From the desk of Dr. Jem Sullivan
Celebrated on the final Sunday of the Church calendar, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe marks the close of the liturgical year. This feast day provides a graced moment to wholly entrust our lives to God, who through His son, Jesus Christ the King, continues His saving work in the power of the Holy Spirit. It also invites us to reflect on Jesus’ kingship over our families, homes, hearts, minds, and wills.
The Christ in Majesty Mosaic
Nowhere is Christ’s kingship more powerfully represented in the Basilica than in the Christ in Majesty mosaic in the Great Upper Church. One of the largest mosaic images of Jesus Christ in the world, it spans 3,610 square feet, and features over 3,000 different shades of Venetian glass tiles. At the time of its dedication on November 20, 1959, the Christ in Majesty mosaic was the only ornamentation in the Great Upper Church.
Today, I invite you to consider two aspects of this magnificent mosaic – the words that frame the image and the nail marks in Jesus’ hands that point to His sacrifice on the cross.
The Symbolism of the Christ in Majesty Mosaic
In the Christ in Majesty mosaic, Jesus’ muscular frame evokes His reign as King: He has overcome the darkness of this world with the radiant light of divine love and mercy. Above the image are the words “Christ reigns, Christ Rules, Eternal Victor, Eternal King. His kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom that shall not be taken away.” The inscription is a poignant reminder that Jesus’ power is not of this world.
Three flaming red tongues of fire emerge from the haloed head of Jesus the King, recalling the imagery of the Son of Man from Daniel and Revelation. Following the long tradition of Christian iconography, the eyes of Jesus convey both the divine justice and the divine mercy of God: one eye is rounded with an arched brow in a gentle and serene look, while the other eye pierces with a severe brow angled downward. His crimson red robe reflects Revelation’s description of Christ “dressed in a robe dipped in blood,” (Revelation 19:13).
Jesus’ bare right arm points to His divine strength to overcome the darkness of the world, as the prophet Isaiah notes, “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the saving power of our God,” (Isaiah 52:10). Yet it is the wound marks of Jesus’ crucifixion that are the most striking sign of His divine power, for they remind us that the our redemption is found only in His selfless sacrifice and triumph over death. True power is the power of servant love that Jesus revealed to the fullest on the cross.
How Christ Demonstrates His Kingship
The depiction of Christ’s mercy and power in this mosaic reminds us that Jesus exercises His kingship not with worldly political power, but by the power of divine love in His saving death and resurrection. To draw close to Jesus Christ our King is to shape our lives after Jesus’ example of servant love for all. As the Catechism notes:
“Christ, King and Lord of the universe, made himself the servant of all, for he came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ For the Christian, ‘to reign is to serve him,’ particularly in service to ‘the poor and the suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder.’ The People of God fulfills its royal dignity by a life in keeping with its vocation to serve with Christ.” (Catechism, 786)
About Dr. Jem Sullivan:
Dr. Jem Sullivan is associate professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. She is an appointed member of the International Council for Catechesis in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization. Over three decades, she has served at the national and diocesan levels and taught undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Sullivan is the author of four books including The Beauty of Faith: Christian Art and the Good News and Believe, Celebrate, Live, Pray: A Weekly Retreat with the Catechism. Her most recent book is Way of Beauty: Rekindling Eucharistic Amazement with Visio Divina.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.