Last Sunday of October
Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
From the Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI
Quas Primas; December 11, 1925
Since the Holy Year has provided more than one opportunity to enhance the glory of the kingdom of Christ, we deem it to be in the highest degree in keeping with our Apostolic office to accede to the prayers of many Cardinals, Bishops, and faithful, made known to us both individually and collectively, by closing this very Year with the insertion into the ecclesiastical liturgy of a special feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the 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 and surpasses all created beings. For as it is the case, that He is said to reign “in the souls of men” not so much by reason of the keenness of His intellect and the extent of His knowledge, as that He Himself is the Truth; so it is from Him that truth must be drawn, and obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, likewise, “in the wills of men,” since not only does the integrity and the obedience of the human will accord exactly and precisely with the holiness of the divine will in Him, but also by His grace and inspiration, He substitutes this for our free will, whereby we may be enkindled to every noblest deed. In a word, Christ is acknowledged as the “King of Hearts,” on account of His “charity which surpasseth understanding,” and of His mercy and kindness, which draw unto Him the souls of men. Never has it happened that anyone has been loved as much at any time as Christ Jesus is loved by so many different races, never will it happen in time to come that anyone shall be so loved. But, if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see, that the title and the power of a King is rightly claimed for Christ as man, in the strict and proper sense of the word. For, only in so far as He is man, can He be said to have received “the power and the glory and the kingdom” from the Father, seeing that the Word of God, which is of the same substance as the Father, cannot fail to have all things in common with the Father, and therefore has in itself the highest and most absolute dominion over all things created.
And the source from which this power and dignity of our Lord is established, Cyril of Alexandria fittingly indicates: “He possesses dominion, if I may use the word, over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence, nor usurped from anyone, but His by essence and by nature.” It is evident thas His dominion is gloriously manifested in that marvelous union, which is called hypo-static. From this it follows, not only that Christ is to be adored as God by Angels and by men, but that Angels and men are obedient and subject to His dominion as Man. Indeed, that even by the doctrine of the hypostatic union alone, Christ possesses power over all created things. And now, that we may explain in a few words the import and the nature of His headship, it is hardly necessary to say that it consists in a threefold power. If this power were lacking, the headship could scarcely be discerned. The testimonies deduced from and announced by the sacred Scriptures concerning the universal dominion of our Redeemer make that very thing more than clear enough. And it is an article of the Catholic faith, that Christ Jesus was given to mankind especially as a Redeemer for those who put their faith in Him, but at the same time as a lawgiver for those who obey Him. And not only do the gospels relate that He established laws, but they exhibit Him in the act of establishing laws: Truly, whosoever shall keep these commandments, are said by the divine Master, in other passages and in other words, to intend to demonstrate their love for Him, and to intend to remain in His love. Jesus himself announces the judiciary power assigned to him by the Father, when accused by the Jews of having broken the Sabbath day of rest by the miraculous cure of a sick man: “For neither doth the Father judge any man, but hath given all judgment to the Son.” And therein it is included (because the case is inseparable from the judgment) that by His law He may confer rewards and punishments upon men still living. But, moreover, that power, which is called executive power, is to be attributed to Christ, seeing that it is necessary that all men obey His rule. Indeed, it is made clear to the refractory by the imposition of penalties, which no man can escape.
But, nevertheless, a kingdom of this nature, in a certain special manner, is both a spiritual one, and also pertains to spiritual things, as these words, which we have quoted above from the Bible, most distinctly indicate, and moreover as Christ the Lord confirms them by reason of His own actions. Inasmuch as, on more than one occasion, when the Jews, yea, when even the Apostles themselves, erroneously imagined that it was imminent that the Messias would set the people at liberty and would restore the Kingdom of Israel, He Himself both dispelled and destroyed the fond hope. Disclaiming the title of King from an encompassing multitude of admirers, He refused both the name and the honor by fleeing from them and by lying hid. In the presence of the Roman governor, He declared that His kingdom was “not of this world.” It is such a kingdom, indeed, as is represented in the gospels, into which men prepare to enter by doing penance, but they cannot enter except by faith and by baptism, which, although it is an external rite, nevertheless denotes and produces an interior regeneration. It is opposed in a very special manner to the kingdom of Satan and to the powers of darkness. It demands from its followers not only that, with their souls detached from riches and from worldly affairs, they display mildness of character, and hunger and thirst after justice, but that they deny themselves, and take up their cross. But since Christ as Redeemer has both purchased the Church with His own blood, and as Priest offered His very self as a sacrifice for sin, and so offers Himself in perpetuity, is it not evident to all, that His kingly office assumes and participates in the nature of both one and the other office? On the other hand, one errs in a most unseemly manner, if one takes away from Christ as man all authority over any kind of civil affairs whatever, since He obtains from the Father such a highly absolute jurisdiction over created things, that all things are placed under His power. Therefore, by our apostolic authority, we appoint the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, annually, on the last Lord’s day in the month of October, that is to say, on the Sunday which immediately precedes the feast of All Saints, to be observed everywhere in the world. Likewise we enjoin, that the dedication of the human race to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus be annually renewed upon that selfsame day. (3)
Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
by Abbot Gueranger
Pope Pius XI opens the “Holy Door” at the beginning of the Jubilee Year, 1925, which he concluded with the institution of the Feast of Christ the King.
