Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
Later this month on November 23rd, the Catholic Church will celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King. In the Church’s liturgical calendar, it is the last Sunday in what is called Ordinary Time. The following Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent which, of course, is the time of preparation for the coming of our Savior at Christmas as well as anticipating his return in glory. But, to get back to this month’s great feast of Christ the King, the concept may seem foreign to us especially since we are not ruled by a monarch in this part of the world. Yet, for us to say that Christ is King ought to be just as powerful a statement as it was for Christians of ages past.
In the first centuries of the faith during the time of the original Apostles, to make a bold statement such as “Christ is King” was a guarantee that you would be put into jail and perhaps be put to death. In fact, we may not realize just how much Christians had put themselves in danger when they made such public declarations. In the New Testament letters of St. Paul, whenever the phrase “Jesus is Lord” or something similar to it is used, it was a powerful and subversive statement. In the ancient Roman Empire, it was illegal and punishable by death to declare anyone else but the Roman Emperor to be Lord. The Roman Emperor was thought to be a god as were many other kings at that time. To say anything to the contrary was considered to be blasphemy.
Furthermore, if a Christian were to make the statement, “Christ is King,” that would be considered a crime for which you paid with your life. No one was supposed to declare rivalry against the rightful king of the land. When Jesus was born and people were announcing the birth of a new king, why was it that all of Jerusalem became disturbed? For one, the leaders were afraid that the wrath of the Roman Empire would come down upon them. For people like Herod, there was also the fear that a new king would usurp power. To prevent any civil disturbance or even war and to maintain the balance of power, loyalty to the rightful king was a law that was strictly enforced and infractions were given severe punishments.
Yet, for a Christian to make the statement that “Christ is King” was to declare that a new era had begun and one’s loyalty had shifted to the true king. To proclaim that Christ was now one’s King was a pledge of loyalty to Christ as much as it was an act of faith. Christ would now become the only guiding principle in one’s life. Christ’s teachings would be the only doctrines that one would follow. In declaring that Christ is King, the Christian promised that he or she would become servant only to Jesus Christ even to the point of death.
The Solemnity of Christ the King is actually a relatively recent addition to the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar. The feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In 1970, the feast was permanently assigned to the last Sunday in Ordinary time. But, even though it was a recent development, the Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted to recapture the sentiments and fervor of the early Church.
When the solemnity was first instituted, there was a growing secularism in the life of the world. That is, society had gradually become dependent on worldly things and, in various ways, had tried to eliminate the idea of God from the consciousness of every human being. We can still see this trend taking place even to this day. The Solemnity of Christ the King was inaugurated as a way to proclaim once again that God will never be silenced nor will God ever be erased from the minds and hearts of Christians who truly believe. In celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King even to this day, the Church extends a powerful reminder that no human leader or ideology can claim the ultimate authority. Only one person holds all authority in heaven and on earth—Jesus himself who is God and Savior of the human race. What would the world look like if every person on this planet were to acknowledge this to be true? Even for those who are not Christian, what impact would it have on the lives of people if we were simply to acknowledge that all power and authority rests not in the hands of human beings but in the Divine? Needless to say, the world could be a different place. This is the message that the Solemnity of Christ the King continues to proclaim to the world.