This coming Sunday is the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King in the Traditional Roman calendar. A feast of recent origin, Pope Pius XI gave it to the Church in 1925 specifically as a perpetual monument to the cornerstone of the Catholic Church’s social teaching: namely, that Christ ought to reign not only over individuals and families, but also over peoples and nations.
In order to receive the blessings of peace and Christian concord that his predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, spoke of as consequent upon this recognition of Christ’s rights in civil society (Annum Sacrum), Pius XI wrote in Quas Primas that “it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to that end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ.”
Some might object — especially those given to the “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism” roundly censured by Ven. Pius XII — that establishing a feast in honor of a particular doctrine seems a bit, well, like putting the doctrinaire cart before the liturgical horse. But this objection would be a twofold error. Not only would it devalue doctrine, but it would also ignore the fact that, even in Christian antiquity, liturgical feasts were instituted for similar reasons. Witness the “Feast of Orthodoxy” (or “Sunday of Orthodoxy”) that is observed among both Catholics and Orthodox in the Christian East. It commemorates the triumph of the Church over the heresy of Iconoclasm at the Second Council of Nicea. A genuine liturgical scholar could detail how the dogmatic decisions of earlier ecumenical councils had already impacted the liturgies of the East quite a bit, notably Constantinople I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.
That objection aside, Pius XI’s purpose, a mere seven years after the end of the “Great War,” was to cut to the very heart of contemporary geopolitical ills and lay the blame on a stubborn humanity’s rejection of the Savior Himself. To advance the truth that Jesus Christ must reign in society if we are to have that “tranquility of order” that we call “peace” was the Holy Father’s goal in establishing this beautiful feast.
Elsewhere on Catholicism.org we have discussed the doctrine this feast enshrines (For Christ the King and The Catholic World of Father Denis Fahey). We have also considered Kingship in general (Time for Kings, The Hands of the King, and Saint Louis IX and Politics), and Christian politics The Politics of the Sacred Heart, and The Once and Future Politics). Mindful of the axiom, Lex Orandi Lex Crendendi, what I would like to do in this Ad Rem is to look at some of the Mass propers for the feast as it was instituted by Pius XI (not in its much altered novus ordo version).
We begin with the collect:
Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, qui in dilécto Fílio tuo, universórum Rege, ómnia instauráre voluísti: concéde propítius; ut cunctæ famíliæ géntium, peccáti vúlnere disgregátæ, eius suavissímo subdántur império:
Which I translate thus:
Almighty and everlasting God, who in Thy beloved Son, the King of the Universe, hast willed to restore all things: mercifully grant that all the families of the nations, separated by the wound of sin, may be brought under His most sweet sovereignty.
There is a lot in this oration. Jesus is King of the universe in whom the Father has willed to restore all things. The reference is to Ephesians 1:10 (which Pope Saint Pius X used as his papal motto). This passage produced some very rich theological reflection by the Church Father, Saint Irenaeus, which is summarized in this article, from which I quote a short passage:
All human history, from Adam to his last son, are “recapitulated” in Christ so that what went wrong in Adam will be made right in the Second Adam. The first man, created in grace, was made in God’s image and likeness. Original sin made him forfeit the likeness (his participation in divine nature by grace, i.e., his divine adoption), while he retained the image (his rational nature). In Christ, man is restored to his participation in the divine nature via a divine Person’s assuming human nature. Jesus being the “deified man” par excellence, he restores man to God in himself.
The families of the nations have been “separated” by the wound of sin. The Latin word for separated is disgregátæ, which is the opposite of “to herd or assemble.” (The noun grex means flock or herd.) Whereas all of Adam’s race was meant to be God’s “flock,” the wound of sin has “unflocked,” or “unherded” us, separating us from God and each other. This separation was most radically manifest at the Tower of Babel, where the guilty were confused in their tongues and could no longer understand each other. Pentecost, when the Church was first openly manifest to the world, was the divine undoing of that confusion. Since that time, the Church has spread throughout all of humanity, gathering into one “flock” and one Mystical Body the scattered and confused children of Adam and Eve.
Notice that it is “nations” that are to be brought under the imperium of Christ — that is, His dominion or empire. Religion is no mere private affair, but a social and, in the true sense of the word, a political reality. If society is not governed according to God and His law, it is ultimately doomed to be ruled by Satan. (Hence the present geopolitical hell we are in!)
The Epistle of the Mass for Christ the King is from the first chapter of Saint Paul to the Colossians (Col. 1:12-20). In it we see Christ as the creative Logos, “…in [whom] were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible… he is before all, and by him all things consist.” We also see Him as the redeeming Logos: “And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy: Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fulness should dwell; And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven.” It is through the Precious Blood that God has “delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.”
Just as “without him was made nothing that was made” (John 1:3), so, too, without the Logos was saved no one that was saved. By the will of the Eternal Father, the order of grace and redemption mirrors the order of creation, giving Christ a universal “primacy” over all, and this primacy makes King of all the creative and redeeming Logos.