The Kingdom of Heaven—Holy Church—is seen bringing forth out of Her treasure “things new and old.” Hence, guided by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Him Who has promised to be with Her not merely for a few centuries but unto the end of the world, She defines or emphasizes certain points of doctrine as She sees fit, considering the needs of the times. We have an example in the institution of the Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XI, in the jubilee year 1925, and explained to the faithful in the Encyclical Quas Primas.
Christians have ever hailed our Divine Lord as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It was as a King that the representatives of the Eastern world came to adore Him in the manger; it was as a King, albeit not knowing what he did, that the official representative of the western world lifted Him up on the Cross. The patriarchs and prophets of the old dispensation foretold His royalty; He spoke constantly of His Kingdom: when asked plainly whether He were in truth a King by the representative of Caesar, He acknowledged that such indeed He was, though of a Kingdom not of this world.
“His Kingship is founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union. It is spiritual, and concerned with spiritual things. It is opposed to none other than that of Satan, and to the powers of darkness. Christ is King over Angels and men; King over men’s hearts and wills; His Kingship demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice and, more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.”
Yet though His is a spiritual Kingdom, opposed to no just earthly power, “it would be a grave error to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to Him by His Eternal Father, all things are in His power. All men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ the King. In Him is the salvation of the individual, in Him is the salvation of society.”
Today we sadly behold “a world undone,” largely paganized in principles and outlook, and sometimes even glorying in the name “pagan.” At the best, governments mostly ignore God; and at the worst, openly fight against Him. Even the statesmen’s well-meant efforts to find a remedy for present ills and, above all, to secure world peace, prove futile because, whereas peace is from Christ, and possible only in the Kingdom of Christ, His Name is never mentioned throughout their deliberations or their documents. Christ is kept out of the State schools and seats of higher education; and the rising generations seem to be taught anything and everything save to know, love and serve Him. Art and literature all too frequently reflect the same tendencies.
And since the spirit of evil reigns inevitably wherever the spirit of Christ has ceased to reign, in public and in private men are flouting the moral laws of God, and most, if not all, of the worst abominations of ancient paganism are becoming matters of everyday life. Moreover, be it remembered, modern paganism is worse than that of the ancient world, in that the former knows what it does as the latter did not. There is now an intense, positive hatred of Jesus Christ in the militant atheist, which differs in kind from the attitude of the fiercest Roman or Eastern persecutor: “If I had not come and spoken to them… if I had not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not have sin: but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father” (John 15: 22, 24).
Ever as practical as She is supernatural, the Church is not content with merely deploring the evil, nor even with counteracting it by sound teaching. She would also make definite reparation to the Divine Majesty thus denied and defied; to Him Whose royalty is slighted and insulted. Something must be done by those who, in a measure, understand and love, in order to atone for those who do not. “To repair the crime… which denies God’s rights over human society whose Author He is, we must exalt Jesus Christ as King over all individuals, families, and peoples. If His universal royalty be proclaimed and His reign in society recognized, one of the principal evils of the modern world—the secularizing of public and private life—will be attacked at its roots” (The Love of God and of the Cross of Jesus, P. Garrigou-Lagrange OP).
“To this end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special Feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of Faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion, far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any pronouncement, however weighty, of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few, and those the more learned of the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year—in fact forever. The Church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; Her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature… We have commanded its observance on a Sunday, in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too, free from their daily tasks, may in a spirit of holy joy give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ… that they may so order their lives as to be worthy, faithful, and obedient subjects of the Divine King” (Encyclical, Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI). (5)
Image: Marvelous mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (“ruler over all”) from the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul. It is the central figure of the so called Deësis mosaic (Δέησις, “Entreaty”) which probably dates from a relatively late 1261. It is considered by many to be the finest mosaic in Hagia Sophia. (7)
Research by REGINA Staff