Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. As our cycle of readings over the past couple of months has grown more intense in preparing us for the coming of the Kingdom of God, today we reach the pinnacle of our Liturgical Year, the climax to which we have been building over these past several weeks.
The Solemnity of Christ the King is relatively new to the Catholic liturgical calendar, even though we have celebrated the Kingship of Our Lord since the earliest of times. The Feast was formally instituted for the Great Jubilee Year of 1925 by Pope Pius XI. This feast was partially established in solidarity with the Catholic Church of Mexico that was undergoing fierce persecution during the Mexican Revolution. The people of the Yucatan have always had a great devotion to Christ as King, and it was the acclamation “Vivo Cristo Rey” (“Long live Christ the King”) that echoed along with the sounds of guns as Catholic priests were tortured and executed by firing squads solely for preaching the Faith.
The placement of the Feast was originally on the last Sunday of October. Part of the reasoning for this was to create a sort of Sacred Triduum of the Kingdom of Heaven (as opposed to the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week, which celebrates the Kingdom of God on Earth and our Salvation). First there was the Feast of Christ the King, celebrating the Head of the Kingdom of God. Next, the Feast of All Saints, celebrating the Heavenly Host and the Company of the Saints. And finally, the Feast of All Souls, on which we pray for all those who have passed from this world and await reception into the Heavenly Kingdom. Three big feasts, all geared towards the celebration of the Heavenly Kingdom.
In the current Church calendar, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, just before the beginning of Advent. And on some level this is just as fitting, because what is Advent all about? It is about the birth of the Savior, the coming of the King, the coming of Emmanuel--God with us. How appropriate to announce first the Kingdom of God, and then to prepare for it—rather like John the Baptist, who went about in the time of Jesus, proclaiming the Kingdom of God was at hand, and urging people to repent and prepare the way of the Lord! The Feast of Christ the King is, for us, a springboard, of sorts, into the blessed season of Advent. But without getting too far ahead in the liturgical year, what sort of King are we announcing?
Our King was born in a lowly stable, laid in a manger, and visited by shepherds and livestock. He was raised in Nazareth, where he grew up in the normal Jewish fashion, probably learning to be a carpenter like Joseph. He was not rich. Most likely he had a rudimentary education commensurate with his state in life. And then what? He goes around preaching and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. And our King, condemned to death by his own people who heralded him as the Messiah—the Chosen One of God—was led to his passion and death on the Hill of Calvary, executed as a common criminal…crucified…pierced with a spear…and laid to rest in a tomb that was not even his own. What an unlikely king we have! His cloak is torn from his body and given away by gambling. He wears a crown on his head—not of gold, but of thorns. And he reigns not from a throne of gold and ivory, but of bare wood…nailed to it in the shape of a cross. Mocked. Beaten. Bruised. Broken. This is our King.
What sort of King would undergo such treatment for His subjects, but one whose love is so far outside the realm of human understanding that He would suffer so terribly, bearing our sins!
But the salvation that is won for us by our King is not free! As we are told in the Gospel today, our Salvation is conditional upon our relationship to the "least" of our brothers. Jesus gives us the list of the Corporal Works of Mercy as a guide for how to relate to others, and to build up the Kingdom of God among the Christian Faithful. Faith is not enough, if we do not put it into practice by helping those who are unable to help themselves. And as we see Christ in all our brothers and sisters, our willingness to put them first, to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, is an expression of our love for Christ, our love for the Faith He has given us, and that which effects our admission into Christ's Heavenly Kingdom.
Friends, today we celebrate the Kingdom of God in our midst. For it is here among us. And from it, we await our great King, whom we welcome in just a few short weeks. May the grace of the Kingdom of God implant itself in our hearts and compel us to articulate with all the Christian Faithful, from the innermost recesses of our hearts, with joy, fervor, and desire, that great acclamation: Come, Lord Jesus! Come into our midst!