From the dawn of civilization, kings have arisen who have dreamed of possessing a world-wide dominion, a universal kingdom that would last forever. Some have come close to conquering much of the known world–Alexander, Genghis Khan, Augustus Caesar, and Adolf Hitler, to name a few. And some kingdoms have lasted a very long time, such as Rome whose Eastern half lingered on for 2000 years.
But despite all their machinations, pretensions, and self-glorifying monuments, the great rulers of the earth all proved mortal like anybody else. The had their day in the sun only to disappear. Their kingdoms, too, ultimately passed away, leaving abundant ruins for generations of tourists and archeologists to explore.
There is another thing that these great ones of the earth had in common–they jealously guarded their glory, sharing it with no one. Their ascent to the pinnacle of power was made over the backs of others, and they did not hesitate to eliminate any and all rivals.
This Sunday’s feast celebrates the fact that there is one who is remarkably different. He came to serve all, even his enemies. He truly was a Son of Man, with a vulnerable human nature. But he was also truly Son of God. Not in some mythological sense, like the Pharaohs, or the wishful-thinking sense, like the Caesars, but really and truly, the Immortal, the Eternal, taking the form of a mortal man in a specific time in history.
Rather than executing his opponents, he forgave them. Rather than dominating his subjects, he exalted them. He even called them not servants, but friends, and bestowed on them a share in his own priesthood and kingship. Though he died, like other kings, it was for a different purpose than Augustus in his bed or Hitler in his bunker. He died willingly to save his people, and his death was not a result of a battle lost or a plan gone awry, but of a glorious victory planned before the world began.
He rose in glory, which can’t be said for the rest of them. And at his heavenly coronation, when he ascended to his Father, he was given what all the rest lusted for–a worldwide dominion that will not pass away.
But the world goes on oblivious, with corporate executives and statesmen still jockeying for position, exalting themselves at the expense of others. Still others crowd the cover of People magazine competing for other glories like the King of Rock’n roll.
The true King, however, is biding his time. He will return and suddenly things will be seen as they truly are. His coming will sweep away ambition, vanity, and pretensions, and much of what now appears important will look very empty. No longer will oppression be allowed to stand; the innocent will finally be liberated from those who victimize them.
This dominion will truly be universal–there will be nowhere left where he is not recognized as Who He is, though in some quarters, that acknowledgment will be made with consternation and gloom.
For his coming means doom. . . judgment for those who have for so long resisted him. They will be allowed, of course, to cling to the evil that they have chosen, and hold it close to themselves for all eternity. But they may no longer afflict others with it.
This judgment, this kingdom, will have the last word. No election will overturn it in four years or four million years. There is no one stronger who can wrest the dominion from his Almighty hand.
The Church instituted this feast of Christ the King during bleak days, when fascist and communist clouds were darkening the earth with their ominous shadow. The feast serves as a reminder to us that we know the end of the story and should not be fooled by the braggarts who strut and the bullies who gloat. They’ll be gone soon. And He’ll be here soon. How soon no one knows.
Prayer to Christ the King
Christ Jesus, I acknowledge You King of the universe. All that has been created has been made for You. Make full use of Your rights over me.
I renew the promises I made in Baptism, when I renounced Satan and all his pomps and works, and I promise to live a good Christian life and to do all in my power to procure the triumph of the rights of God and Your Church.
Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer You my efforts in order that all hearts may acknowledge Your Sacred Royalty, and that thus the Kingdom of Your peace may be established throughout the universe.
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as an antidote to secularism, a way of life which leaves God out of man’s thinking and living and organizes his life as if God did not exist. The feast is intended to proclaim in a striking and effective manner Christ’s royalty over individuals, families, society, governments, and nations.
Today’s Mass establishes the titles for Christ’s royalty over men: 1) Christ is God, the Creator of the universe and hence wields a supreme power over all things; “All things were created by Him”; 2) Christ is our Redeemer, He purchased us by His precious Blood, and made us His property and possession; 3) Christ is Head of the Church, “holding in all things the primacy”; 4) God bestowed upon Christ the nations of the world as His special possession and dominion.
Before the reform of the Roman Calendar in 1969, this feast was celebrated on the last Sunday of October.
Christ the King as Represented in the Liturgy
The liturgy is an album in which every epoch of Church history immortalizes itself. Therein, accordingly, can be found the various pictures of Christ beloved during succeeding centuries. In its pages we see pictures of Jesus suffering and in agony; we see pictures of His Sacred Heart; yet these pictures are not proper to the nature of the liturgy as such; they resemble baroque altars in a gothic church. Classic liturgy knows but one Christ: the King, radiant, majestic, and divine.
With an ever-growing desire, all Advent awaits the “coming King”; in the chants of the breviary we find repeated again and again the two expressions “King” and “is coming.” On Christmas the Church would greet, not the Child of Bethlehem, but the Rex Pacificus — “the King of peace gloriously reigning.” Within a fortnight, there follows a feast which belongs to the greatest of the feasts of the Church year — the Epiphany. As in ancient times oriental monarchs visited their principalities (theophany), so the divine King appears in His city, the Church; from its sacred precincts He casts His glance over all the world….On the final feast of the Christmas cycle, the Presentation in the Temple, holy Church meets her royal Bridegroom with virginal love: “Adorn your bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ your King!” The burden of the Christmas cycle may be summed up in these words: Christ the King establishes His Kingdom of light upon earth!
