On the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King. The feast was established in the 20th century and it was designed to give special recognition to the dominion Christ our Lord has over all aspects of our lives. Happy Feast to all of you! May He lead us!
When Cardinal Ambrogio Achille Ratti was elected pope and took the name Pope Pius XI, much of the world was in shambles. The year was 1922, and while the bloodletting of World War I (1914-1918) had ended, widespread peace and tranquility were not evident. The war to end all wars had been especially devastating to England and the countries of continental Europe. Additionally, the overthrow of the Romanov tsars by the Russian Revolution had created great upheaval in Russia and brought immense suffering. Governments were in economic chaos; unemployment was rampant and people in many places were literally starving to death.
Pessimism, a sense of helplessness compounded by hatred among the nations, was overwhelming. The time was ripe for the rise of tyrants, and rise they did. The festering philosophies of fascism, National Socialism (the Nazis) and communism now spawned the likes of Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. In their distress, people clung to anyone who offered them hope, offered some kind of direction out of the chaos and promised to put food on their tables.
Many considered the basics of morality and the teachings of the Church to be out of date, no longer relevant in 20th-century society. Some political regimes advocated the banishment of Jesus altogether, not only from society, but from the family as well. As nations were reborn and governments restructured, their foundations, policies and laws were often being fashioned without regard to Christian principles.
In all these developments, the new Pope Pius XI saw that people were denying Christ in favor of a lifestyle dominated by secularism, material advantage and false hope created by the tyrants. He realized that he had to address the political and economic forces that were crowding out the kingship of Jesus.
On Dec. 11 Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Quas Primas, which added the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ the King” to the annual Church liturgical calendar. The encyclical provided for the feast of Christ the King to be held each year on the last Sunday of October. This date, a week before All Saints’ Day and four weeks before Advent, was carefully chosen: It reminded the people that Jesus Christ is not only King of this world, reigning among nations today; He is also the eternal King, glorified by the saints in heaven, who will one day come to judge all humankind.
In his encyclical, the pope noted that the continuing disorder of that era, what he called “the plague of society,” had long been festering and was the result of nations rejecting Christ. Later in the encyclical the pontiff pointedly reminded national governments, “Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for His kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.”
In 1969, Pope Paul VI took several steps to enhance the witness of the feast day. To emphasize Christ’s universal reign, he changed the name of the celebration to the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of All.” He also changed the date to the last Sunday in the liturgical year, emphasizing even more strongly the connection between Christ’s kingship and His second advent (coming) to judge the world. In addition, the pope raised the feast to the highest rank of celebration on the Church calendar, that of a “solemnity.”
Today, peace still eludes us; social, political and economic orders are shaken; and the nations continue in many ways to reject the light of the Gospel. We can be grateful, then, for the chance to celebrate each year the Solemnity of Christ the King — for the world needs now, more than ever, our witness to His rule over all things.