In 1925 Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) established the feast of Christ the King in response to growing nationalism and secularism in Europe after WWI. With this new feast, Pope Pius XI desired to return Catholics to Christ and to unite all people in Christ, the supreme ruler whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries.
Originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, Pope Paul VI moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and raised it to the level of a Solemnity. In addition to its celebratory character, the placement on this Solemnity at the end of the liturgical year also gives it an apocalyptic and sobering character.
The readings for the day speak about God’s mercy but also of God’s justice. The first reading from Ezekiel presents God as the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep but who also judges between the rams and the goats. Matthew 25 offers a vision of the end of times when Christ, the Judge, will separate those who saw him hungry and fed him, thirsty and clothed him, a stranger and welcomed him, naked and clothed him, in prison and visited him from those who did not.
The notion of Jesus as King is not new. This is as old as Christianity itself and as profound as the mystery of our faith. Throughout Scripture many royal titles are given to Jesus. First and most frequent is the title of Christ or Anointed One, the Savior of Israel. Second, is the title Kyrios or Lord which came to be interpreted as Jesus being the Lord of the Universe. Third is that of King as e.g. in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy where Jesus is referred to as “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).
When we hear these titles we are quick to impose our earthly understanding onto them and to be sure, that is where they originated. However, Jesus is in no way like earthly kings or earthly rulers. When questioned by Pilate Jesus responds that his “kingdom is not of this earth”. Surely, had he been an earthly king, his armies would have defended him and prevented his arrest. Rather, Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword so he may be arrested to fulfill the prophecies.
We hail Jesus as the Anointed One not because he commands mighty armies, wields earthly powers, or displays great wealth. Rather, because he is the Good Shepherd and Suffering Servant who eats and drinks with sinners; who feeds the hungry; who heels the sick; who brings the dead back to life; and who accepted suffering and death so we might live. In sum, we profess him as anointed because he is the perfect image and embodiment of God’s boundless love and endless mercy.
On the Solemnity of Christ the King we honor Christ as the Ruler of the Universe and as the Savior of the World. As King he will judge us at the end of time and he will separate the goats from the sheep. As Savior he will do this with justice and love. Thankfully, as our Savior he has also given us a roadmap to ensure that we end up with the sheep by recognizing and serving Christ in everyone, especially in those who are most in need.
In these times of rising nationalism and rampant secularism worldwide, let us celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King with great fervor and let us meditate on the true Ruler of the Universe whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries and whose desire is for all us to be one in Him.
We have a beautiful stained glass window of Christ the King in our sacristy. It was created by Gaytee Glass Studios in 1928, just three years after the proclamation of the Solemnity of Christ the King.
In this window we see Christ seated on a royal throne. He is wearing the regalia typical for an earthly king: he has a crown on his head, a scepter in his right hand and the Globus Cruciger or the orb crowned with a cross in his left hand.
The globe with the cross is of particular interest. The image of a ruler holding an orb suggests that the ruler holds the world in his hand. Christian rulers had a cross added to the orb indicating that they were governing the world for God. Placing the globus cruciger in Christ’s hands affirms that Christ is the Ruler of the Universe but also the Salvator Mundi or Savior of the World.