Along with commemorating the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 15, the community of St. Mary Mother of God in Washington also celebrated another Marian mystery, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. 

Local Virginia portrait and religious artist Henry Wingate recently completed the final painting, “The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple,” for a set of the five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary that the parish commissioned him to create to adorn the sanctuary. After a solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the feast of the Assumption, Father Vincent De Rosa, parochial administrator of St. Mary Mother of God, blessed the new painting with incense.

The celebration marked the end of a project that was in the works for a number of years. The old paintings, also of the Joyful Mysteries and which filled five niches behind the altar above the sanctuary, were coated with grime from years of incense and candle smoke. Father De Rosa said the paintings were removed from the church during “the iconoclasm of the post-conciliar period” after the Second Vatican Council and placed in the basement, where moisture damaged them beyond repair. After receiving a costly quote to restore the paintings, pastor-emeritus Father Alfred Harris decided instead to commission Wingate to create a new set. 

Wingate said the final painting -- though perhaps the most difficult because of the six-model composition -- is also his favorite of the set for the same reason. The painting took most of the summer to complete and numerous hours spent in composition and painting of models, including Wingate’s own son, whom he used as a model for the child Jesus. 

“But I changed his hair,” Wingate said. “His hair wasn’t very fitting for a Jewish boy. I went through... a couple models for hair and finally found one I thought was pretty good.” 

The other four paintings -- the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, and the Presentation -- already hang in their places in the sanctuary. The fifth painting, currently propped on easels at the front of the church, will be hung in the coming weeks, once the paint is thoroughly dried. 

The completion of artwork signifies “the restoration of something of our parish heritage,” Father De Rosa said before a crowded congregation.

Father Vincent De Rosa, the parochial administrator of St. Mary Mother of God Church in Washington, celebrates a Latin Mass on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where he blessed the painting of “The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple,” by artist Henry Wingate. In this photo, three of the artist’s other paintings depicting the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary can be seen encircling the church’s altar – “The Annunciation,” “The Visitation” and “The Nativity.” Image caption

“Aside from the visual impact, you know, it gives the parish a real sense of forward momentum… of doing our part for something that could be up there for another 200 years,” Father De Rosa said. “That’s no exaggeration. That’s really kind of beautiful that we are giving that gift to everybody who’s going to pray here after us.” 

During the homily, Father De Rosa spoke of the readings about the Jewish widow Judith, whom he called “the Indiana Jones” of the Old Testament, and the Virgin Mary of the New Testament. He spoke of how both women exhibit the feminine genius of receptivity, beauty, and maternity, and how these graces are lived out in the parish community of St. Mary Mother of God. 

“Nobody does beauty like St. Mary’s,” Father De Rosa said as he spoke of the vibrant prayer life, openness to God’s word, expanded Mass times, and growth in parishioners and in financial giving the parish experienced, despite the pain of the Church over the last year. Donations to the poor box alone have increased by 50 percent, a sign “life is rising up where nobody would’ve expected it,” Father De Rosa said.  

Now that the set is complete, the artist said he is feeling “satisfaction and relief.” 

“Overall it was a great project I thought,” Wingate said. “The shapes were a challenge and not ideal, but it is great architecture, a great setting for paintings. [St. Mary’s] is probably the nicest church that my paintings are in.” 

Wingate also said the beautiful Latin Mass, song, and prayer of the Assumption celebration made him grateful to have the opportunity “to have a little input into our great Church, the Catholic Church in general.” 

Father De Rosa similarly said the Church - not just St. Mary Mother of God, but the universal Church - needs beautiful art, like the fresh paintings, that reflects Christ the bridegroom, who is beauty. 

“Christ is, the ancients called him, the Caritas Dei - the shining forth of God,” he said. “He is the fullness of the revelation of the Father. So what we have filling our churches should reveal that same beauty. It’s our own tiny attempt at showing that to the world.”