In Quas Primas, Pius XI explains the twofold claim of Our Lord to Kingship:
The foundation of this power and dignity of Our Lord is rightly indicated by Cyril of Alexandria. “Christ,” he says, “has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.” 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. Would that they who forget what they have cost their Savior might recall the words: “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled.” We are no longer our own property, for Christ has purchased us “with a great price”; our very bodies are the “members of Christ.”
Jesus by “acquired right” as well as “natural right” is our King. He acquired that right by His Passion. Hence the Introit of the Mass offers the praise Saint John and the denizens of heaven render in the Apocalypse (5:12; 1:6): “Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”
The Gospel is John 18:33-37, part of Our Lord’s dialogue with Pilate, culminating in Jesus’s own proclamation of His Kingship: “You say it: I am a King. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
It would be sheer hubris for anyone but Jesus Christ to utter these words! They at once speak of the universality of truth and the supremacy of Our Lord — Truth Himself — in revealing it. His Kingship is rooted in truth, an idea we will soon see repeated.
One of the real masterpieces of this feast is the Preface, which I produce here with what is proper to this feast emphasized:
It is meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God: Who didst anoint, with the oil of gladness, Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the eternal Priest and King of the universe; that by offering Himself a spotless Victim and peace-offering on the altar of the Cross, He might accomplish the mysteries of man’s redemption, and that having subjected all creatures to His dominion, He might present to Thine infinite Majesty an everlasting and universal Kingdom; a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. And therefore with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominations and with all the hosts of the heavenly army, we sing the hymn of Thy glory, evermore saying: [Here begins the Sanctus.]
I am reminded that the melody to which this text is sung is that very chant concerning which Mozart commented that “he would gladly exchange all his music for the fame of having composed the Gregorian Preface.” The sublime beauty of these words is most worthy of the sublime beauty of that chant!
The reference in this preface to “peace-offering” invokes Old-Testament sacrificial offerings that were themselves highly prefigurative of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (cf. The Religion of Peace). Jesus as our “peace offering” is a very Biblical concept (cf. Eph. 2:14, and Col. 1:20), but the reference to peace doesn’t stop there. The everlasting and universal Kingdom over which Christ reigns is “a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” The Epistle, the Secret, and the Communion Verse of this Mass all mention peace, too, with the Secret speaking of the allied concepts of “reconciliation” and “unity.” The peace that the world cannot give can only come to us in the Kingdom of Christ, for He is that “Prince of Peace” foretold by Isaias the Prophet.
In connection with peace, it is worth mentioning that Pope Pius XI, who gave us both this feast and the encyclical announcing it, had as his papal motto, “Pax Christi in Regno Christi” (“the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ”). He briefly commented on his motto in his programmatic first encyclical, Ubi Arcano, which came out in the first year of his pontificate, 1922, when the brutality of World War I was yet fresh in men’s minds. His message therein can be simplified to this: True peace is impossible where Jesus Christ and his law are rejected by men, by families, and by nations.
Alas, not everybody wants peace! Ironically, this is something truly worth fighting for. So, the Postcommunion for Christ the King has us pray:
Immortalitátis alimóniam consecúti, quǽsumus, Dómine: ut, qui sub Christi Regis vexíllis militáre gloriámur, cum ipso, in cœlésti sede, iúgiter regnáre possímus. (Having obtained the nourishment of immortality, we ask, O Lord: that we who glory in fighting under the banners of Christ the King may be able to reign with Him perpetually on the heavenly throne.)
If we have received the Blessed Sacrament at this Mass, His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are still very much with us as we pray this prayer which says that we glory in fighting! That word, militáre, can mean “to be a soldier, to act as a soldier, or to wage war.” That Holy Mother Church would put such spiritually chivalrous and militant thoughts in our minds while we are communicating sacramentally with the Prince of Peace is worthy of our attention. It reminds us that the Kingdom of Christ is one “of justice, love, and peace.” In Christendom, the party who broke the peace was, eo ipso, the wrongdoer, and deserved to be brought to justice — either by prosecution, litigation, or warfare, depending on the scale of the conflict. Since roughly the times of Thomas Hobbes and modern social contract theory, we tend to look at conflict as the normal condition of men with peace being abnormal. No, peace is the normal condition (no matter how rare), and the purpose of a just war is to restore it.
What we want to choose is the ordered tranquility that Christ the King has to offer us, with all it implies. The alternative is what we have, which is getting only worse as I write: A Leviathian Nanny State that is quickly becoming a despotic biomedical technocracy with its ubiquitous tentacles in every facet of our lives.
Instead of the gentle reign of Jesus Christ ruling over our nations — “a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” — what we have are horrible oligarchies; oligarchies of lies and death, oligarchies of unholiness and cruelty, oligarchies of injustice, hatred and war, war, war.
Let us fight this madness by all lawful and virtuous means. Do you feel small and helpless? So do I. But we can take heart in the words of Our King: “Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
A blessed Feast of Christ the King to you all!