King of the Universe

King of the Universe

Today (20th November) is the 34th, and last, Sunday of the liturgical year. On this day the Church celebrates the solemnity of Christ the King, or “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”, as it is now called in the Roman Calendar.

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 this day and age. 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 or splendour often associated with royalty, as these words from the new Preface for the feast indicate:
by offering himself on the altar of the Cross
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace,
he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and making all created things subject to his rule,
he might present to the immensity of your majesty
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

The emphasis on the cosmic nature of Christ’s kingship is seen in the Opening Prayer for the day (revised version):
Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe;
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.

The first reading and the psalm for the feast this year (year A) use the image of God as shepherd of Israel who, unlike their secular kings, defends the just and upholds the weak. 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.

In the Prayer after Communion we look forward to eternal life with Christ our King:
Having received the food of immortality,
we ask, O Lord,
that glorying in obedience
to the commands of Christ, the King of the universe,
we may live with him eternally in his heavenly kingdom.


Elizabeth Harrington