Almost a century ago, Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King, to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October.
Though placed towards the end of the liturgical year, this reminder of our Savior’s regal office was not intended to replace the last Sunday in the Church’s annual cycle, which (like the first Sunday of Advent) reminds us that the Lord will one day come to judge the living and the dead.
Though Christ is most assuredly judge of all souls, including those on earth and under the earth, today’s feast is meant to emphasize his terrestrial power.
In the prayers originally composed for this Mass, our Lord is twice referred to as universorum Regem. In context, this means King of all nations, not “King of the universe.”
As Pius makes clear, Jesus in his divinity has from eternity possessed absolute and universal power. “It is only as man,” however, “that he may be said to have received from the Father ‘power and glory and a kingdom’” (Dan. 7:13-14).
This matters because it is as man that Christ conquered sin, and as man that he established a Church, itself comprising men, “which is the kingdom of Christ” in that part of the universe with which we are proximately concerned: namely, “earth.”
Full membership in the kingdom of Christ requires penance, baptism, and a life lived in collaboration with divine grace.
What then of those who have not found Christ, or have rejected him? As God, Christ has absolute dominion over one and all. As man, he offers them a choice: believe and be saved, or the opposite.
Civil affairs, as Pius XI acknowledges, are not directly under the jurisdiction of Christ’s Kingdom. And yet, it remains true, and vital, to recognize that both “individuals and states” are doomed when they refuse to “submit to the rule of our Savior.”
In one sense, the duty of nations to acknowledge Christ is conditional: “If . . . the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ.”
In truth, however, the obligation is firm, for rulers indifferent to the legitimacy of their authority and the prosperity of their countries have ipso facto broken the laws of nature, as well as of nature’s God.
In sum, we are reminded that “society will at last receive the blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony” when each and every earthling learns to “recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King.”
Pius candidly admits that he has promulgated this celebration to combat what he refers to as “the plague of anti-clericalism,” according to which nations attempt to govern with indifference or hostility to Christ and his Church.
Not surprisingly, today’s “anti-clerical” leaders, driving a wedge of sophisticated hypocrisy between public and private duties, end up making a mockery of their Lord, arrogantly proclaiming themselves devout Christians even as they impose on their fellow citizens —with demonic zeal, and in violation of religion, law, and conscience—the satanic rituals of child sacrifice, bodily mutilation, and psychological self-destruction.
Though nearly a century has passed, the basic lesson of Quas Primus has not changed. The Kingdom of Christ advances only when the faithful “understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King.”
Then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.
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