Midnight Mass’ Hidden Meaning & Central Theme Explained


  • Midnight Mass explores the intersection of horror and faith, delving into the human need for forgiveness and the dire consequences of religious fanaticism.
  • The characters in Midnight Mass struggle with the need to be forgiven, to forgive others, or to forgive themselves, highlighting the personal importance of forgiveness and its role in personal growth.
  • Forgiveness is a central theme in Midnight Mass, revealing its power to relieve guilt and grudges, and its importance in religious beliefs and seeking spiritual peace. Mike Flanagan’s shows often delve into deeper themes and explore the complexities of forgiveness.



Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass depicts the intersection of horror and faith gone wrong, with the underlying meaning based on the human need for forgiveness. The 2021 Netflix series documents a religious, small isolated community on Crockett Island, whose town sees miracles and inexplicable changes once a young priest, Father Paul, arrives. As Father Paul cements himself within the community, more sinister reasons for “God’s miracles” are apparent, and they pose an imminent danger for all of Midnight Mass’s characters.

Written by Mike Flanagan and his brother, they use Midnight Mass’s characters as vehicles to explore faith, and Riley, particularly, as a stand-in for struggles with sobriety. In typical Flanagan fashion, many of the characters have deep, heartbreaking monologues about their philosophies on religion, community, death, and family, all poignantly revealed under the director’s signature horror genre. Vampires have long been associated with religious symbols and practices, which provided an excellent channel for Flanagan to explore the nuances of religious fanaticism with dire, horrific consequences.

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The Struggle Of Forgiveness Drives Midnight Mass’ Characters’ Conflicts

Kate Siegel as Erin Greene and Zach Gilford as Riley Flynn Praying in Midnight Mass

Nearly every single character in Midnight Mass has a clear issue with either needing to be forgiven, needing to forgive someone else, or needing to forgive themselves. Riley moves back to Crockett Island in the first episode with a clear feeling of remorse that hasn’t gone away since his drunk driving accident. The reason Riley continues to struggle is that he can’t forgive himself for killing Tara-Beth in the accident, which is why her ghost is always there. Once Riley finally forgives himself after his breakthrough conversation with Monsignor John Pruitt during their AA meeting, Riley commits a completely selfless act and dies by the sunlight to help save his family from his vampirism.

Riley moves back also forces Ed and Annie Flynn to confront their struggle to forgive him for how his actions affected their lives. Ed was cold and distant to Riley when he returned, finally being able to treat him like his son again once they have the conversation on the boat when Ed says he forgives Riley. Ed forgiving Riley wasn’t a way to let Riley off the hook for his actions, it was a way for Ed to be able to move on himself. The most heartbreaking example of forgiveness among Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass characters is between Leeza and Joe Collie.

After regaining feeling in her legs, Leeza goes to Joe’s house where she tearfully says that she forgives him for the hunting accident that left her paralyzed. Leeza says she hates him, and she will always be angry at him for what he took away from her, but that she forgives him. Again, this forgiveness isn’t to make Joe feel better, it’s for Leeza to be able to let go of her anger toward him. This act of forgiveness also leads Joe to finally work on forgiving himself, having punished himself for years by becoming angry and practically drinking himself to death.

The night Leeza confronts Joe, he decides to join AA with Riley, working on forgiving himself for what happened and moving forward. The entire conflict with Monsignor Pruitt bringing Midnight Mass’s vampire monster back to Crockett Island all stems from punishing himself for where he went wrong with Sarah and Mildred Gunning. He feels guilty for not being a proper significant other to Mildred or acting as a father to Sarah, so he brings back the vampire in hopes that he can simply keep them from dying.

Right before Sarah is killed, Pruitt finally admits he is her real father and he hopes she can forgive him for not being there like he should have been, which she does. Even Erin gives an emotional monologue about her abusive mother, who she found the grace to forgive after she died. The forgiveness wasn’t for her mother who made no sort of effort to amend her abuses, it was for Erin so that she could move past it for her own sake.

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Midnight Mass Depicts The Personal Importance Of Forgiving

Father Paul and Mildred Gunning hold Sarah's body in their arms on the bridge in Midnight Mass

Only once Monsignor Pruitt has been forgiven by Sarah and Alex Essoe’s young Mildred does he realize everything they’ve done with the vampire was wrong. He was so blinded by his guilt that he brought this menacing creature that he figured could fix their relationship by giving them eternal life. Really, it wasn’t until they reconciled while realizing it was wrong that John was able to have peace with his actions, even if he still regrets not being there all the years before. It’s a human need to seek forgiveness, and refusing to forgive is clearly shown as a hindrance to the character’s personal growth.

