It's been about a week since Midnight Mass descended onto the world and caught hold of viewers' imaginations. And throughout its seven episodes, the Netflix series spun a terrifying tale of a small fishing village on Crockett Island, unknowingly caught in the grips of a growing terror made all the worse by the religious fervor spreading throughout the residents.
As a result, one of the main themes of the series is religion — specifically the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith — with episodes full of references to passages and verses in the Bible; some more well-known than others. Co-creator Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Bly Manor) was raised Roman Catholic himself, and says he drew on his own experiences when crafting the horror elements of the show, which he describes as his most personal project yet.
"I wanted very much to try to tell a story wherein I would authentically try to inhabit both perspectives that exist within me, about faith and about religion, to see where I came out," explains the Oculus director in a featurette that delves into some of the religious themes of his new series.
But since every viewer might not be familiar with the references, here's a guide to all the Biblical nods made in the series:
Book I: Genesis (episode title)
Famously, this is the first book of the Bible, which not only documents how the Earth came to be, but also details the early history of humankind. Therefore, it’s no surprise Flanagan chose this as the title for this pilot episode, which, in turn, is the introduction to his fictional world and does its job of setting up the various characters’ relationships and their histories — as well as that of
Crock Pot Crockett Island.
“But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” — Genesis 39:21
The quote in the Bible Riley’s mom gives him when he’s in prison is rich with meaning. Yes, it conveys the fact that she (like God) still loves him despite his drunk driving accident, but it also references Joseph — of the technicolor coat fame — and the sudden change in his circumstances as he goes from being a high ranking servant, to being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. While Riley was indeed responsible for the accident that kills a young girl, he also has a high paying job at a start-up that he loses as a result. What’s more, the passage also highlights that life isn’t always fair, but God doesn’t abandon people and that everything happens for a reason, a sentiment we come to learn Riley struggles with.
The word “monsignor” means “my lord” in Italian, and this particular term is a form of address used for certain highly-respected senior priests. However, it is usually an honorific bestowed by the Pope himself, usually for priests who’ve provided some kind of valuable service to the church. We eventually learn that Monsignor Pruitt did work in South America and some other places before eventually arriving on Crockett Island, so this could be an allusion to some significant event in his past. After all, Bev Keane is nothing if not dedicated to formal Catholic tradition.
In the Roman Catholic faith, the act of confessing your sins to a priest is a significant one as it gives people the chance to atone for any bad deeds and receive a blank slate going forward. Given Riley’s guilt and his choice to no longer follow religion following the accident, it’s not much of a surprise that he’s not gone to confession since.
Receiving the sacrament.
Sacraments are big milestones in the Roman Catholic church. But the specific act of “receiving the sacrament” refers to the Holy Communion (AKA the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ's offering of his own flesh and blood for his followers to consume), which is usually offered and distributed during every mass. Seeing as Riley probably hasn’t gone to confession, it makes sense that his father doesn't think he should receive it.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. He took bread and gave you thanks. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body, which will be given up for you.'
When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again, he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples and said, ‘Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in remembrance of me.'" — Matthew 26:27
These lines are repeated a few times throughout Midnight Mass, especially when Father Paul is preparing the Holy Communion. That's because these are part of regular Catholic tradition in that they're uttered at every mass because these were the words Jesus said during the Last Supper (his last meal on earth), and in them, he states the bread and wine he is offering up for him and his disciples to eat, are earthly representations of his own flesh and blood. This means that consuming "him" — or the Holy Communion — is symbolic of the sacrifice he is about to make for humankind's sins.
Priests have special outer garments or "vestments" they wear over their robes when celebrating mass. As Bev notes in the episode, the different colors represent significant moments in the Christian calendar, and a gold one is for special occasions — which of course, Father Paul means for this to be.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” — Genesis 1:3
One of the more famous quotes from the Bible, this one is taken from the moment when God creates the Earth — or in this case, the sun. This both marks the beginning of a new period for the people of Crocket Island, and kicks off Father Paul’s time on it.
Book II: Psalms (episode title)
This is the book of the Bible that focuses on sacred songs, often praising God — or sometimes, praying for help. It’s a significant title considering the choir music that scores the whole series, as psalms are the basis for many of the hymns sung in church.
