This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This feast day was first established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the secularism he saw creeping into the world as more and more people began to reject having Jesus at the center of their lives. He stated that unless the Empire of the Lord was restored, there would be no peace and harmony between individuals or nations. In preparation for this week’s reflection, I read Pope Pius’ encyclical Quas Primas, in which he officially established the feast. As well as being a beautiful document, it also seems timelier today than ever before, which we will get into a little later. Before I dive into Pope Pius’ thoughts on the Kingship of Jesus, I will clear up a couple of historical details. In Quas Primas, Pope Pius proclaims the feast to take place on the last Sunday of October in order to precede All Saints Day. In 1969, Pope Paul VI moved the feast to the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, right before Advent, because he thought it more fitting to close out the year focusing on Christ’s dominion. Secondly, when Pope Pius originally established the feast, he called it the Feast of Christ the King. When Pope Paul changed the day of the celebration, he added “of the Universe” in order to emphasize the depth and breadth of the Kingdom of God. Both popes’ contributions to this feast have led to how we continue to celebrate this feast today.
Now we can head back to 1925 to explore Pope Pius XI’s sentiments at the time he established the feast in our liturgical calendar. He explains that we had primarily been thinking of Christ as king in a metaphorical sense, in that, He reigns in our hearts and by virtue of being the Truth, and that He also reigns in our wills as we give our assent to Him. However, Pius asserts that Christ is also king in a “strict and proper sense” as well, because He is consubstantial with the Father and “therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.” (QP #7) In other words, because God is triune and united, Christ shares in the Kingship of God the Creator and exercises His dominion over creation.
Pope Pius goes on to lay the Scriptural foundation for honoring Christ under the title of king. He summarizes the many Old Testament prophets which draw attention to the Kingdom of God and the coming ruler, including Daniel, who said:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (QP #9, Dan 7:13-14)
Moving on to the New Testament, we hear of Christ’s kingship in the words of the Archangel to Mary when he says, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (QP #10 Lk 1:32) And Jesus himself describes himself as sitting upon His “glorious throne” when he returns for the final judgement (QP #11, Mt 25:31-33). So, we can see there is plenty of evidence to be found in Scripture that it is appropriate for the Church to celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ.
Since the Church draws upon three sources of authority and revelation – Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium – Pius also appropriately cites how we have acknowledged Christ as king throughout our history. The Church has consistently used titles such as King, Lord, and King of Kings, both within the liturgy and other forms of public prayer (QP #12). He also quotes St. Cyril of Alexandria (412-444 AD) as saying, “Christ, has dominion of all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and nature.” (QP #13) In creating the new feast, the pope is not establishing a new understanding of Christ as king, so much as giving it a specific day to highlight what has already been believed by the Church over the centuries.
Pius then identifies a three-fold power which is “essential to lordship.” As king, Jesus is the lawgiver, the judge, and the executor (QP #14). Throughout the gospels, Jesus gives us many instructions and directives in how to live out a holy Christian life. In following those directives, we show our love and obedience to our Lord who promises we will receive many wonderful things by doing so. He is our judge, both particular and universal. He will judge each person upon their death according to their particular life, choices, and level of culpability – being both merciful and just – and he will judge the world in its entirety upon his final coming. Finally, he executes all rewards and sanctions to everyone according to His judgement.
Pope Pius explains to us that Jesus’ “kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things.” (QP #15) The Jews believed that when the Messiah came, it would be to liberate them from Rome and that he would establish the earthly kingdom of Israel. However, Jesus declared that His kingdom was not of this world. Pius tells us that in order to be a part of Jesus’ kingdom we need faith and baptism, but we also need to detach from riches and things of the world, pick up our crosses, and live a life of virtue.
After establishing the spiritual nature of the kingdom, Pius goes on to explain that it would be a mistake to suggest that Christ has no authority in our earthly or civil matters (QP #17). Jesus Christ came for all men and women, believers or non-believers. Individuals live within societies, states, nations and are all therefore connected together under these institutions. So, mankind collectively falls under the kingship of Christ. “In Him is the salvation of the individual, in Him is the salvation of society.” (QP #18) If societies were to collectively and publicly acknowledge Christ as King, the result would be “the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”
(QP #19) Further, Pope Pius states that if our civil leaders embraced Jesus as the supreme king, then “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 no longer be any cause of discontent.” (QP #19) Isn’t that a wonderful thing to imagine, particularly in this day and age? It seems so simple, yet so out of reach as our societies pull further and further away from their Lord and King.
Finally, Pope Pius explains that while the Church has always held that Christ is king, it is helpful for us humans to have special days to focus on special things. We are composed of a body and soul, and when we incorporate church teaching into our physical celebrations, it helps to stimulate our spiritual life. Having a consistent annual celebration of a particular truth allows for us to continually draw our attention to it, hear it preached in our homilies, and contemplate how the truth applies to our own lives (QP #21, 29). When we take our place in the kingdom of God and find our solace in our heavenly king, Pius reminds us that we become truly free and we have “immunity from the power of the state.” (QP #31) In other words, we should not lose our peace, no matter the state of our government, because everything here is fleeting and temporary. God has power over all creation and our eyes and hearts should be fixed on the eternal kingdom, which is all wonderful and all good.
This week reflect, not only on how Jesus is king in your personal life, but also how he reigns over all of creation. How does this change your perspective on particular personal and social issues?
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