A few observations on Christ the King

Gabriel Sanchez has, at Opus Publicum, a very good piece, explaining the differences between the Feast of Christ the King as Pius XI originally intended it and as it exists today. In short, the collect was rewritten substantially, the hymns were hacked apart, and the selections from Quas primas at Matins were replaced with a reading from Origen of Alexandria on the Adveniat regnum tuum from the Pater Noster. The rewrite goes beyond that, in fact: the readings for the first nocturn of matins in the 1960 Breviary are taken from the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, verses 3–23. This has been replaced in the Liturgia Horarum with a composite selection from Revelation. And, of course, the feast was moved from the last Sunday of October to the last Sunday in Tempus Per Annum (i.e., the end of the Church’s year). The upshot of all these changes is to emphasize strongly the eschatological aspect of Christ’s kingship. In other words, the Feast of Christ the King serves to remind us today that at the end of time, Christ will reign as king. Just what Pius XI intended when he gave us Quas primas, no?

No. In Quas primas, Pius answered the suggestion that Christ’s kingdom was purely spiritual (and eschatological):

It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. Nevertheless, during his life on earth he refrained from the exercise of such authority, and although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them. Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia.

(Emphasis added.) In other words, Christ’s kingship extends to the civil realm, even to this moment in this place. And the sooner we recognize that, the happier we will be:

When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. Our Lord’s regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen’s duty of obedience. It is for this reason that St. Paul, while bidding wives revere Christ in their husbands, and slaves respect Christ in their masters, warns them to give obedience to them not as men, but as the vicegerents of Christ; for it is not meet that men redeemed by Christ should serve their fellow-men. “You are bought with a price; be not made the bond-slaves of men.” If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) This is, of course, hugely interesting and hugely significant. Pius argues that if we accept Christ as our king here and now, the entire political order changes fundamentally. Rulers rule in Christ’s name, and subjects obey not flawed, partisan men, but Christ the King himself. This is what they might call in another context a “game-changer.” Given the exhausted, exhausting political scene in the United States (and many other countries, frankly) today, can anyone say that the blessings that flow from the proper ordering of the state would be unwelcome? Can anyone say that they prefer partisan hacks pursuing narrow, political objectives, while disgruntled subjects protest almost constantly? Of course not.

But it goes beyond that. Pius XI makes it clear that proclaiming Christ the King will be good medicine against what he calls anti-clericalism—a definite problem in the 1920s and 1930s—and what today could be called the soft, liberal indifferentism so popular in the educated West these days:

 If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, Venerable Brethren, has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God’s religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences. We lamented these in the Encyclical Ubi arcano; we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.

(Emphasis supplied.) Good medicine, indeed.