This marks the beginning of "Lent," a 40-day period which most Christians observe as it commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. This is done in preparation for Easter, with many Christians giving up certain vices or pleasures. Ash Wednesday, in particular, is considered a day of repentance, with priests marking the foreheads of churchgoers with ashes meant to serve as a reminder to atone for one's sins. So it's no wonder that there's a slightly better turnout at the church on this day, which both Bev and Father Paul note.
"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." — Genesis 3:19
This phrase is usually uttered when priests apply ashes onto a person's forehead. It's meant to be a reminder that eventually everyone dies and so it's best to repent when one has the chance. It's also quite significant that this is the fate that most of the island's inhabitants eventually face, as they are burned into ashes (or dust) in the sunlight.
“God, you have rejected us. You have broken us down. You have been angry. Restore us again.” — Psalm 60
Sung by David (of "David and Goliath"), this psalm is a plea for God's favor again, following his people's rejection. In quoting this, Father Paul is urging parishioners to believe because he does think that God will help restore the island back to its former glory following its steady population decline and the loss of jobs and livelihood after a local oil spill by a big oil company has made it extremely hard to fish in the waters around the island.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, it was they, my foes and adversaries who stumbled and fell.
Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not fear.
And though war should rise up against me, I will put my trust in Him.
One thing I have asked of the Lord, one thing I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life.”
— Psalm 27
Another psalm from David! But unlike the previous one (above), this one reiterates confidence in God and in one's belief that he will help and take care of them. Though Bev is the one reading it to the church congregation, it's significant that the camera is focusing on Father Paul, almost as if the words are galvanizing him and his belief in his actions and what's to come.
Book III: Proverbs (episode title)
A reference to the Book of Proverbs, which is a collection of stories, wisdom, and knowledge. It's an apt title for an episode that not only documents the aftermath of a "miracle" and also sees Father Paul detail what happened to Monsignor Pruitt, in a story that unfolds over the course of the episode. It also relates to the debate in the classroom, where Sheriff Hassan pushes back against Bev's decision to distribute Bibles in the classroom and read scripture, stating that he has no problem with his son reading the Bible, as long as it's done out of curiosity and a pursuit of knowledge rather than it being forced onto him.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of Lords for His steadfast love endures forever.
To Him, who alone can do great wonders, whose steadfast love endures forever.”
— Psalm 136
This psalm reiterates that it's important to thank God for his love, while also highlighting that God is responsible for any miracles of wondrous acts that might occur. Bev Keane recites these words when parishioners who've heard of Leeza being able to walk again come to Father Paul's residence begging that he heal or help their loved ones in a similar way. In this way, she's telling them to be grateful for what occurred even if it didn't happen to someone they know.
“If you give something to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” — Matthew 6:3
This verse talks about doing good things for the right reasons and not for the acclaim or fame it might grant you, as it's only the good deed that should matter. That's probably why Father Paul quotes this as a response to Riley when he says the press might want to do a news story about the "miracle" that saw Leeza suddenly be able to walk again.
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes the city.” — Proverbs 16:32
This particular proverb stresses the need to control one's emotions and not give into anger and hate. Leeza offers it as an explanation as to why she's forgiving Joe Collie for the accident that caused the spinal injury that took away her ability to walk and feel her legs. As she explains in the moment: she might still hate him for what his actions took from her, but the Bible repeatedly states God's ability to forgive, so she's going to take a page from the Holy Book and do the same despite her own feelings.
Book IV: Lamentations (episode title)
The Book of Lamentations consists of five poems, much of which documents a city filled with miseries that is destroyed as punishment for its many sins. However, this leads to a message of hope, that the events that occur are only for the people's good, and that repentance might lead God to smile upon the city again and raise it up. It's quite clear that the "city" in this case is none other than Crockett Island, which is why Father Paul brought the "angel" back with him, in the hopes that it would help save the people who live there. But as the episode also reveals, this isn't good news for everyone, as a few of the island's inhabitants are killed so as to pay for both their sins, as well as those of the rest of the people on the island.
