Over the years, a good number of people have asked me this question. The feast of “Jesus Christ, Universal King”, which is its proper name, is of relatively recent origin. It was instituted at the end of the Holy Year 1925 by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Quas primas, dated December 11 of that year.
The feast is celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the 34th Sunday of the year, as a Solemnity, the highest rank among feast days.
Pope Pius XI instituted the feast in answer to numerous requests from Cardinals, bishops and lay faithful at a time when Christ was being pushed more and more out of the lives of nations, families and individuals.
The Pope commented that just as the feast of Corpus Christi had been instituted at a time when Eucharistic piety had diminished, and the feast of the Sacred Heart when the severity of Jansenism had made hearts grow cold, so now when the reign of Christ was challenged by anti-clericalism, or secularism, it was opportune to institute a feast of the kingship of Christ.
An example of the anti-clericalism at the time was the regime in Mexico, where numerous Catholics went to their deaths for the faith, crying out “Long live Christ the King!”
A good number of them have been beatified and canonised, including Blessed Miguel Pro.
Significantly, the consequences of the rejection of Christ’s kingdom mentioned by Pope Pius XI are as relevant today as they were in 1925: “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 pretence 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.” (Quas primas, n. 24) The kingship of Christ is solidly grounded in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Isaiah offers the Messianic prophecy of the child to be born, who would be “Prince of Peace” and who would sit “upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” (Is 9:6-7)
In the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her Son will receive “the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33)
Nathanael, when he first meets Jesus, says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus does not reject the title, but rather goes on to say: “You shall see greater things than these.” (Jn 1:49-50)
And when speaking of the Last Judgment, Jesus refers to himself as King: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne… Then the King will say to those at his right hand…” (Mt 25:31, 34)
So it is clear that Christ is indeed king – but not a king in the human, political sense. He has no palace, no material throne, no army. Christ is king in the spiritual sense. His kingdom is “not of this world”. (Jn 18:36) He reigns in the minds, the wills and the hearts of men.
Perhaps the reason why some people object to calling Christ King is that they think of kings as lording it over their subjects. But this is not Christ’s way: “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:42-45) Christ redefined the whole notion of kingship. He does not oppress his subjects. Rather he serves them, he lifts them up and frees them from their sins.
His kingdom is “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” (Preface of Christ the King)
Fr John Flader: King doesn’t lord it over His subjects
20 Nov 2008