Movies for Liturgists

I am a little contrary when it comes to movie advice.  It took me a long time to watch Forrest Gump, simply because everybody said that it was great!

The same thing happened to me with Babette’s Feast. It was recommended to me as a great movie to watch for liturgists.  It took me years to get around to watching it.  In both cases the great movies proved my stubbornness wrong.

Now I am in the process of designing a new liturgical program here in Ireland’s Pontifical University where I have had to design twelve liturgical modules.  For one of them (a liturgical journal), I would like to assign a movie for the students to watch and report back how it helps them to become better liturgists.

I will be including the option of Babette’s Feast (but not Forrest Gump).  I would like to provide a choice of movies. So I am asking PrayTell readers if there are movies that they think might be helpful for this specific project.

Six years ago, Timothy Brunk had a somewhat similar post on liturgy in the movies.  But this is not what I am looking for. I fully acknowledge that the Godfather contains some great entertainment in the Baptism scene.  But I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to improve my students!

Apart from Babette’s Feast, the only such movie I can think of is Ushpizin. So I am hoping that the PrayTell community can help with suggestions in the comments section (including some in English).

20 comments

  1. I’ll start with five. These aren’t about liturgy per se, nor about witness of faith as such (thus omitting a monumental recent film such as A Hidden Life, for example), but about the intersection of the mundane/profane and the liminal in ways that may resonate with liturgical concerns, in chronological order:

    You Can’t Take It With You (1938) [this one will probably be the least intuitive one on this short list, so let me offer this: imagine it as a screwball comedy about the Kingdom of God played out mostly in a household and neighborhood – which provides the nexus with liturgy – the concluding meal though it may seem very shallow or glib is not necessarily so and in that way might be considered in counterpoint to the more overtly profound meal in Babette’s Feast]

    Andrei Rublev (1966 original; a variety of versions, not sure which I’ve seen!)

    Wise Blood (1979) – the negative image of liturgy?

    The Trip to Bountiful (1985) – think of how memory, longing, and discord among then/now/not-yet are in the liturgical groundwater, as it were…

    The Mission (1986)

  2. The Color Purple (reconciliation)
    Of Gods and Men
    The Shoes of the Fisherman
    The Nun’s Story
    The Cardinal
    Groundhog Day
    Mass Appeal
    Fiddler On the Roof
    Pieces of April

  3. The TV versions of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and “A Thanksgiving Visitor.”
    “Places in the Heart”
    “In America”
    “The Displaced Person”
    “Our Town” (the Hal Holbrook version)
    “Diary of a City Priest”
    “My Father’s Glory/My Mother’s Castle”

  4. Changing Lanes, with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. The action of the movie takes place during the Easter Triduum.

    The original of Flatliners, with Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon. (Reconciliation)

  5. The 2015 Kenneth Branagh “Cinderella” is packed with Christian symbolism that I find illustrative of how symbols, actions, beauty, music are powerfully transformative.

    Would also recommend the “The Homecoming” which was a Walton television film made before the stories were made into a series. It depicts the family keeping vigil for their father to make it home during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.

  6. Shawshank Redemption – for the ultimate baptism scene – and good dialogue on eschatological hope
    Chocolat – fasting and feasting; condemnation and redemption; Lent and Easter
    Big Fish – baptismal and eschatological imagery; how truth can be conveyed in stories that may or may not be literally true

  7. I would suggest The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 



    1. The Elvish way bread “lembas” is a clear symbol of the Eucharist.

    2. The meals of the Elves and the Hobbits have social, even spiritual, purposes, helping to cement the bonds of friendship and strengthen the soul for hardships to come, in contrast to the utilitarian “refuelling” of the orcs of Mordor.

    3. The characters of Gandalf, Frodo and Aragorn can be seen as symbolising the prophetic, priestly and kingly aspects of Christ.

    4. Galadriel’s gifts to the Fellowship can be read as symbols of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    5. The Elvish stronghold of Lothlorien can be seen (a) as a sort of Marian sanctuary in which the pilgrims refresh themselves after their ordeal in the mines of Moria and (b) a symbol of the way in which the liturgy transcends time and space. This last aspect is not made explicit in the film, but in the book, Tolkien describes Frodo’s reaction on entering Lothlorien as follows: “It seemed to him that he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more. In Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lórien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world”.

