The beautiful and glorious Feast of Christ the King is less than 100 years old. Pope Pius XI promulgated an encyclical on Christ the King titled Quas primas December 11, 1925. The Holy Father issued it to mark the “sixteenth centenary of the Council of Nicaea” held in AD 325. The Council of Nicea in AD 325 defended the divinity of Christ from which flows Christ’s royal claims over humanity.
What is the Encyclical About?
This quote from Pius XI pretty much sums up the encyclical:
“When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.” (para. 19)
In other words, America or any other nation, will NOT experience liberty, order, peace, or harmony until she privately and publicly recognizes Christ as King. This is papal teaching.
Why “Christ the King”?
Why did Pius XI write this document and institute the feast of Christ the King? His Holiness states his purpose:
“And We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”
The Holy Father was alarmed that nations were claiming that Jesus Christ and His law had “no place in private affairs or politics.” As one reads Quas primas, it becomes clear that the Holy Father wants nations to publicly recognize Christ as their King.
Nations and Persons Must Recognize Christ
The Holy Father notes that Christ asked for the Church to “teach and baptize all nations” and not just individuals. Hence, Catholicism looks for the conversion of both persons and nations to Christ. Jesus Christ, says Pius XI, received not just spiritual powers from the Father but judicial powers over every nation on earth.
Quoting Pope Leo XIII: “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”
The Pope’s Liturgical War for Christ the King
In paragraphs 22-29, Pope Pius XI explains that he has instituted the feast of Christ the King to be a liturgical leaven in the world:
“Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.”
Controversy over the Date of Christ the King
Catholics today think of Christ the King as “the Sunday before Advent.” This was not the original intention of Pope Pius XI who set the date as the Sunday before All Saints:
“Therefore by Our Apostolic Authority We institute the Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ to be observed yearly throughout the whole world on the last Sunday of the month of October – the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints.”
Pope Pius XI wanted to associate the reign of Christ the King with All the Saints (Nov 1). Sanctity, as all the Popes teach, is the means by which the Kingdom of Christ is established on earth. On the Sunday before All Saints, says the Pontiff, all future Popes will consecrate humanity annually to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The intent is that this annual consecration would create more saints and bring about Christ’s reign “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
However, Pope Paul VI later changed the date of the feast of Christ the King from the Sunday before All Saints to Sunday before Advent in his 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis. His Holiness Pope Paul VI gave the feast a new title “Our Lord Jesus Christ King of All” (Regis universorum).
Why the date change under Pope Paul VI? The answer is that “the eschatological importance of this Sunday is made clearer” (Calendarium Romanum, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969) by moving the feast from the Sunday before All Saints to the Sunday before Advent.
Hence, the original date of Christ the King of Pius XI in 1925 expected temporal nations to declare Christ as their King here and now. The revised date of Christ the King by Paul VI in 1969 expects an eschatological (end times) fulfillment.
What the Laity Should Do on Christ the King
Pope Pius XI gave a beautiful exhortation to the faithful for celebrating Christ the King:
“If all these truths are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection. It is Our fervent desire, Venerable Brethren, that those who are without the fold may seek after and accept the sweet yoke of Christ, and that we, who by the mercy of God are of the household of the faith, may bear that yoke, not as a burden but with joy, with love, with devotion; that having lived our lives in accordance with the laws of God’s kingdom, we may receive full measure of good fruit, and counted by Christ good and faithful servants, we may be rendered partakers of eternal bliss and glory with him in his heavenly kingdom.”
We must seek perfection through grace and we must bear the yoke of Christ with devotion to extend the reign of Christ. In short, seek Christian perfection by loving God and loving your neighbor.
Christ the King, have mercy on us.