Why has the Feast of Christ the King, which apparently originated as recently as 1925, risen to such prominence? Was it devised (partly) in order to rehabilitate the idea and the institution of monarchy after the cataclysm of the First World War?
Only a few years after the Bolshevik October Revolution, and at a time in Europe after the First World War when fascism and dictatorships posed a serious threat, Pope Pius XI in 1925 did indeed inaugurate a new festival in honour of the Kingship of Christ. This was primarily intended to counter the claims of secularism by holding up the model of Christ, as King of the Creation, whose just and gentle rule is supreme.
In 1970, the RC Church moved the festival from its late-October date to the last Sunday in the church year: not only was its importance in the calendar increased, but it came to be adopted by non-Roman churches, not least in the Anglican Communion. In the Church of England, after a tentative appearance in The Promise of His Glory, it was made a mandatory celebration in Common Worship, on the Sunday next before Advent.
Several theological and liturgical considerations account for the prominence of its observance. It concludes the Christian year with a climactic celebration that focuses on Christ as glorified Lord and King – a powerful reminder that praise of his Kingship is always the theme of the calendar. Many times it has been pointed out that every Sunday by its name, dominica, kyriake, is really designated as a day of Christ the King. In addition, this festival also deepens awareness of the final end of all things in the triumph of Christ: it brings the cycle of the liturgical year to an end, but looks forward to its turning again on Advent Sunday. Worship of Christ on his throne leads on to the message of Christ as Judge.
The spirituality of this festival must never be forgotten or understated. No one recognised this more than Henri Nouwen in his Sabbatical Journey: “on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ is presented to us as the mocked King on the Cross as well of the King of the universe. The greatest humiliation and the greatest victory are both shown to us in today’s liturgy. It is important to look at this humiliated and victorious Christ before we start the new liturgical year with the celebration of Advent. All through the year we have to stay close to the humiliation as well as to the victory of Christ, because we are called to live both in our own daily lives.
Canon Terry Palmer,
Accessed Nov. 21, 2019