Beauty of content: The text that the deacon sings is theology expressed in prayer, a rich synthesis of what we celebrate at Easter: the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the Christian. For greater understanding, we can divide the text into three parts:

1) An introduction, which is an exhortation to exult (from whence comes the title Exultet);

2) A proclamation of the wonderful works of God in the paschal mystery, including both a calling to mind (or anamnesis) of the history of salvation and a contemplative meditation on the effects of that salvation in the life of the believer;

3) A concluding petition, asking the Father to receive the paschal candle as a symbol of our evening sacrifice of praise.

Who is it that the deacon exhorts to rejoice? There are three groups: the angelic hosts and spiritual powers above, the earth below, and Mother Church, who embraces all. The angels have their own glory, while the earth and the Church are described as surrounded by light, shining with the splendor of the eternal king. The deacon sings with ecstatic jubilation, with the impassioned affection of his whole heart and mind, and with the gift of his voice. He addresses all present as "beloved brethren" and asks them to invoke the mercy of Almighty God, so that the Lord who sheds abroad the glory of such light, may enable him to perfectly perform the praise of this candle. The members of the congregation are not idle spectators, but pray with the deacon and for him, that he may perform his task well.

The anamnesis begins with the customary preface dialogue: Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts! Put aside all earthly cares, and enter into the sacred mysteries! And what are these mysteries? All the things contained in the paschal feast: when Christ paid for us the debt of Adam, when the true Lamb was slain whose blood consecrated the doorposts of the faithful.

What follows is a glorious use of biblical typology: the text names various elements of the Exodus story and applies them to the Christians gathered around the paschal candle today, hodie, on this holy night of Easter. "This is the night when you brought our fathers out of Egypt and led them dry-shod through the Red Sea." "This is the night which purified the darkness of sins by the pillar of fire." "This is the night which has such power for all those believing in Christ throughout the entire world: it restores them to grace and joins them to holiness." "This is the night in which Christ, bursting the bonds of death, rose victorious from the underworld!"

After the chanting of the mirabilia Dei, the wonderful works of God, the Exultet then turns to a more contemplative meditation on what all this means for us. "What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?" This poignant reflection is reminiscent of the words of St. Paul: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:19). The text once again breaks into praise of the Father: "O wondrous condescension of your great kindness toward us! O immeasurable charity: for to redeem a slave, you handed over your Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, which was wiped out by the death of Christ! O happy fault, o felix culpa, which merited to have so great a redeemer! O truly blessed night, which alone merited to know the time and the hour in which Christ rose from the dead!"

These exclamations of praise embrace the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and put on our lips such bold confidence that we thank God even for the original sin of our first parents. God turns all things to the good, even sin, and we can call that first sin "happy" because it was the cause of the sending of the Only-Begotten Son into the world.

This section of the Exultet ends with a description of the effects of the paschal mystery. The sanctification of this night drives away evil deeds, washes sins away, restores innocence to the lapsed and joy to those who mourn, drives out hatred, produces concord and curbs tyranny.

The final section has an A-B-A structure, something like the art form of a symphony: i.e., petition-reprise-petition. The first petition asks the Father to accept our evening sacrifice of praise. This refers not only to the praise of the Exultet, but also to the sacrifice of Christ himself, since in patristic writings, the evening sacrifice of Vespers is frequently associated with the evening sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. So the holy Church asks the Father to accept our unbloody sacrifice of praise, just as He accepted the bloody sacrifice of His Son.

Included in this section is a meditation on the flame of the candle (which although divided into parts suffers no diminution of its light) and a meditation on the wax of the candle (produced by the mother bee, as it says in one place, or by the work of bees, as it says in another). The reprise is a return to a familiar theme heard earlier in the composition: "O truly blessed night!"

In this case, the night is praised because in it, heaven is joined to earth and divine realities are joined to earthly ones. In liturgical texts this is usually the language of Christmas, when through the Incarnation divine nature was joined to human nature. But because of the saving death and resurrection of Christ at Easter, human nature is not only redeemed, but even - we dare to say - divinized, for as it is written in 2 Pt 1:4, we have "become partakers" of the divine nature.

Finally, after this reprise, the Exultet petitions the Father once again, this time asking that the paschal candle, consecrated to the honor of His Name, might persevere undimmed in scattering the darkness of the night; that it might mingle with the heavenly luminaries and be acceptable as an odor of sweetness: and that the day star of the morning might find it still burning.

Who is the day star from on high, which never sets? Christ the Son of the Father, who returning from the grave, has shed His serene light upon the human race.

We who have the good fortune to participate in the Easter Vigil can listen with the ears of our heart to the proclamation of the Exultet. If we do not grasp its full significance this year, no matter. One of the reassuring characteristics of the liturgy is that it is repeatable, and the Exultet will come around again next year. Then we can listen once more, attentively, pondering these things in our heart as Our Lady did, repeating with wonderment and awe: "O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that won for us so great a Redeemer!"

    This first appeared at

    For past articles in FOCUS, see FOCUS ARCHIVES

    February 23, 2004
    vol 15, no. 54