Celebrating the Feast of Christ the King

Next Sunday (23rd November) is the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the last Sunday before Advent begins. On this day is celebrated the solemnity of Christ the King.

The feast was instituted by Pius IX in 1925 as a way of countering the increasing atheism and secularisation of society. It was an assertion of Christ’s sovereignty over all human societies and institutions.

The image of King does not sit well with people in the 21st century. Some might have problems with the language and imagery used in the texts for this celebration, believing that words like ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ carry patriarchal and authoritarian connotations that are incompatible with Christianity. Many would prefer an image that speaks less of power and authority.

The kingship of Christ is not about the power, luxury or splendour usually associated with the concept of a king:
As king he claims dominion over all creation,
that he may present to you, his almighty Father,
an eternal and universal kingdom:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. (Preface of Christ the King)

The emphasis on the cosmic nature of Christ’s kingship in the current prayers for the feast is seen in the alternative Opening Prayer of the day:
Father all-powerful, God of love,
you have raised our Lord Jesus Christ from death to life,
resplendent in glory as King of creation.
Open our hearts, free all the world to rejoice in his peace,
to glory in his justice, to live in his love.

The first reading and the psalm for the feast this year use the image of God as shepherd of Israel. It proposes an ideal leadership for the people of Israel - a leadership unlike that of their secular kings, one that defends the just and upholds the weak. This is how we understand the kingship of Christ.

The conclusion of the passage presents the shepherd as judge and provides a link with the Gospel reading for the day in which Christ judges all people according to how they have treated the poor and the powerless.

The second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians makes the connection between Christ’s kingship and his resurrection. Death came through Adam; resurrection comes through Christ. Paul proclaims his conviction that, at the end of time, the risen Christ will do away with every other authority and have power even over death itself. This will be the final establishment of the kingdom of God.

The passage from Matthew’s gospel comes at the end of the great final teaching of Jesus on the end of time. It is also the culmination of Jesus’ public ministry and the prelude to the story of his passion and resurrection when Jesus reigns as king from the cross, and the one who recognises this is the ‘good thief’ crucified beside him.

The Prayer after Communion places our every-day Christian life in the perspective of the feast of Christ the King:
Lord, you give us Christ, the King of all creation,
as food for everlasting life.
Help us to live by his gospel
and bring us to the joy of his kingdom,
where he lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Elizabeth Harrington