Is Midnight Mass an Accurate Representation of the Church?
Tv shows, movies, comics, games - pretty much every form of media leans towards the same two main antagonists. Either it’s the big wig mysterious military government OR it’s the church. As a pastor, it’s hard to not squirm in my seats every time the church is the villain in a show, but Midnight Mass is a bit different. To be honest - it’s a genuinely good interpretation of the church. But how do the themes of the church in Midnight Mass and the true church of Jesus Christ in the scripture differ? Is the horrific monster behind the premise of this show really an Angel or... a Demon? Let’s talk about it.
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Matthew 16:21-26 (NRSV)
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
What is Midnight Mass? Well, it’s the latest Netflix horror miniseries from the second coming of Stephen King known as Mike Flanagan, the director, writer, creator of The Haunting series on Netflix and movies like Oculus, Ouiji and Hush.
Midnight Mass itself follows a plot centered on an isolated island community that experiences supernatural events after the arrival of a mysterious priest and is actually referenced several times in Flanagan’s other works.
Before we go further, I think there are two reasons you’re watching this, well three really - either you just watch Checkpoint’s stuff which means you’re awesome, thank you.
Or you are curious about Midnight Mass because it’s everywhere but you don’t like horror and you have no plan to actually watch it
Or you are a horror buff and have plans to see it if you haven’t already
With that being said, fair warning that there is no way to talk about this show that doesn’t spoil pretty much all of the twists and turns that are hallmarks of Mike Flanagans filmography. So big ol’ spoiler warning right from the get go this time. If you don’t like horror, then I hear you - I had to watch this one during daylight hours. If you do like horror, then please go watch this miniseries, it’s a great one - 8/10 for sure.
Back to Midnight Mass - the plot of this show is pretty dense and we could tackle this bird from a dozen different angles. We could do a character study of Father Paul, my ironic favorite character, or on Bev Keane, whose acting is so good that I would like to punt her into the sun. We could also do a relationship study on Riley and Erin, or Riley’s family, or Millie and Paul, or the FOINE Sheriff Hassan and the entire town. Or we could just talk about the single greatest line in the whole doggone series:
[Show clip of “Why can’t you accept that God loves Riley just as much as you?”]
Instead of pinning down one or two themes, I want to talk about the over-arching problem with the folks of Crockett Island, specifically with the people affiliated with St. Patrick’s church.
Reminder: here’s the big spoiler. Midnight Mass tells the story of Monsignor Pruitt, an aging priest, who goes on a journey to the Holy Land and has an episode of dementia that causes him to wander into a tunnel inhabited by a literal vampirish being. He interprets the vampire as being an angelic emissary of God that restores him to his youth. He sees the moment as a Damascus-esque journey and names himself Father Paul and returns to the island community, bringing along with him the vampire angel thing.
By the end of the show, we learn that Father Paul’s mission is to sneak drops of vampire blood into the communion wine administered in mass each week, slowly turning the congregation into vampires. At the Midnight Mass - see what they did there - all of the congregation will drink rat poison, which will kill them and then allow the vampire blood to bring them back to life as renewed beings, thanks to the blood of the angel vampire.
Where this goes wrong is - well, actually there’s a lot that goes wrong - but all of the things that go wrong tend to branch back into the same root issue and that’s where our scripture for today comes into things.
In our passage from today, we see a hallmark couple verses of the Bible all in one big place. One of these is actually quoted in the show by Bev to Father Paul when they stop seeing eye to eye.
And, actually that’s a pretty appropriate use of that verse, just opposite.
See, the disciples are this ragtag group of believers who follow Jesus around and learn from him. They witness his miracles. They hear his words. They know him and love him.
Then Jesus eventually has to reveal why he is really here - and that he will inevitably have to die.
The disciples lash out at this revelation. Peter is the one who gets quoted as saying that he would never let anyone hurt Jesus, let alone kill him. Jesus then makes a harsh rebuke of his own and calls Peter Satan and tells him that he is being a stumbling block to this thing that Jesus must do.
Why? Well, Jesus says that this is because Peter has his mind of human things and not divine things.
Then Jesus goes into a further dialogue about life and death - what does it gain someone to get the whole world but lose their soul? If you want to stop focusing on human things and instead look to divine things, then you have to lose your life for Christ’s sake and take up your cross.
Wait - okay, I hear you saying - that actually sounds a lot like what the people of St. Patrick’s are doing here, right? If they become vampires, they begin to live eternally, sort of except for the whole sunlight thing.
Not to mention, they literally have to die first in order to become something more. It’s almost like it’s the perfect example of what Jesus is talking about here, right?
Yeah, Mike Flanagan nailed it. The depiction of the townsfolk and, more importantly, the believers of St Patricks, is absolutely a fair judgment of our actions, our thoughts, and our lives. And it’s brutal. We are corrupt people. We are broken people. And we mess up - a lot.
But that’s not inherently a bad thing - or at least not entirely.
Father Paul, Monsignor Pruitt, he genuinely appears to care for his congregation and wants them to experience the bliss of this eternal life that he has found by this trickster vampire.
Bev Keane is truly evil and sees this as a retributive act of God through the cruel actions of human hands - the vampire didn’t change that, she poisoned the dog and who knows what else.
See - both a good person and a bad person were susceptible to this kind of manipulation.
But at the end of the day, both of their choices weren’t actually following the life and deed of Jesus, but of Peter.
At the root of (nearly) everyone’s actions is the very real motive of self-preservation.
Why does Paul bring the Angel to the island - really? It’s for his illegitimate mistress Millie, who is dying and in pain. He has some good motives, sure, but the root is a problem.
Why does Bev go and hide when the mass feeding happens on Easter night? Because she was afraid to die a brutal death and wanted something more fitting of someone of her stature. She saw herself as more.
We could person by person and name why they did what they did and allowed for this evil to continue happening - they all come back to self-preservation.
And that’s the path of Peter. Peter didn’t want Jesus to die. Why? Jesus said he would raise again. Well - because Jesus’ death would be hard on who? Peter. Self-preservation. Peter isn’t an inherently evil person - his namesake is that he will be the rock of the future church.
But the divine path, the path that strays from human things? The path of Jesus is one that strays from self-preservation. It’s one that flings open the doors to the ‘other’ with big welcoming arms and focuses on everyone other than the self.
Even Riley doesn’t really get it - he did a good thing telling Erin the truth, but his death, yeah that was self-preservation.
Erin, embracing the angel as she stabs it’s wings one cut at a time as she lays dying, she wasn’t preserving herself at all, her death was definite, but no one else had to die because of what she did.
Out of everyone, Erin is the best example for Jesus’ path of living, and considering she is Mike’s wife, that explains why she is the most noble character.
So make no mistake - Flanagan has made an excellent depiction of the church - a downright Biblical one. We always have and still do eat our own and harm each other because we’re even still tempted by the human ways.
That’s the whole point really - let’s hope we never figure it all out, because that’s when our humanity seeps in and messes things up. The point of this life is perfecting grace. That is to say, it’s how we live our day-to-day, taking baby steps towards a more Christ-like life by loving God, loving others, and striving to grow like we say every day in our community.
So whether this show has rocked your faith or made you more assured than ever or maybe it’s just made you curious about whether or not we actually believe any of that stuff from the show, know that you’re always welcomed here at Checkpoint Church.
By the way, the reason we film these in a windowless room is just a complete coincidence - I’m totally fine to go in sunlight. Not all pastor’s are vampires, folks.
Question: Do you do jumpscares? I’m a bigger fan of the psychological suspense than the jump-out-at-you baddies personally.
God loves you. We love you. You matter.
Until next time,