The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is by the corner. Also known as thirty-fourth Sunday of the Year or last Sunday of the year, this celebration urges the people of God to reappraise the Lord’s kingship and rulership over their lives even as it assures of our eternal destiny with the King in the kingdom of light and peace. Although the celebration of Christ the King first took place in 1926, Pope Pius XI instituted the feast in his 1925 Encyclical Quas Primas. The celebration emerged in the midst of the rise of Communism in Russia and during the 16th centenary of the Council of Nicaea (325) as an aftermath of the First World War. The feast was a response to the rise of secularization, atheism, and communism. The interesting part of this event is that despite its Catholic origins, it is celebrated by many Protestants such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The celebration was, however, moved to the last Sunday in Ordinary Time in 1970. This piece attempts to present an overview, objectives and aims of the celebration as well as the pastoral applications.
The first reading (Daniel 7:13-14) for this year’s celebration discloses how Daniel saw a vision of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. It also reveals that the one with great age conferred on him sovereignty, glory and kingship stressing that people from all nations and languages are his subjects. It surmised that his sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which can neither be destroyed, nor cease to exist. In the second reading (Rev. 1:5-8) from the Apocalypse of John, we are presented with Christ, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth as one who loves us and washes away our sins through his blood. John maintains that he made us a line of kings and priests to serve God his father noting that he is coming in the clouds where everybody will see him. He concludes that all the races of the earth would mourn him even as he makes the point that he is the Alpha and Omega, “The Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” The gospel (Jn. 18:33b-37) recounts how Jesus dared Pilate by emphatically stating: “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: To bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Earlier, Jesus had said that his kingdom is not of this world otherwise; his men would have fought to defend him from being handed over to the Jews. This leads us to the appropriate pastoral lessons.
First, by stating that his sovereignty, glory and kingship is over all and his subjects are people from all nations and languages, Daniel teaches us in the first reading that salvation is for everyone. As such, traditional the procession with the Blessed Sacrament and chanting of Eucharistic hymns unto the Universal King of the Universe is timely. Second, St. John reveals Christ as the compassionate king who is not only the First-born from the dead and Ruler of the kings of the earth but one who loves us and washes away our sins through his blood. As subjects of the kingdom, we are challenged to demonstrate love to children, the aged and other vulnerable groups. Third, just as Jesus dared Pilate by stating that he is a king who bears witness to the truth, the subjects of God’s kingdom are challenged to be ambassadors of the truth towards expanding his kingdom on earth. By instituting this celebration in 1925, the Holy Father Pope Pius XI wanted the solemnity to impact on the faithful in the following ways:
• “To enable them gain strength and courage upon meditating on these truths so as to live ideal Christian lives.” At a time when Christian persecution is rife, the Church expects us to use this celebration to pray for the release of Leah Sharibu and others who are in the custody of Boko Haram and kidnappers even as we ask Christ the King to grant us the spirit of courage to live ideal Christian lives in the face of persecution.
• “To facilitate our becoming subject to Christ’s dominion without exempting any of our faculties since his power embraces all peoples.” We are challenged to use our faculties to embrace the love of Christ by expanding our perspective of God as one who redeems.
• “To let him reign in our minds, which must assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths, and to the doctrines of Christ.” Since our mind is the engine room of the body, we are expected to set our minds on the things that are in heaven (Cf. Col. 3:1-4).
• “To let Christ reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. It is impossible to please the King if our wills do not go in tandem with God’s. This includes the will to do good and remain faithful.”
• “To let him reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires, and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone.” Bearing in mind that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth flows” (Mat.12:34), we are charged to use this event to preoccupy our hearts with lofty and holy thoughts by always gazing on God and;
• “To let him reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for interior sanctification of our souls, or instruments of justice unto God as Saint Paul would say.” Since our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are charged to seek the reign of God in our bodies by offering our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-5) acceptable unto the King (God).
The celebration of Christ the King reminds us about St. Augustine’s popular phrase in his seminal book, The City of God namely, City of God and City of Men. The implication of this thesis is that while God controls the affairs of men in both heaven and earth, human beings are sadly preoccupied with mundane interests as though they created themselves. The lesson is clear – This event calls us to relive our baptismal commitment by embracing God’s kingship over our lives as sons and daughters who share in the priestly, kingly and prophetic mission of Christ. May the Eucharistic adoration and joyous chants associated with this celebration enrich our faith both now and forever.
• Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.