"The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord, your God, that man shall die." — Deuteronomy 17:12
This quote basically states that one should not listen to those who think they know better than their priests. Therefore it's no wonder that Bev chooses it to convince Wade and Sturge to help her help Father Paul in the aftermath of his killing Joe Collie.
“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide."
Known as the "Angel of God," this is one of the first prayers often taught to young children as it urges them to beseech their "guardian angels" to look after them. (many in the Roman Catholic faith believes that each person has a guardian angel.) It's clear from Father Paul's recitation of this that he sees the vampire as his own personal angel sent to look out for him and Crockett Island. However, despite his repeated utterance, it does not seem to summon it.
“Well, truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, even if you say to this mountain be taken up and cast into the sea, it will be done. With God, all things are possible.” — Matthew 21:21
This particular quote is a slightly shortened version of the Matthew verse which describes Jesus telling his disciples that if they have faith and don't doubt God, they too will be capable of actions like "casting" a mountain "into the sea." Father Paul's quoting this to Mildred Gunning indicates that he truly does believe that everything that is happening is part of God's plan for him and the Island.
“And we are to do our part to witness and do our part. And do not think I have come to bring peace. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” — Matthew 10:34
One of Jesus' lesser-known messages as he states that his own arrival will not bring about peace among all people, but rather will cause division amongst them. This can be seen in how some parishioners have come to doubt Father Paul and the message he's espousing, while others continue to follow him devotedly. (It is interesting to note that the "sword" referenced here is actually a knife used by fishermen to separate parts of the fish. This only ties back to Father Paul's earliest sermon in which he states that Jesus' first disciples were all fisherman, much like the inhabitants of the island.)
Book V: Gospel (episode title)
As Father Paul notes, the word gospel means "good news," but it also often refers to the New Testament, which is made up of four "gospels" that chronicle Jesus Christ's life and teachings all the way from his birth and right up until his death, which Christian faith states took place as a sacrifice for the cleansing humankind's sins. In a way, this episode also serves as a "gospel" of sorts, as it follows Riley's own "(re)birth" as a vampire, and follows him until he chooses to "sacrifice" himself so as to not endanger or hurt any more people. It's a direct contrast to Father Paul, who sees Riley as one of his apostles, going out to spread the word like Jesus' own apostles did.
This is a day commemorating Jesus' crucifixion and his death. Most Christians view this as a day of solemn fasting and repentance.
“They took the body of Jesus and bound it with the burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden, a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day. For the tomb was close by.” — John 19:40
Dolly reads this brief passage that describes Jesus' hasty burial following his death on the cross. It's interesting because this sort of parallels the way Father Paul and all treat Riley's passing at the hands of the vampire, as they too quickly prepare for his eventual resurrection.
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God.” — Hebrews 9:14
This verse in the Book of Hebrews talks about Jesus' sacrifice, comparing it to previous animal sacrifices, and proving that it is indeed superior as not only having to take place once, but that it leads to the cleansing of everyone's sins, which previous animal sacrifices never really did. This ties in with Father Paul's general belief that his guilt for killing some of the islanders is absolved due to his not only sacrificing his own life to serve God, but also due to his sacrificing the life of Joe Collie, and now, turning Riley into a vampire as well.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise them up on the last day, for my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink and whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will remain in me, and I in them.” — John 6:51
Bev quoting this passage from the Book of John really underscores the general theme of Midnight Mass, in that a lot of what is mentioned in the Bible can be viewed through a horror lens. While this specific quote is talking about Jesus describing himself as the spiritual food that will help grant others salvation (i.e. "eternal life" in heaven). It also ties into vampiric lore which sees them feed on people and drink their blood so as to continue living forever.
“The fourth angel poured his bowl upon the sun and it was allowed to scorch men with fire.” — Revelations 16:8
This quote comes from the Book of Revelations which is the final book of the Bible and also details what shall happen at the end of the world — including God making it so the sun starts to burn humankind. Bev references this quote as she believes that Riley and Father Paul's sensitivity to sunlight is not vampirism, but rather God preparing them for the end of days.
