by Msgr. M. Francis Mannion
The solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, brings the liturgical year to a dramatic conclusion. This Solemnity is of relatively recent origin. In fact, it was not declared a feast until 1925, during the reign of Pope Pius XI. We might wonder why a Pope would go to the trouble of instituting such a Solemnity in the twentieth century–at a time when kings and monarchies were rapidly collapsing. We could ask: Is the solemnity of Christ the King not anachronistic?
When placed in its historic context, however, the meaning of this feast becomes powerfully evident. Consider what was happening in 1925 when Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King. World War I had ended just a few years earlier–a war that shook Europe to its foundations. Nothing would ever be the same again. The boundaries of Europe had been redrawn. Massive political upheavals had occurred. Most of the kings and queens of Europe had disappeared or had been deprived of their power
But then in 1925, just when almost all the kings were gone, Pope Pius XI decided to inaugurate a feast calling Christ the “King.”
This gesture to some might seems meaningless, but, in fact, it shows the imaginative genius of Pius XI. For the Solemnity of Christ the King declares the endurance of God’s power, the permanence of God’s plan over the comings and goings of all human regimes. The feast is then a great statement of faith in God’s unending power and of hope in God’s irrevocable promises. Christ alone is the security of world.
Insecurity in the face of transience and change is built into all facets of human life from the most personal to the most political. This is what Pope Pius XI knew and wanted to address when he instituted the solemnity of Christ the King.
Because of the deep insecurity of our world and of human life generally, the declaration of Christ’s kingship is full of meaning. It proclaims that human existence, whether at political and social or at the personal and spiritual levels, is not finally a pathetic tragedy working itself out, but a glorious drama of salvation and love.
Christ the King states that we are not born for thirty or sixty or ninety years, then to fade away into nothingness; we are born for eternity The value we have is not just the value we can make for ourselves in an unreliable world, but the value we are given by a God who never fails.
When we come to worship, we stand already in the other world of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that will never pass away. The liturgy foreshadows the Kingdom of God and already gives us a foretaste of it. The whole purpose of the church’s ministry is to make us into good citizens of the Kingdom. And the task for which we are sent forth from our worship to be living signs in our ordinary world, as best we can, of the new creation.
As we end the liturgical year, we are invited to consider the truth that though kings and empires, republics and presidents, dictators and tyrannies come and go, the reign of Christ, the Son of God is eternal, everlasting, without end. Though we may often be frightened in heart, insecure in spirit, anxious in mind, God’s sure hand will uphold us at the end of life, at the end of the world. Through Christ’s royal kingship we are all of royal blood.
Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.