It’s only natural that the children of a loving Father should try to please and honor him. And so for the past two thousand years, Christians have put untold effort, ingenuity and love into creating a magnificent store of inspiring art of all sorts to glorify God, including a treasury of sacred music unmatched for its depth, breadth, and sheer beauty.
Sometimes it seems we’re throwing it all away. All too often, it seems, we keep the best china and good silver locked away and receive the Lord of Creation with the equivalent of paper plates and plastic forks at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
It doesn’t need to be that way. We all can and should advocate for liturgical music worthy of Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And if it’s any comfort, long after nobody remembers that there was any such thing as “Anthem” or “Lord of the Dance”, Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Exultate Domine” will still be there, and still sound like music fit for The King.
Scarlatti lived from 1660 to 1725 and was a prolific composer of both sacred and secular music. His joyful “Exultate Deo” is a musical setting for Psalm 81, which begins Exultate Deo adjutori nostro, “Sing joyfully to God our help.” The Ensemble of the Bellevue Presbyterian Church performs Scarlatti’s composition in the clip below.
Scarlatti was composing 300 years ago, but not all inspiring Christian art is a product of an earlier era. The beautiful featured image at the top of the page, “Jesus Christ the Returning King”, was created just a few years ago, in 2005, by artist Janusz Antosz. Below the music clip you can find the artist’s explanation of the meaning of this wonderful work of art (excerpted from a longer article accompanied by a video interview of the artist at https://directionforourtimes.com/image-of-jesus-christ-the-returning-king-2/)
The artist of this painting, Janusz Antosz explains that before he began this painting he experienced a long period of pain and suffering. From beginning to end it took him over a year to complete the painting. Janusz stated clearly that this painting is the pearl of his entire body of work. He explained that it is a painting from a technical standpoint, but has many aspects of an icon. The painting blends the Western European painting style with the style of icons from the East. He wanted the painting to have the look of both, so as to include all of the Catholic Church (Eastern and Latin) as well as other Christian Orthodox. It is a merging of styles that represents a hope for Christian unity. According to Janusz, it shows our Lord’s longing “that they may be one, as We are one” (John 17:22). As a whole, the painting is meant to reflect the glory of heaven.
He explains how at the bottom of the painting the two individuals represent the Eastern and Western saints. The Eastern saint is the hooded individual and the other, a Western saint. In the painting they both adore the Lord which represents that all believers, from East to West, will adore the Lord. The flowers along the arch at the top of the painting, which are bell shaped, symbolize the good news of a beginning, or in other words, an announcement of a coming. For example, at the beginning of Mass, the bells are rung and the priest enters the sanctuary. In this case, it is the High priest entering. Further, the gold area directly below the arch represents the glory and reality of heaven.
In regards to Our Lord’s vestments and the color of the vestments, this is important. Our Lord is dressed as a bishop/priest and the colors are those traditionally used to portray sacrifice as well as glory and praise. The pattern on the vestments is consistent with patterns found in icons, while the color of the alb is blue. The Lord’s face is modeled after the Shroud of Turin, while his hand is the gesture of a blessing and also means “I love you” in sign language. Additionally the scepter with the cross at the top represents that through the power of the cross, all power rests with the Lord “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matt 28:18) This also confirms His kingship – “The King of kings and the Lord of lords.” (1 Tim 6:15) Which is reflected by the crown on His head.
Around his halo are symbols: the letter N is Greek for “I am.” These words are taken from the book of Exodus 3:14, when Moses asks God for His name. According to an expert on icons, O and N are symbols of the presence of God and the mystery of the incarnation – the divine presence becomes visible in the New Covenant when, after having received a body by being born of the Virgin Mary, He appears to us so that we may adore Him as God, who is love. Janusz describes his inspiration for Jesus’s throne is in a style from the 17th century Baroque period. The light, bright colors represent Christ the King’s purity, beauty and holiness.
On the top of the throne, Janusz goes on to explain that these are lily flowers closest to Our Lord and represent His purity. As well, the angels are Seraphim angels- the angels present at God’s throne who constantly praise Him (Isaiah 6:1-7). Around the neck of Jesus is a medal with a cross on it, this cross is directly over Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. It is meant to show that by dying on the cross, He shows the love He has for each one of us. You will also see on the painting the flowers directly to the left and right of Jesus; they are wide open and facing the Lord, meaning they are praising and giving great glory to the Lord. Near there are the grapes and the wheat which represent the Holy Eucharist. You will also notice an open area between the two groups of flowers. Janusz said that he wanted to convey that by prayer and meditation we will have no obstruction on the journey to Christ. We will all have a direct path or an open road to the Lord and we will gain a more intimate relationship and closer union with Him.
The last thing to mention is that on the top of the painting there are gold leaves. These leaves are leaves of a vine, indicating that Jesus is the vine (John 15:1). The leaves are open and giving glory to Our Lord. They are also positioned to showcase Our Lord.