Our longest season of Ordinary time comes to a dramatic end in the Feast of Christ the King. Ordinary time has its roots in the mathematic connotation of the Latin root ordinalis, meaning measured sequence. Thus, Ordinary time reminds us to count our days well. The Feast of Christ the King points us to the why: We each will be judged for how we have measured our time on Earth.
Christ reigns over all, whether He is acknowledged or ignored. We each will face Him at His judgment seat. Yet Christ as high judge mingles with images of Christ as shepherd. His love never fails to lead us, and he extends himself limitlessly to try and reach us — draw us to Him. But, in the end, we will either enter into His Kingdom, or face all the consequences of our resistance – for eternity.
Origin of the Feast
Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925, on the eve of World War II, with the emergence of dictators. These dictators brashly advocated using power over weaker countries, wiping out “less worthy” ethnic groups, and other immoral principles. They justified this with an aggressive form of secularism, which placed “the state” above all personal morality. It was, by nature, anti-Christian.
Pope Pius wrote this encyclical, Quas Primas, which is translated “In the First.” Pius reminded the rules and peoples of that era that Christ is first; and, if they forget that, all lies in peril. Of course, this message holds for each individual as well as each layer of society, from small associations to nations, and beyond.
Message in the Feast
The encyclical specifies why the image of Christ as King:
It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of “King,” because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign “in the hearts of men,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.” And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father “power and glory and a kingdom,” since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created. (ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS Xl DECEMBER 11, 1925, 7)
Is Christ your King? Not just on Sundays or at Christmas and Easter, but in each moment of your days. Do we act, speak and choose with our eyes focused on obedience to the true King, or do we get distracted by other impulses, and metaphorically reduce the king to a back-pocket thought, one we pull out when we need help, but one we stuff out of the way in the regular course of our lives? This feast reminds us of the peril we face by such blindness.
Advent follows Christ the King
As we turn next week to Advent, to prepare over the four weeks of penitential preparation for the Nativity, the Feast of Christ the King reminds us to take stock of all the ways we have not made him Lord of our lives, moment-to-moment. Take these next four weeks to acknowledge and confess those sins, and open yourself in prayer to see your sins more fully. Then, when we celebrate Christmas, it will be with a greater fullness, a heart pure and open to receive the Savior anew, and to be ready when He comes again.
The Encyclical Quas Primas