I visited the National Shrine somewhat by chance. I was in Washington, DC early for a concert, and a friend recommended we spend time there before the event. Little did I know the basilica was a mere ten minutes from the venue.
Coming in as the largest church in North America, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception spans over 200,000 square feet and contains over eighty chapels. The few hours I had weren’t nearly enough to see it all. But even if I’d had the time, I would’ve spent most of it in the the upper church, craning upward at a mosaic thirty-four feet wide. It was the image of a man who felt familiar, but somehow different. I felt both judgment and comfort under his piercing gaze, a desire to flee but also fixated in awe.
The mosaic, Christ in Majesty, did its intended job on me. Depicting the Apocalyptic Christ, it is a Jesus we both know and don’t recognize at the same time. He has come to judge the world, and also show mercy to his children. I know the prophecy of the end of times well enough. I’ve read the Book of Revelation, with its Heavenly battles and final judgements. Despite all that, this single image startled me. Why did I feel such fear? And why was Jesus, a middle-eastern Jew, now blond-haired and blue-eyed?
Part of the reason is artistic interpretation. But a bigger part is change. This is the Jesus who died. This is the Jesus who rose again, appeared to his disciples, and ascended into Heaven. This is the Jesus they didn’t recognize on His return. This is also the Jesus hinted at in the Transfiguration.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them. —Mark 9:2–3
The Gospels don’t provide many details about the Transfiguration. We know Peter, James, and John were “exceedingly afraid” (verse 6). We know Jesus was so intensely so bright that they couldn’t look upon Him. In the original Greek, the word for “transfigured” is metamorphoō, literally “metamorphose.” This doesn’t refer to only His garments. Jesus Himself metamorphosized, to the shock of those who witnessed it. Follow’s Jesus death and Resurrection, we don’t know how much his physical appearance changed. We only know that the disciples, His closest companions, don’t recognize Him. I imagine their fear and awe was something akin to my own reaction to Christ in Majesty. Something about Him feels familiar, but it’s not until Jesus reveals Himself that we know who He is.
Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." —Matthew 17:7
Life on Earth is finite. Some of us accept this better than others. But the transfigured Christ reveals a truth that is easily overlooked, that provides comfort amidst fear: this life isn’t the end. Like Jesus, we will be transformed. Look upon Christ in Majesty. This is a symbol of the transfigured Christ, an afterlife that He invites us to share with Him.
All details about the National Shrine and image above are found on the website www.nationalshrine.org
About the Author
Angela Silver is a Catholic convert and member of the St. Titus Brandsma Columbiettes. She holds degrees in Creative Writing and Publishing, and makes a living in Book Production at Penguin Random House. She is an avid reader and occasional writer, and drinks entirely too much tea. She lives with her husband in New York.
To read more of her writing, visit www.interiorcatholic.net