Why the Feast of Christ the King?

“He has a name written on his cloak and on his thigh, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” (Revelation 19:16)

Hans Memling, “Polyptych of Earthly Vanities and Heavenly Redemption”, ca. 1485
Hans Memling, “Polyptych of Earthly Vanities and Heavenly Redemption”, ca. 1485 (photo: Public Domain)

Christ has always been known as the King because, as Paul tells us, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

To celebrate Christ’s Kingship, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Quas Primas (On the Fast of Christ the King) in 1925.

What he said then was true of his own day and even more prophetic for ours as we are reaping the results of not serving Christ as King.

Let’s take a look at some highlights and a few of the reasons why we need to do this, especially in an age when men don’t want to have kings or other rulers over them.

Pius XI illuminated how society was already laden with difficulties. These “manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”

Men had to look for “the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ. Pius XI reminded that 1925 marked the 16th centenary of the Council of Nicaea which added to the Creed “‘of whose kingdom there shall be no end,’ thereby affirming the kingly dignity of Christ.”

He noted Jesus is King in all ways, such as King of Hearts by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.” And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ.

“Do we not read throughout the Scriptures that Christ is the King?” the Holy Father asked.

He cites several passages and prophecies from the Old Testament to New, from Isaiah testifying that “He shall sit upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever,” to the Annunciation when Archangel Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus “shall reign in the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

As King, Our Lord has universal dominion. He is our “lawgiver, to whom obedience is due…Those who keep them show their love for their Divine Master, and he promises that they shall remain in his love.” The Father gives all judgement to the Son, who is Jesus the King. “Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.”

There’s this to consider too. Jesus told Pilate his kingdom was not of this world. Pius XI said, “This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands  of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.”

Pius reminded it would be a most grave error “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. Nevertheless, during his life on earth he refrained from the exercise of such authority…”

No earthly country no matter how big or small can escape that. When they do, as several have done and as they continue to get as far away from God and the kingship of Jesus as they can, they get mired in deeper and deeper trouble and sin.

As Pius XI put it, “for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. ‘Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.’ He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation. "For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy.”


Earlier Notice

Pius XI quotes himself from an earlier writing: “With God and Jesus Christ excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”

We’ve seen that downward slope tilting at great and great angles and getting proverbially slipperier and slipperier.

What’s the answer?

“When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King,  society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony,” affirmed the pontiff.

“Our Lord's regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen's duty of obedience…If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquility, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent.”

The Holy Father continued, “Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ!” He pointed out Leo XII words that there would be the cure of many evils, law would regain its previous authority, peace and its blessings would be restored, people will put down their arms “when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ” and all tongues confess “the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”


Feast Brings the Message

Pius XI said the feast of Christ the King widely “recognized and understood” would make these blessings “abundant and lasting in Christian society” because “people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries.”

In other words, our celebrations, such as this solemn yet joyful one, speak loudly too every single man, woman, and child, learned or simple.  The Church’s “feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God's teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.”

Think of the solemnities and joy of Christmas, and Easter, and the deep sorrow of Good Friday.

The pope gave examples through the ages of feasts being initiated and proclaimed, and the “more fruitful still were the feasts instituted in honor of the Blessed Virgin. As a result of these men grew not only in their devotion to the Mother of God as an ever-present advocate, but also in their love of her as a mother bequeathed to them by their Redeemer. Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy. We may well admire in this the admirable wisdom of the Providence of God, who, ever bringing good out of evil, has from time to time suffered the faith and piety of men to grow weak, and allowed Catholic truth to be attacked by false doctrines, but always with the result that truth has afterwards shone out with greater splendor, and that men's faith, aroused from its lethargy, has shown itself more vigorous than before.”

This is good to recall.

Pius XI highlights other festivals in the liturgy such as Corpus Christi with its solemn processions, and the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


Why This Feast?

As we look at Pius XI’s reasons for the feast, think of the present day which has multiplied the problems which were already becoming dire in the early 1900s.

“If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King,” he said, “We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, Venerable Brethren, has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied.”

Communism then, Communism now. And even more because of what’s happening in socialist countries and democracies

He said the religion of Christ “was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God.” Sound familiar?

Result? “The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences…we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.”

He saw the antidote — the annual feast of the Kingship of Christ would “hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result.”

Look at what he says next. Sound like us today? “Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.”

The feast will draw attention to this situation.

“While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.”

The pope listed some of the good things that had been happening at the time, such as canonizations, when we live under the Kingship of Christ. And he ordained that  Time, smf ordained that as St. Pius X commanded the dedication of mankind to the Sacred Heart, it be renewed every year on the feast.

Pius XI noted that the feast will remind nations that rulers as well as individuals “are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ,” calling to their minds “the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.”

At the same time, the faithful will “gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire.” Christ must reign in our minds, wills, bodies and members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls…. The faithful should see these truths “will prove a powerful incentive to perfection.”

Hail, Christ the King!

‘Tearing Us Apart’ book cover, with authors Alexandra DeSanctis and Ryan T. Anderson

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