‘Midnight Mass’ reminds us that religiosity can go astray

The Netflix horror series grapples with the ways religion can both heal and hurt.
Arts & Culture

Midnight Mass

Directed by Mike Flanagan (Netflix, 2021)

The scariest thing about Midnight Mass isn’t the blood or creatures. It’s the people.

The miniseries begins by introducing us to the townspeople of sleepy Crockett Island as they suspiciously welcome a new priest into their parish. Father Paul’s appearance seems a godsend: Miracles begin to occur and the town creeps back from economic failure. But strange sightings of a winged creature cause some to wonder if there’s more to the priest than meets the eye.

Father Paul slowly worms his way into our hearts as the show dives deep into the rich traditions of the Catholic Church and grapples with hard questions of faith: forgiveness, addiction, grief, racism, and even mortality. This is not to say religion always looks good here. Father Paul makes some huge mistakes in his earnestness to reach people for Christ, and one townsperson constantly uses scripture to gaslight people into doing what she wants. It’s terrifying to see people brutally tear others down using religion, though it’s not an unfamiliar phenomenon.

Nevertheless, it’s beautiful to see the strong faith of the characters. The sheriff’s unwavering faith in Allah in the face of consistent racism, the townspeople singing hymns even after their faith in Christianity crumbles, a grieving mother’s hope to find wholeness in death—all are profound to witness. One of my favorite scenes is when a townsperson asks Father Paul how God could allow suffering. Father Paul listens, sits with him as he grapples, and finally answers: “Sometimes it’s OK to just look at the world and say, ‘Why? Why? Why? I don’t understand. And I will not.’ ”


Midnight Mass isn’t a show about God. It’s a tale of religion and how people interact with it, whether that’s to use it for or against others. It is rich, painful, fulfilling, and terrifying in its honest depiction of humanity. It’s also a fantastic reminder to inventory the effects of our own religious lives.

This article also appears in the February 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 87, No. 2, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.