Feast of Christ the King


Today, the last Sunday of Ordinary Time before Advent begins, is celebrated as the solemnity of Christ the King. The feast was instituted by Pius IX in 1925 to mark the close of a Year of Jubilee.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church offers this pithy explanation of the meaning of the feast: “It is the celebration of the all-embracing authority of Christ which shall lead humankind to seek the ‘peace of Christ’ in the ‘Kingdom of Christ’”.
It may seem a strange sort of king that is depicted in today’s Gospel, which is part of Luke’s account of the crucifixion. Jesus reigns as king from the cross, and the person who recognises this is the ‘good thief’ crucified beside him.
In the first reading from the second book of Samuel, we hear the story of the choice of David as king of Israel. David’s reign is a model of that kingship for which Israel longed.
The psalm for the day seems at first glance a strange choice. The first reading is set in Hebron while the psalm speaks of pilgrims going to Jerusalem. But it resonates with the spirit of the feast because it is the psalm we sing on our journey as pilgrims to the heavenly Jerusalem. Interestingly it is the psalm for next Sunday as well!
The second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that God has removed us from of the world of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son.
There are people in the Church who have problems with some of the language and imagery used in the texts for this celebration. They believe that words like ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ carry patriarchal and authoritarian connotations that are incompatible with Christianity. For the same reason, they prefer to use the word ‘God’ instead of ‘Lord’ in liturgy, for example, ‘This is the word of God’ and ‘God hear us’.
This causes difficulties on a number of counts. Firstly, the term ‘Lord’ is basic to Christianity: the phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a catchcry for many Christians; it appears hundreds of times in the scriptures; it is used in titles like the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper.
Secondly, the term ‘Lord’ is used to refer both to the first and the second persons of the Trinity, so to always replace it with ‘God’, for example, ‘God have mercy’ in the penitential rite, changes the focus of the prayer.
Thirdly, it causes confusion for the assembly if the cues for their responses are altered, as in ‘God, hear us’ after the Prayer of the Faithful petitions. Do the people respond with ‘God, hear our prayer’ or ‘Lord, hear our prayer’?
Certainly we need to use a variety of terms and images for God and Christ, especially in those variable parts of the liturgy such as hymns and intercessions. Perhaps we also need to be clear that, while there are people in this world who misuse their positions of power and authority, our Saviour is not that sort of king.
The special preface for the day describes the Kingdom of God as ‘a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace’.

Elizabeth Harrington