“He who drinks from the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord, for those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ, eat and drink judgement upon themselves.” — 1 Corinthians 11:27
In this quote from the Book of 1 Corinthians, the disciple Paul is talking about how important it is that people who are taking Holy Communion (or "recreating the Last Supper"), not do so casually as it is something that is sacred. Bev utters these words out of anger at Riley's initial resistance to drinking Sturge's blood, as she sees it to be a refusal of a blessing, or perhaps, even the Holy Communion itself.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds.” — Philippians 4:7
This quote from the Book of Philippians talks about focusing on one's faith in God to find peace as this will help soothe all anxieties. Father Paul quotes it in the context of asking Riley whether he's found his new purpose and whether this new stage of his life has brought him peace from all the guilt he'd been feeling.
Book VI: Acts of the Apostles (episode title)
This book of the Bible takes place after Jesus' death and details all the actions of his apostles (or followers), as they go about spreading the word of God to others and trying to convert people to Christianity. Thus, in this episode we see the focus move away from Father Paul and onto those who are following, as well as the other inhabitants of Crockett Island. As the final sequence, which takes place at the titular Easter Midnight Mass, unfolds it becomes less about Father Paul's words and more about how people are responding to the information he's sharing and the choices they make in the face of it. It's a fitting episode title as Father Paul repeatedly refers to the people helping him carry out his plan as "apostles."
“For the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, Our Lord.” — Romans 6:23
The Book of Romans is where Jesus' disciple Paul outlines what can be considered the core of Christian belief: That faith and belief in God grant you eternal life, whereas sinning leads to death. Bev quotes this to underscore that Riley's "sin" (and th remain cause of his death) is his lack of belief in God.
"[Be] as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." — Matthew 10:16
In this verse, Jesus is instructing his apostles about their impending journeys into the world where they will spread his word. Therefore Jesus is warning them and telling them to be careful and exercise caution and cunning while still retaining their trustworthiness. Similarly Bev is telling Father Paul that they must be more judicious with who they choose to transform, as they could end up like Riley and choose to "betray" them.
"All the believers were of one heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." — Acts of the Apostles 4:32
When Jesus' apostles were out sharing his word, they shared everything they had with each other as they shared one goal and mission. Bev quotes this to console Father Paul when he is saddened by Riley's choice to sacrifice himself and let himself combust rather than join them in their plan. This is probably her way of telling him that there will be others and that not only will they share his vision, but they'll give it everything they have.
"Sing a new song unto the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth." — Psalm 96
This popular psalm is a celebratory one as it urges listeners to sing along as a declaration of faith. The church congregation actually sings this song as they slowly make their way across the island and towards the church for midnight mass, so it makes sense that Bev would reference these lines.
“He who says he abides in Him, ought himself to walk just as He walked. Be imitators of Christ.” — 1 John 2:6
This passage of the Book of 1 John talks about how people who say they believe in God, must follow in Jesus' footsteps and do as he did. Father Paul quotes this as part of his point that Jesus himself was scared of the sacrifice he would have to make, but that he still went ahead and did it anyway. Therefore the parishioners shouldn't mind their fear, but instead, follow Jesus' lead and sacrifice themselves.
“And I John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared for a bride, adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of Heaven saying, ‘Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God.’ He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. For the first things have passed away and the one who is seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.’” — Revelation 21:2
This verse in the Bible sees Jesus' disciple John detail the vision he was shown of what the end of the world will be like, and the new "kingdom of God" that shall emerge after. It's an apt selection for Father Paul's Easter mass as he's currently in the process of carving out what he thinks God's new world is — unbeknownst to his parishioners.
“Lo, lo and behold, an Angel of the Lord appeared to them. And they were afraid.” — Luke 2:9
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zachariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear.” — Luke 1:11
“Just then an angel of the Lord stood before them. And the glory of God shone around them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said, ‘Fear not, fear not, be not afraid!’" — Luke 2:9
Each of these passages documents a reaction to the appearance of an angel, first when Zachariah is told he will become the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:11), and later when the angel appears to the shepherds following the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:9). It's clear in both cases that angels proved to be a frightening sight for those who might not have beheld them before — not unlike the
vampire "angel" that appears in the church at the end of Father Paul's sermon. Hence his choice to remind the congregation that their reactions are normal.