If we now consider the Easter cycle, the luster of Christ’s royal dignity is indeed somewhat veiled by His sufferings; nevertheless, it is not the suffering Jesus who is present to the eyes of the Church as much as Christ the royal Hero and Warrior who upon the battlefield of Golgotha struggles with the mighty and dies in triumph. Even during Lent and Passiontide the Church acclaims her King. The act of homage on Palm Sunday is intensely stirring; singing psalms in festal procession we accompany our Savior singing: Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe, “Glory, praise and honor be to Thee, Christ, O King!” It is true that on Good Friday the Church meditates upon the Man of Sorrows in agony upon the Cross, but at the same time, and perhaps more so, she beholds Him as King upon a royal throne. The hymn Vexilla Regis, “The royal banners forward go,” is the more perfect expression of the spirit from which the Good Friday liturgy has arisen. Also characteristic is the verse from Psalm 95, Dicite in gentibus quia Dominus regnavit, to which the early Christians always added, a ligno, “Proclaim among the Gentiles: the Lord reigns from upon the tree of the Cross!” During Paschal time the Church is so occupied with her glorified Savior and Conqueror that kingship references become rarer; nevertheless, toward the end of the season we celebrate our King’s triumph after completing the work of redemption, His royal enthronement on Ascension Thursday.
Neither in the time after Pentecost is the picture of Christ as King wholly absent from the liturgy. Corpus Christi is a royal festival: “Christ the King who rules the nations, come, let us adore” (Invit.). In the Greek Church the feast of the Transfiguration is the principal solemnity in honor of Christ’s kingship, Summum Regem gloriae Christum adoremus (Invit.). Finally at the sunset of the ecclesiastical year, the Church awaits with burning desire the return of the King of Majesty.
We will overlook further considerations in favor of a glance at the daily Offices. How often do we not begin Matins with an act of royal homage: “The King of apostles, of martyrs, of confessors, of virgins — come, let us adore” (Invit.). Lauds is often introduced with Dominus regnavit, “The Lord is King”. Christ as King is also a first consideration at the threshold of each day; for morning after morning we renew our oath of fidelity at Prime: “To the King of ages be honor and glory.” Every oration is concluded through our Mediator Christ Jesus “who lives and reigns forever.” Yes, age-old liturgy beholds Christ reigning as King in His basilica (etym.: “the king’s house”), upon the altar as His throne.
The Feast of Christ the King
The Feast of Christ the King (in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, properly the Solemnity of Christ the King) is a relatively recent addition to the western liturgical calendar, having been instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. In 1970 its observance was moved to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time and adopted by Anglicans, Lutherans, and many other Protestants along with the new Revised Common Lectionary, as well as by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Origin and history in the Catholic Church
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical letter Quas Primas, in response to growing nationalism and secularism and in the context of the unresolved Roman Question. The title of the feast was “D. N. Jesu Christi Regis” (Our Lord Jesus Christ the King), and the date was “the last Sunday of the month of October – the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints“. In Pope John XXIII‘s 1960 revision of the Calendar, the date and title remained the same and, in the new simpler ranking of feasts, it was classified as a feast of the first class.
In his 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis, Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title: “D. N. Iesu Christi universorum Regis” (Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe). He also gave it a new date: the last Sunday in the liturgical year, before a new year begins with the First Sunday in Advent, the earliest date for which is 27 November. Through this choice of date “the eschatological importance of this Sunday is made clearer”. He assigned to it the highest rank, that of “Solemnity”.
As happens with all Sundays whose liturgies are replaced by those of important feasts, the prayers of the Sunday on which the celebration of Christ the King falls are used on the ferias (weekdays) of the following week. The Sunday liturgy is thus not totally omitted.
In 2013, this feast day falls on November 24. The liturgical vestments for the day are colored white or gold, in keeping with other joyous feasts honoring Christ.
Observance in other churches
Those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary observe Christ the King Sunday (titled Reign of Christ Sunday by some) as the last Sunday of the liturgical year. These churches include most major Anglican and mainline Protestant groups, including the Church of England and the Episcopal Church as well as the Anglican Church in North America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran bodies, the United Methodist Church and other Methodist bodies, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church.
In Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden, this day is referred to as the Sunday of Doom, previously centred about the final judgement, though from the Lectionary of 1983 and forwards, the topic of the day is the Return of Christ. The Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion, the four Sundays before Advent are called the Sundays of the Kingdom and Christ the King is kept as a season and not just as a single festival.
- Jump up ^ Fraternity of St. Gregory the Great calendar
- Jump up ^ Churchyear.net, a Catholic blog
- Jump up ^ Encyclical Quas Primas, 28
- Jump up ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 63
- Jump up ^ motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis
- Jump up ^ Examples are Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. Indeed before the reform of Pope Pius X most Sundays gave way to any feast that had the rank of Double, and these were the majority (Missale Romanum, published by Pustet, 1862)
- Jump up ^ “Liturgical Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States of America”. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2013.
- Jump up ^ Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts, Augsburg Fortress, 2005, p.p. 304-305, ISBN 0806649305