In Midnight Mass, a horror master and kid who definitely didn’t want to be at Sunday School—writer/director Mike Flanagan—delivers a twisted vampiric take on Catholic scripture, replete with guilt, judgement, and creatures literally devouring the body and blood of the Holy.
For those of us forcefully versed in Catholic teachings, the scripture’s metaphoric (?) cannibalism is, by now, a well-trodden joke. For Netflix viewers likely unfamiliar with the Catholic mass, it’s a newly-horrifying discovery and one unlikely to convert (many) people. C’mon, you get to drink wine in Church, kids—don’t ya wanna sign up?
What viewers will find equally horrifying is the series’ principle “monster,” which isn’t really a monster, but rather an interpretation of Catholic “angels,” beings who populate Christian theology and play the part of messengers and henchmen—and, in the Book of Revelations, straight-up genocidal killers.
Flanagan’s semi-twist: the angels themselves are somewhat monstrous. In an interview, he explained the reasoning. “Whenever God needs to do something horrible to someone in the Bible, he sends an angel. Do you really want to meet a creature like this? Imagine what that creature must be like.”
Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) explains the creature’s grotesqueness by pointing out that scripture often depicts angels as being pretty frickin’ scary. Many prophets and Biblical figures are described looking upon angels and “being afraid,” prompting angels to literally say to them “do not be afraid” to which they are still—we can assume—very much afraid.
What do we know about angels from the Bible?
Visually, what we know about angels is very little. The Bible describes wings and flaming weapons, but not much about their faces and features. (Though, we suppose, wings and flaming weapons are scary enough.)
Traditionally, angels are depicted in human forms. Most Christian art gives them either infantile or else Adonis-like musculature. In other words: they look either innocent or heroic.
Of course, there are “fallen angels,” which include Satan. Satan doesn’t get a lot of descriptive love in the Bible, either, though artists beginning in the medieval period often depict him as dragon-like or somehow demonic—with animal and human features. Dante famously describes Satan as having large featherless wings like a bat.
These descriptions are much closer to the “angel” in Midnight Mass, which is definitely not infantile or Adonis-like, but closer to Bat Slenderman.
In the Book of Jude we learn about these fallen angels: “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, [God] has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.”
Seems like Father Paul stumbled upon one of these fallen angels in a cave—another subversion of religious imagery; caves are significant locations in multiple religious texts where divine law and prophecy is revealed.
Still, there are some strange passages about heavenly angels delivering God’s wrath. Here’s one from the Book of Revelations: “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.” What a dick.
What does the angel in Midnight Mass, like, mean?
That Midnight Mass gives us an angel both Satanic and also possibly heavenly serves mostly to complicate traditional readings of scripture; ambiguity is something Midnight Mass reminds us can be deadly when manipulated by priests.
As far as what Midnight Mass (and Flanagan) want to say specifically about Catholicism and religion is a bit less clear. Something something predation. Something something disease.
We say: figure it out for yourself—doing and believing what other people tell you is what recovering Catholic Jean Paul Sartre just called “bad faith.”
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