"And they took away the stone from the cave where the dead man was lying, and Jesus looked up, let his eyes rise to the skies, and said, ‘Father, I thank you, for you have heard me. You have heard me. Thank you for hearing me.’ And he cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out. And his feet and hands were bound with shreds of cloth, and his face was wrapped in cloth, and Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him and let him go!’” — John 11:41-43
Lazarus is famously the dead man that Jesus brought back to life, and one of his better-known miracles. It makes sense that Father Paul would quote this as Sturge dies and once again comes back to life in front of the church's congregation, as proof that their "sacrifices" will result in eternal life like Father Paul has been saying.
Book VII: Revelation (episode title)
This is the final book of the Bible, so it makes sense that the final "chapter" of Midnight Mass would also have the same title. This is the book that outlines the apocalypse as humanity itself comes under attack. This perfectly mirrors the events on this final night on the island in which friends and family attack each other, as they give in to their vampiric hunger.
“The sparrow will not fall to the ground, not even a sparrow, without God knowing. He feels every death.” — Matthew 10:29
The point of this story is that if God can care about even a sparrow's death, He must definitely care and know about human ones too. It also means that hard times do not mean that God has forgotten people and so one shouldn't lose hope or faith, in terms of the show.
“The First Angel blew his trumpet and there came hail and fire mixed with blood and they were hurled to the Earth. And a third of the Earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up and all of the green grass was burned up. As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, idolators and all of the liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” — Revelation 8:7
Bev is quoting from John's vision of the apocalypse in the Book of Revelation because this is what she believes will happen to those who oppose her because she believes that they are officially in the end times that will bring about God's "kingdom." It's important to note that parts of the island are also on fire at this point, with several people being attacked by the hungry parishioners who've transformed into vampires.
“He blotted out every living thing on the face of the ground. Human beings, animals, creeping things, birds of the sky. They were blotted out. Only Noah was left for those who were with him on the ark.” — Genesis 7:23
The story of Noah's flood is an example of God's wrath literally raining down on the world so that everything could be erased and the world could start anew. The only beings spared were those on Noah's ark, the ship he built upon God's instruction. It's clear in quoting this that Bev sees the destruction of Crockett Island as part of God's overall cleansing of the earth and that those who have transformed alongside her are the ones who have been chosen to be saved in her version of the ark: the rec centre.
“Do not call anyone on Earth, ‘Father.’ You have one father and he is in heaven. Woe to you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!” — Matthew 23:9
Jesus warns against following false priests or religious leaders as they only have one leader/teacher/"Father", and it is God. Bev quotes this line when she decides that Father Paul is no longer their leader and that he has been deceiving her all along when he realizes that what they're doing is wrong and that he put himself before God rather than thinking about the parishioners or what God might really want.
“Get thee behind me. You are a stumbling block to me for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” — Matthew 16:23
This quote features Jesus responding to his disciple Peter when he reacts strongly to Jesus' revelation that he will die at the hands of religious leaders so he can rise three days later, something Peter believes cannot be possible. Jesus' response indicates that he believes that Peter's reaction is one of the obstacles he must overcome and that he is not thinking of the spiritual significance of what is to happen, and rather focusing on the human turn of events. In Bev saying these words, we see that she believes that Father Paul's change of heart is a test of her faith and that he too has lost sight of their eventual goals.
“He makes the sun rise on the evil and the good.” — Matthew 5:45
This quote from the Gospel of Matthew has a dual significance as it talks about loving everyone equally, even those you consider your enemies. First, it reminds viewers of Sheriff Hassan's own study of the Bible, and second, it's a fitting description of the final moments of the whole series as the sun rises on Crockett Island, causing anyone who was transformed to combust in the light. Whereas, Bev thought she could discern who amongst them was "good" or "evil," it appears that almost everyone met the same fate, something she's struggled to accept throughout the series, having doled out judgement on whoever she considered less pious than herself.
Midnight Mass is available to stream on Netflix now.