The movements of the Holy Spirit have always been felt throughout the Church’s history, perhaps most significantly, at times when mankind seemed to lose its way, when human hearts grew cold and apathetic and devotion ebbed, pulling humanity away from God’s love and the hope of eternal life. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, feasts and devotions were, and continue to be born just when mankind needs them the most.
An example of just such a feast is Corpus Christi, instituted during a period when devotion to the Holy Eucharist was at a low point. So, too, is the case with the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, instituted at a time when people were oppressed by the severity of Jansenism and the growing tide of secularism. In response to the latter, as well as in anticipation of the Holy Year at the turn of the century, Pope Leo XIII published his Encyclical Annum Sacrum on May 25, 1899, consecrating the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus emphasizes the tender love, mercy, forgiveness and peace that is found for those who choose to “live with the Sacred Heart of Jesus” enthroned in their lives and homes. Individuals and families can find this peace as can entire nations through the extension of individuals and the family.
As a result, honoring Jesus as King naturally evolved from the devotion to the Sacred Heart; thus the feast of Christ the King was officially instituted by Pope Pius XI, on December 11, during the Holy Year of 1925, in his Encyclical Quas Primas. Intending to remind mankind that peace in the home and across national borders comes from total surrender to Jesus’ Sacred Heart, Pope Pius XI proclaimed, “Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ” and accordingly, ordered a formal Act of Consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to be publicly recited annually on the Feast of Christ the King.
The Feast of Christ the King…among the feasts of our Lord, this feast particularly seems to be overshadowed by the rushed demands of Thanksgiving and an increasingly secularized Christmas, occurring as it does on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. In 2013, it falls on November 24th. Images of Christ the King depict our Lord with His crown and scepter; His most Sacred Heart is visible, as well.
Historically, at the time Quas Primas was published, the world was only eight years removed from the devastation of the First World War. Doubt in Christ’s authority and even His very existence, protests as to the legitimacy of the Church’s role in government and politics, and the validity of Christ’s authority as vested in the pope all thrust mankind onto worrisome ground, as witnessed by the rise of atheistic and despotic dictatorships across Europe. Pope Pius XI attributed these post-war developments to the “rise of the scourge of secularism.” He recognized how people, including Catholics, were being deceived by these earthly leaders and bluntly wrote that it was all due to mankind’s denial of Christ as King.
In Article 25 of Quas Primas, the Pope prophetically wrote:
“Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which secularism (sic: 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.”
Pius XI knew the only way to attain lasting worldwide peace is by acknowledging the reign of Jesus Christ as King through His Church. In Article 17 of Quas Primas, the Pope wrote:
“It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs….He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for everyone and for every nation. If rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. When people recognize, both in private and public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”
Even after 87 years, his words resonate with stinging accuracy and clarity for our world today.
One of Pope Pius XI’s most fervent hopes in instituting the Solemnity of Christ the King was that the “faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills and bodies” (Quas Primas, Article 33). We are thus inspired to recall some of the most beautiful and consoling words spoken by Our Lord:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October but was later moved to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before the start of the Advent season. “It is fitting that the feast celebrating Christ’s kingship is observed right before Advent, when we liturgically wait for the promised Messiah (King).” (ChurchYear.net)
PRAYER TO CHRIST THE KING
O Christ Jesus, I acknowledge Thee as Universal King.
For Thee, all creatures have been made. Do Thou exercise
over me all the rights that Thou hast.
Renew my Baptismal Vows, I renounce Satan,
with all his works and pomps, and I promise to live as a
good Catholic. Especially, do I pledge myself, by all
the means in my power, to bring about the triumph of the
rights of God and of Thy Church.
Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer Thee all my poor actions to obtain
that all hearts may recognize Thy Sacred Royalty, and that thus the
reign of Thy Peace may be established throughout the entire world.