Each year the Church concludes the liturgical cycle with the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or as it’s commonly called, the Feast of Christ the King.
This year for the Feast of Christ the King on November 21, 2021, there was a special celebration at Christ the King Parish in Kilgore with the unveiling and dedication of a new painting commissioned for the parish. The painting is a beautiful image of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, painted by Fr. Peter Gray, S.S., Ph.D.
Fr. John Henao, the pastor of Christ the King Parish, said this painting was commissioned because he wanted something in the Church that identified the parish as “Christ the King.” Fr. Henao pointed out jokingly, “You’d think the church was ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ because of the big mosaic on the wall!” This is a reference to a beautiful mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the left wall when you enter the church. Fr. Henao exclaimed, “I wanted something that said, ‘this is Christ the King Church!’”
The celebration began with Mass, celebrated by Bishop Joseph Strickland, and a breakfast gathering afterwards.
Before blessing the image, Bishop Strickland pointed out in his homily that the unveiling of this image reminds us to take a look at ourselves and to remove the veils in our lives that keep us from Christ. These veils can be the sin, addictions or bad behaviors we’ve allowed to grow in our lives.
Bishop Strickland encouraged the congregation, “Let the veils that come over all of us be removed over and over again by the grace of God! By his truth! By Christ the King!” He also reminded the faithful to return to Christ frequently by participating in the Eucharist and the sacrament of confession.
Fr. Peter Gray is the artist of this beautiful piece. Fr. Gray is a priest of the Society of Saint Sulpice, an order founded in France in 1631. This order came to the States in 1791 through an invitation from Archbishop John Carroll, the first archbishop of the United States. Fr. Gray is the artist for this community and was recently commissioned to paint a portrait of Pope Francis that will be placed in the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington DC.
Fr. Gray began his presentation by explaining, “My art is my homily. I don’t use words, I use visuals to express the divine and the love of Jesus for us.”
He proceeded to describe how in this image, Christ sits on his throne and receives perpetual benediction from his people. Fr. Gray told the story of how the Feast of Christ the King was promulgated in 1925 by Pope Pius IX in response to World War I, which was supposed to be the war to end all wars. This feast reminds us that the only way to end all wars is for hearts to be converted to Jesus Christ.
Fr. Gray continued to highlight other details in the image. Christ has one hand raised in a blessing, and in the other hand he holds an orb, which comes from the Latin word orbis, meaning the world. The orb is framed by a cross, which is a symbol of his death and the salvation he gains for us through his sacrifice.
Next, Fr. Gray mentioned the details of Christ’s heart. “His heart is not like our hearts because his heart is visibly wounded. Wounded from the lance of the soldier who pierced his heart,” Fr. Gray remarked. “That same heart is enthroned or encircled with the crown of thorns. Because the real crown that Jesus wore while he was on earth was not a crown of gold. It was a crown of thorns. Coming from the heart of Jesus is a furnace of love.”
The black cross above Christ’s Sacred Heart is the strongest symbol in the painting. Fr. Gray described the cross as “stark” saying, “It’s profoundly plain and simple enough for even a child to understand.”
In the painting, Jesus is being adored at all times by his angels. Flanked on either side of Christ, are St. Michael and St. Gabriel, the archangels.
Fr. Henao wished that Michael and Gabriel be in this image, and so, Fr. Gray announced, “I said ‘no problem!’” He continued, “I said, ‘let’s make them masculine. I’m tired of looking at them and thinking, you know they don’t look that strong!’” Fr. Gray’s St. Michael, which is on the left side of the painting, looks strong, like a warrior who could defend us in battle.
St. Gabriel is on the right side of the image. Fr. Gray described Gabriel as a fascinating angel because he is revered in all three major religions: the Hebrew, Islamic and Christian religions.
Gabriel’s task is to, “go from the throne to earth to give a message to different people,” Fr. Gray said. “Gabriel represents the message and the power in the standards of God’s communications.”
In addition to the archangels, there are several Eucharistic symbols in the painting. There is a ciborium, which holds the consecrated hosts, a pitcher and a chalice for the wine that becomes the Precious Blood of Christ, and a monstrance which holds the Blessed Sacrament for benediction to be worshiped and adored. Fr. Gray describes these as, “Very important symbols and signs of Christ with us.”
Fr. Gray concluded his presentation on the painting by explaining that because Bishop Strickland blessed this image, it is now a sacred piece. It is a sacramental and can and should be venerated as such. Fr. Gray concluded by saying, “It really has importance. What I love about it too is that you have it. Nobody else has it. This is not a copy. This is original work. This is yours. I’m really proud that you have it.”