Today’s feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is a recent addition to the Catholic liturgical calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 to help the Church respond to rising secularism and atheism in the world.
In his encyclical, Quas Primas (In the First), in which Pope Pius XI inaugurates the feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius wrote, “Oh, what happiness would be ours if all people, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ!” Pope Pius XI cites the precedent for introducing new feast days into the liturgical calendar: the Church sees a pressing need for the culture around it to be reminded of some particular aspect of the Catholic faith. The feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was waning. Pius XI notes "So, too, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation."
Pius XI cites his reasons for establishing the feast of Christ the King as the widespread prevalence of relativism and anti-clericalism. He desires to remind the world that Christ—and his Church—are truly Lord over all. As Catholics wrestle with the crisis of leadership in our church hierarchy and episcopacy today, this feast day can perhaps serve as a testament of our own faith in Christ as the leader of our church in whom we can place our trust completely. Christ, as the ruler of the universe, will guide his Church with his providence, and the human leaders of our church ought to model themselves after his example.
The feast of Christ the King always falls on the last Sunday of the church year—a new liturgical year begins next Sunday with the start of Advent. This feast is a fitting way to send us into Advent, the season of preparing our hearts to better recognize and receive God who comes to us in the person of Jesus. Today, we remember that Jesus will come to us at the end of time to usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom, and it reminds us to recall that Jesus comes to us every day as well.
The Gospel readings for this feast in the three year Sunday lectionary cycle always serve to subvert our understanding of kingship from the perspective of earthly power. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus reminds us that we will be judged based on how we serve–or fail to serve–those in greatest need. In John's Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate, "My kingdom does not belong to this world," as he prepares for the way of the cross. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus hangs on the cross and mercifully promises salvation to the common criminal crucified next to him. These readings show us that the kingship of Christ overturns the systems of power, wealth, and force which rule over the world. The kingship of Christ belongs to the Kingdom of God which he inaugurates through his self-emptying love.
On this feast of Christ the King, let us allow Christ to reign in our minds, our wills, our hearts, and our bodies!
By Deacon Fred Totah