This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, and closes the Church’s liturgical calendar. On the modern calendar, in use in the Ordinary Form, Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King.
Traditionally, from the date of the institution of this feast (and still to this day in the Extraordinary Form), the Feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday of October. The change of the date of this feast to the last Sunday of the liturgical year has caused a subtle, or not-so-subtle, shift in emphasis of the meaning of this title of Our Lord. The act of placing this feast at the end of the year, with the natural and liturgical eschatological emphasis of this Sunday, places the focus mainly on the Kingship of Christ at the end of time, to the diminution of His Kingship right now over men. Both are realities, and are there to be contemplated in either form. But by splitting the Feast from the Last Sunday in the traditional Roman calendar, both realities get their own spotlight. I think this is just another of the many, many bad consequences of the denuding of the liturgy of the Church.
Back in October, Canon Michael Wiener, Rector of St. Francis de Sales Oratory, delivered the following excellent sermon on the Feast of Christ the King. I offer it for the enjoyment of readers, who might not get the same emphasis at their own Sunday Mass sermon:
We are all monarchists!
By 1925 all great monarchies had ceased to exist: The revolution in Russia in 1917 had swiped away the czar, the Great War of 1914-1918 ended the Reich and Austria and Germany lost Kaiser and Emperor. For the first time in history there was no one on earth to claim the title of “Caesar”.
In this dramatic and new situation in world affairs the Holy Father, the great Pope Pius XI. speaks his words of enlightenment and guidance – the Encyclical letter “Quas Primas” of December 1925.
In it he does not teach how to rule the world by a secular monarch, but how to be faithful to the King of the Universe:
“It was surely right, then, in view of the common teaching of the sacred books, that the Catholic Church, which is the kingdom of Christ on earth, destined to be spread among all men and all nations, should with every token of veneration salute her Author and Founder in her annual liturgy as King and Lord, and as King of Kings.”
Aware – as all popes including our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. – of the effective role the sacred liturgy plays in the formation of the faithful, Pope Pius XI institutes the feast of Christ the King – and teaches us what the significance of Christ’s kingship is:
“His kingship is founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union. From this it follows not only that Christ is to be adored by angels and men, but that to him as man angels and men are subject, and must recognize his empire; by reason of the hypostatic union Christ has power over all creatures. But a thought that must give us even greater joy and consolation is this that Christ is our King by acquired, as well as by natural right, for he is our Redeemer.”
Christ is King as God and as man:
“For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father ‘power and glory and a kingdom,’ since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.”
This power is threefold, legislative, judicial and punitive:
“For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son.”
And Christ’s reign is universal:
“His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”
All this, we might say, is very nice, but how does this concern me, why is this relevant for us today? Isn’t this power, of which you speak, only a metaphor, has only a symbolic meaning?
No, Christ’s power is not only a figure of speech, it is the reality in which we live.
“It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power.”
Christ’s kingly power is the source of all power exercised by those who govern others.
“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
Yes, we live in a monarchy because as Catholics we see that all order that reflects God’s goodness in our culture, in our families, in our workplace and also in our political life is a direct fruit of the incarnation of God in Christ. Christ leaves an imprint on all aspects of our social and individual lives, giving us true freedom to do the will of God. The form in which we correspond to the will of God might be different:
“There is no question here respecting forms of government, for there is no reason why the Church should not approve of the chief power being held by one man or by more, provided only it be just, and that it tend to the common advantage. Wherefore, so long as justice be respected, the people are not hindered from choosing for themselves that form of government which suits best either their own disposition, or the institutions and customs of their ancestors.” (“Diuturnum” – 1881 Leo XIII)
As citizens of a country in which freedom from restraints is seen as the essential aspect of our lives we have to allow Christ to deepen our understanding of the sources of true freedom:
“Make our hearts like unto Thine.”
Christ is King and we must acknowledge His reign in our societies with generosity so that He will make the earth resound, from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to thy Divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to It be glory and honor forever.