The last Sunday of the church year is called “Christ the King Sunday” by some, “Reign of Christ Sunday” by others. The official title of the day in the Catholic Church is, “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” Now that’s a mouthful!
As significant as this feast day seems to be (it is the pivot point that takes us into Advent, after all), the designation is actually less than one hundred years old. In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the day by issuing an encyclical titled Quas Primas, or “In the First.” It was a time of upheaval in a world still reeling from the effects of the “War to End All Wars” and a devastating global pandemic, and great social changes were sweeping through the nations.
On the one hand, these changes brought newfound freedom, economic prosperity, technological innovation, artistic expression, and moves toward social equity. And on the other, these changes were met with corresponding resistance: the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the rise of fascism and nationalism in many countries of the world, for example in Italy where Benito Mussolini became dictator in 1925 … the same year that Pope Pius created the feast day in question.
As a response to these disruptions, Pope Pius sought to affirm the sovereignty of the Lord. The encyclical is a direct response to the historical context in which it was written. In its own words, “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.”
The purpose of the day was to affirm that, although great changes may occur in the world, up to and including the rise of a fascist dictator in our nation, the Reign of Christ is eternal.
Knowing the historical context of the “Reign of Christ” feast day is helpful, I think. Nothing we do occurs in a vacuum, and that includes the work of the church throughout the generations. Honoring Christ as Lord means interpreting that idea in every new time and place. This week we will think together about what it means for us today, as we celebrate “Reign of Christ Sunday” together in worship.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6) The Season of Advent is upon us, and the waiting has begun. We