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Thought for the week - Christ the King

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Why we should celebrate the Feast of Christ the King on this last Sunday of Ordinary Time, or the Sunday Before Advent, has always puzzled me, because logically and theologically speaking Ascension is the Feast of Christ the King as he takes up his rightful place at the right hand of majesty. So, I decided to look up the Feast of Christ the King. It is a relatively recent feast day.

The Feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas. At the time of Quas Primas, Pius sensed that secularism was on the rise, and many Christians were doubting Christ's authority, as well as the Church's, and even doubting Christ's existence. At the time, Pius XI witnessed the rise of the fascist dictatorships in Europe, particularly the rise of Mussolini in Italy, and saw even Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders. So, The Feast of Christ the King was instituted at a time when the Pope sensed that respect for Christ and the Church was waning. Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were, in the words of the encylical:

  1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).

  2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).

  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has probably got worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. There are even Christians who reject the titles of "lord" and "king" for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. But that is to miss the point. Christ's kingship is one of humility and service. Jesus said: You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45, NAB). and “Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"... Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So, Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "you say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:33b, 36-37). Jesus knew only too well the oppressive nature of secular kings and rulers. He knew all about King Herod and Pontius Pilate and the oppressive nature of the Roman government. In contrast to them, he connected his role as king to that of humble service and commanded his followers to be servants as well. In other passages of Scripture, his kingdom is tied to his suffering and death. While Christ is to come in judgement on the nations, as the Advent message reminds us, his teaching spells out a kingdom of justice and judgment balanced with love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one who was willing to die for humanity and whose "loving-kindness endures forever." Christ is the king who gives us true freedom, freedom in Him. So, we must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship. The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word "messiah," and the Greek word "Christ," both mean "anointed one," and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. But, unlike the Messiah most people expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and did not come to free them from the Roman oppression but from sin and death This king, therefore does not rule over a kingdom of this world. Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and his reign as King is celebrated to some degree in Advent (when Christians wait for his coming in glory), Christmas (when "born this day is the King of the Jews"), Holy Week (when Christ is the Crucified King), Easter (when Jesus rose in power and glory), and the Ascension (when he returns to the glory he had with the Father before the world was created). However, Pius XI wanted to specifically commemorate Christ as king, and so instituted the feast in the Western calendar in 1925. Christ the King Sunday used to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October, but since the calendar reforms of 1969, following on from the 2nd Vatican Council the feast falls on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, which is the Sunday before Advent. It is fitting that the feast celebrating Christ's kingship is celebrated before Advent, when we look for the coming of the king. In a chaotic and unjust world that seems to scorn any kind of authority, it seems right to celebrate The Feast of Christ the King, when the loving, merciful and just king of the universe is praised and glorified.


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