The new Netflix Series Midnight Mass is about a nightmare. It is a recurring one. People often try to change medication, diet, exercise pattern, and bedtime routines to avoid nightmares. But lifestyle choices cannot end some nightmares especially the living ones. The nightmare indicated by Midnight Mass is one that never dies. It never can go away. Beware of spoilers in this post.
Plotting A Nightmare
This limited series centers on a Catholic church in a small American fishing village in the Northwest that is dying. The long-time priest of the parish is given a pilgrimage to the holy land before his retirement. He is expected to return as the show opens. However, a young priest comes to the town telling the community that the old priest is in a medical facility for dementia. The town has long suspected the priest was suffering a mental loss. But, they grudgingly welcome the new priest.
Father Paul brings to the parish renewed energy. He is fiery preacher who works miracles. Viewers learn quickly Father Paul is in fact the old Monsignor Pruitt who has been reborn physically and spiritually by the intervention of what he believes to be an angel. The angel begins to take his life but restores the old priest with a “sacrament” of the angel’s blood.
The priest eventually dies in front of the leaders of his congregation and rises from the dead. Now, however, Father Paul (Monsignor John Pruitt) cannot be in sunlight. The town is experiencing revival and physical renewals. The church fills with members. The renewed fervor begins to spill into evangelizing in the public school. Monsignor John and his closest disciple Bev Keane (the obnoxious and toxic holier-than-thou lay woman) herald a new covenant that will bring the people of God into glory over their enemies. Secretly, Father John has been slipping the blood of the angel into the Communion wine.
One wonders if, in the world of Midnight Mass, any one ever heard of a vampire. Viewers watching the congregation are tempted to yell, “When are you going to figure this out?” The people in the community who can see something is wrong are the ex-con alcoholic, the unmarried but pregnant school teacher, the Muslim Sheriff, and the lesbian Doctor. None of them ever appear to have seen a Vampire movie either. The heroes of the story are secularist, religiously diverse, and people who have looked beyond their community for fulfillment.
The means used by the resisters can be categorized by tradition, experience, and reason. These factors go into one discussion about the Bible. What principles do the people live by? How did they arrive at them? How are they applied when everything in life as they know it is challenged? Is there a role for skepticism in faith?
The majority of the church faithful see the good being done. A paralyzed girl walks. Youth is restored. The congregation is successful. The people are in a nightmare and don’t know it.
The Actual Nightmare
Binge watching is not good for us. But I watched all seven episodes in two days’ time. The story that unfolded on television is the one I have watched churches in the American South live through for five decades. How many times have I heard people from churches beg for revival like Midnight Mass? Church leaders looked to supposed revivals and churches getting lots of numbers and revenues and wanted to emulate them. And all the while I heard things that were just not Christian coming from those sources.
Churches mistake swelling for growing. All any con artist has to do is claim the name of Jesus and say the right words. The people fall for false promises and lies. I wonder if anyone else hears people claim they send their children to “Christian schools” because there was too much “mixing” in the public schools. Every failure is simply a test or worse a Satanic attack. They are right, free, and white. Nothing convinces them there was a problem or contradiction in them because of this unholy trinity of values.
The “Authoritarian Turn” many saw in Trumpism was there all along. Donald Trump is one of the few people who sees it for what it is and unashamedly exploits it. But there are glimmers of hope. Some believers are walking away from this authoritarian path. They see the sacrifices being made to Mammon.
Religion in the service of Mammon (wealth) will always be authoritarian. The monster is seen by Monsignor Pruitt only when the person to whom he feels the closest is destroyed by it. The process of spiritual awakening for many is to see what one’s supposed blessing is doing to other people. It is a very concrete and tangible awakening. The people who are not invested in the success of something are often the first to see the problems with it. When secularists point out the failures of the church, when lgbtq+ people claim to be harmed, and when religious minorities feel threatened, the awakened people hear them.
The Scripture teaches us to welcome the stranger and treat them as neighbors. It is taught so we will be open to listening to them. Hospitality becomes more than cheerfully saying “Welcome” to church visitors. We need the outsider to help us see ourselves. The townspeople in Midnight Mass learn too late that they have not been following the divine will. They followed the will of a monster that would feed off them. Our churches are doing the same thing. Mammon and its followers are devouring them.