The King and the ‘Lex Orandi’

Tomorrow is the Feast of Christ the King, the glorious Christian festival instituted by Pope Pius XI to remind the world of the truth taught by his own papal motto: Pax Christi in regno Christi (the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ). There will be no peace among nations without the social reign of Jesus Christ. And what is that? In brief, all nations, as moral persons, have a duty to acknowledge Jesus Christ, his moral law, and his true religion. By accepting this duty, they accept the social reign of our Lord.

For a full treatment of this traditional social doctrine of the Church, read Quas Primas.

As that great encyclical tells us, the institution of the feast was intended as a memorial to the great dogmatic truth it enshrines. Thus, the Holy Father was using the principle Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. I was reminded of this recently while learning the chant for the beautiful hymn Te saeculorum principem, the vesper hymn for Christ the King.

Here are the words in English:

1. Thou, Prince of all ages, Thou, O Christ, the King of the nations,
we acknowledge Thee the one Judge of all hearts and minds.

2. The wicked mob screams out. “We don’t want Christ as king,”
While we, with shouts of joy, hail Thee as the world’s supreme King.

3. O Christ, peace-bringing Prince, subjugate the rebellious minds:
And in Thy love, bring together in one flock those going astray.

4. For this, with arms outstretched, Thou hung, bleeding, on the Cross,
and the cruel spear that pierced Thee, showed man a Heart burning with love.

5. For this, Thou art hidden on our altars under the form of bread and wine,
and pour out on Thy children from Thy pierced side the grace of salvation.

6. May the rulers of the world publicly honour and extol Thee; May teachers and judges reverence Thee;
May the laws express Thine order and the arts reflect Thy beauty.

7. May kings find renown in their submission and dedication to Thee.
Bring under Thy gentle rule our country and our homes.

8. Glory be to Thee, O Jesus, supreme over all secular authorities;
And glory be to the Father and the loving Spirit through endless ages.

Note the italicized passages. In verse three, we pray to Christ that He “bring together in one flock those going astray.” In verses four and five, we are told that “for this” — this bringing of all into one flock, the Church — Christ died on the Cross, lays hidden in the Eucharist, and pours out of his side “the grace of salvation.” It is, then, for the unity of all men in his Mystical Body, the Catholic Church, that Christ died, and that his death is mystically renewed on our altars in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus is implicit here. Christ’s headship over the Church is emphasized in the Epistle for the feast’s Mass, which also speaks of his primacy in all things.

But the social doctrine of the Church, Christ’s primacy in human society (the family and the state), is the major burden of the doctrine and the feast of Christ the King. So, we have verses six, seven, and eight affirming our Lord’s authority over earthly rulers (judges, kings, teachers), over the arts, over nations, and over homes.

Do you want to know why the world is such a terrible place, why there is civil unrest, economic disaster, war, and hatred? That’s easy; the answer is in verse two: “The wicked mob screams out. ‘We don’t want Christ as king!'”  We know that part of the verse is a given, for we see it every day in news headlines. Let’s make sure the rest of it is true, too: “While we, with shouts of joy, hail Thee as the world’s supreme King.”

The Matins hymn, Aeterna imago altissimi, enshrines the same doctrine. I’ll not quote it in its entirety, but here are two verses, translated by Michael Davies:

To Thee, Who by right claim rule over all men,
We willingly submit ourselves;
To be subject to Thy laws
Means happiness for a state and its peoples.

Glory be to Thee, Jesus,
Supreme over all secular authorities;
And glory be to the Father and
The loving Spirit through endless ages.

Again, I’ve highlighted the passages that touch upon the doctrinal question. They clearly teach the same truth that Te saeculorum principem does.

In keeping with the pattern of the changes to this feast in the new rite, both of these hymns were substantially altered in the novus ordo Feast of Christ the King, where the traditional social doctrine was systematically removed. For a study of these changes, consult this article on Christ the King by Michael Davies.