    6. The fact that the Fellowship leaves Rivendell on its quest on 25 December, and the Ring is destroyed in Mount Doom on 25 March.

    As Tolkien wrote to a Jesuit friend of his, the Lord of the Rings is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. Of course, a great deal of this is lost in the films, but if you watch the films with the book in mind, the Catholic nature of the story is very clear indeed.

  8. Above all and already mentioned: A Christmas Memory (1966) with Geraldine Page, available on YouTube (https://youtu.be/_lmjU54i6R4)
    Priest (1994) with LInus Roache & Tom Wilkinson
    The Crime of Padre Amaro (2002) (aka “El crimen del padre Amaro”)
    Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
    East is East (1999)
    Mass Appeal (1984)

  9. The website would not allow me to revise my previous comment. So here goes again:

    Above all and already mentioned: A Christmas Memory (1966) with Geraldine Page, available on YouTube (https://youtu.be/_lmjU54i6R4)
    Priest (1994) with LInus Roache & Tom Wilkinson, best homily ever
    The Crime of Padre Amaro (2002) (aka “El crimen del padre Amaro”), why ex opere operato is important
    Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) When you forget how to pronounce a name in a wedding
    East is East (1999) other cultures, other rituals
    The Kite Runner (2007) For the Liturgy of Reconciliation
    Moonstruck (1987) For all that can happen at the Table

  10. The Cardinal is one of the best. It demonstrates true reverence for the sacraments and how to be a great pastor. It is free on YouTube as well.

  11. The Island (Russian: Остров, romanized: Ostrov) is a 2006 Russian film about a fictional 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk. The film closed the 2006 Venice Film Festival, proved to be a moderate box-office success and won both the Nika Award and the China TV Golden Eagle Award as the Best Russian film of 2006. The filming location was the city of Kem, in Karelia, on the shores of the White Sea.

  12. I find the film, “Of Gods and Men” a profoundly moving and illustrative of how a community intimately formed by the liturgy takes up its very real and difficult moral demands.

    A documentary, “Scenes from a Parish,”, places the liturgy and the cycle of the liturgical year in the context of a gritty inner city parish struggling with cultural and socioeconomic transition.

    Another documentary, of sorts, is BBC’s masterfully done “Goodbye to Canterbury,” where the outgoing Archbishop Rowan Williams uses the structure of Canterbury Cathedral to reflect on his own ministry as well as the larger life of the church.

  13. Since no one else has said it: “Alice’s Restaurant” – 1969 – apparently available on Amazon Prime, but possibly some other sources as well. Depicting the difficulties of1 assembling a community celebration and even features an actual church building.

  14. I would like to recommend two movies, both of which are from the 1990’s but are still available on DVD through Amazon.
    1) “Defending Your Life” (1991) Meryl Streep, Albert Brooks
    2) “The Third Miracle” (1999) Ed Harris

    Both of these films offer themes which support deep theological reflection (TR). Each film has stood the test of time. If anyone chooses to explore these titles, please know that the first is a light-hearted film; the second has darker undertones, but then the idea of redemption is a rather weighty consideration. And “The Third Miracle” must be viewed with an eye for details, or its nuanced theology may go unnoticed.

  15. The 1989 film “Field of Dreams” by Phil Alden Robinson (feat. Kevin Kostner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, etc.) might be worth considering, with its memorable line “If you build it, they will come.” The symbolism of the baseball field in the movie seems to have a similar impact/ evocation as that of the French dinner in Babette’s Feast.

  16. I would echo the choice of The Mission for the power of reconciliation and the importance of music to the liturgy.

  17. I can never forget Richard Burton’s opening scene of Mattins in “Night Of The Iguana.” Burton made a fine figure in his proper Anglican surplice and his elegant reading of the service which left me unprepared for what was to follow.

    The conclusion of “The Bishop’s Wife”always moves me. Who can forget the dapper David Niven as a Bishop reciting Cary Grant’s sermon to a Christmas congregation amongst whom was Loretta Young, Monty Wooley amongst others?

  18. Anything by Terrence Malick, but especially “Tree of Life” and “A Hidden Life.”

    Beautiful, powerful films.

  19. I forgot to add Taking Chance in the original post.

    This movie is a beautiful if sad catechesis on reverence and respect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.