Even if they’re still angry, forgiving is powerful and can help relieve one’s own guilt and grudges. Receiving forgiveness is just as important because people will typically punish themselves far worse without it. At the same time, the meaning of Midnight Mass‘s ending reveals that simply asking for forgiveness isn’t enough. If people really want to move forward because they feel poorly about how their actions affected others, they have to make true and earnest amends.

For the religious and secular alike, forgiveness is powerful, and the struggles on either side wrack one’s brain and hinder personal progression. Bev is really the only significant Midnight Mass character who isn’t truly practicing the act of granting or asking for forgiveness. It’s part of why she’s the only character who can’t accept her impending death in the end and she’s the only one to cower at the sun rises – she never truly made amends for where she went wrong.

Forgiveness Is Why Many Seek Religion In The First Place

Monsignor Pruitt in Midnight Mass.

With religion being the main vehicle through which Midnight Mass’s biblically-centered conflict is explored, it’s no surprise that forgiveness is such an overarching theme. For many, forgiveness is a driving force in why people seek religion in the first place. Guilt, remorse, and anger are emotions that are extremely difficult to get rid of on our own, so many believe they can alleviate these feelings if they are forgiven by God. When Sturge realizes there’s no hope, and they’ll all die at sunrise, he asks Ooker to forgive him for everything he’s done tonight, even though Ooker wasn’t the direct victim of his actions.

He simply wants a clear conscience as he moves on from the world, hoping someone can still give him peace of mind about his wrongdoings. At the same time, Mike Flanagan’s TV show clearly proves that just asking God to forgive isn’t enough, it has to be done with personal intent and true meaning. For one to truly move on from guilt or anger over a situation, there has to be some sort of repentance for one’s actions or a true act of releasing blame in one’s heart. Forgiveness is one of the hardest actions for human beings to grapple with, and Midnight Mass flawlessly explores the nuances of each side.

Mike Flanagan Shows Are Known For Their Deeper Meanings

Mike Flanagan’s original horror projects and terrifying book adaptations are what he’s best known for, such as his nightmare-inducing haunted house and family tales The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor. Midnight Mass isn’t as scary as Hill House, but it absolutely recaptures the show’s symbolic spirits and shadows that hang over families and communities as things are left unsaid or grudges continue to be held. Forgiveness and acceptance are themes explored in nearly all of Flanagan’s projects, and they’re most powerful in the resolution of Midnight Mass’s conflicts.

The Haunting of Hill House gave Flanagan a chance to show his talent in the long-form series, and it proved to be a huge success. While it was a scary ghost story, with very disturbing moments, it also connected because there was a lot more to the story than just scary ghosts. The entire theme of Hill House was the profound grief and the inability to move on from traumatic experiences. The ghosts, and by extension Hill House’s Red Room, are an extension of the people they haunt. Olivia wanted a forever house, and that is what she received when she died in Hill House. After this, the death followed her family for two decades. They couldn’t escape Hill House.

The Haunting of Bly Manor told a different type of story, albeit still one that included ghosts. Instead of grief and loss, the second series for Flanagan touched on toxic relationships and how an outsider can come into a new society and immediately feel a sense of rejection. Dani broke up with her childhood boyfriend, and then he died in a car accident immediately after that. While this could have led to the same grief and trauma in Hill House, instead this led to the manifestation of her ex-lover’s ghost tormenting her and making her feel guilty for his death. This causes the entire series to show how Dani feels shame and self-doubt based on something from her past.

In 2023, Flanagan was back on Netflix with another series. This time it was The Fall of The House of Usher, which clearly owned its existence to the work of Edgar Allen Poe. However, unlike the other three shows, House of Usher lies much of its meaning on its sleeve, as it takes aim at the real-life Sackler family and their responsibility for the opioid epidemic. Flanagan makes almost every House of Usher character despicable. Throughout the series, Flanagan takes aim at greed and has the entire Usher bloodline die thanks to a deal struck by their parents. Like Midnight Mass, Flanagan’s deeper themes always deeply influence his horror.

  • Midnight Mass

    Release Date:

    Kristin Lehman, Matt Biedel, Hamish Linklater, Kate Siegel, Crystal Balint, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Samantha Sloyan, Henry Thomas, Rahul Abburi, Rahul Kohli, Robert Longstreet, Annarah Cymone, Zach Gilford, Michael Trucco, Igby Rigney

    Horror, Mystery, Drama


    From The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan, Midnight Mass tells the tale of a small, isolated island community whose existing divisions are amplified by the return of a disgraced young man (Zach Gilford) and the arrival of a charismatic priest (Hamish Linklater). When Father Paul’s appearance on Crockett Island coincides with unexplained and seemingly miraculous events, a renewed religious fervor takes hold of the community – but do these miracles come at a price?

    Story By:
    Mike Flanagan

    Mike Flanagan

    Streaming Service:

    Mike Flanagan

    Mike Flanagan


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