All About Christ the King Sunday
Christ the King Sunday Definition and Summary
Christ the King Sunday celebrates the full authority of Christ as King and Lord of the universe. Officially called "The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King," it is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent.
Prayers: Christ the King Prayers
Liturgical Color(s): White
Time of Year: Final Sunday of Ordinary Time (Sunday before Advent)
Duration: One Sunday
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord
Alternate Names: Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, to be celebrated throughout the universal Church, in his encyclical Quas Primas. He connected the increasing denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism throughout much of Europe. At the time of Quas Primas, many Christians (including Catholics) began to doubt Christ's authority and existence, as well as the Church's power to continue Christ's authority.
Pius XI, and the rest of the Christian world, witnessed the rise of non-Christian (or nominally Christian) dictatorships throughout Europe, and saw Catholics being persuaded by these earthly leaders. These dictators also often attempted to assert authority over the Church. Just as the Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was at a low point, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning, when the feast was needed most.
Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were:
1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 31). 2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 32). 3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).
Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme that for many the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be antiquated and possibly oppressive. Some even reject the titles of "lord" and "king" for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be (some kings have been oppressive), these individuals miss the point: Christ's kingship is one of humility and service. Jesus said:
So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45, NRSV).
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"... Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:33b, 36-37, NRSV)
Thus, Jesus knew the oppressive nature of secular kings, and in contrast to them, He connected His role as king to humble service and commanded His followers to be servants as well. In other passages of Scripture, His kingdom is tied to His suffering and death. While Christ is coming to judge the nations, His teachings spell out a kingdom of justice and judgment balanced with radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose "loving-kindness endures forever." Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him. Thus we must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship.
Christ the King Sunday used to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October, but since the calendar reforms of 1969, the feast falls on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, which is the Sunday before Advent. It is fitting that the feast celebrating Christ's kingship is observed right before Advent, when we liturgically wait for the promised Messiah (King).
The earliest Christians identified Jesus as the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word "messiah" and the Greek word "Christ" both mean "anointed one," and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and He did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.
Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and His reign as King is celebrated to some degree in Advent (when Christians wait for His second coming in glory), Christmas (when "born this day is the King of the Jews"), Holy Week (when Christ is the Crucified King), Easter (when Jesus is resurrected in power and glory), and the Ascension (when Jesus returns to the glory He had with the Father before the world was created). However, Pius XI wanted to specifically commemorate Christ as King, and instituted the feast in the Western calendar in 1925.
In the 21st century many Western Christians, Catholic and Protestant, celebrate Christ the King Sunday, including Anglicans and Lutherans. Unfortunately, in some mainline Protestant churches, "king" language is not popular, and the feast is downplayed. However, in a chaotic and unjust world that seems to scorn any kind of authority, many Christians proudly celebrate Christ the King Sunday, where the loving and merciful – and just – king of the universe is praised and glorified.
Worship and Prayer Resources
Traditions, Symbols, and Typology
Traditions and Customs Offering prayers to Christ as King
Symbols Crown of thorns, crown, Jesus on throne, Jesus holding scepter and orb, kingly attire/activities, crucifix
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Isn't calling Christ "King" antiquated and oppressive? I would say "no" on both counts. First, "Christ the King Sunday" has a much better ring to it than "Christ our Democratically Elected Leader Sunday." Joking aside, despite the success and value of a democratic form and government for secular affairs, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a democracy. God does not take opinion polls, nor can He be recalled or voted out of office. This is actually a good thing. We are not dealing with an unjust and petty dictator, but a loving and just king, who is both God and man. While democracy is the best form of government we have at the current time on Earth, sometimes following the will of the people is not a good thing: think Nazi Germany and the Russian Revolution! Better a perfect God ruling the Kingdom of Heaven than imperfect man subject to whims and fads. Throughout history, oppressive kings have also been petty and evil, and this is why a mistrust of "king" language has developed. However, we must recall that Jesus radically redefined the nature of kingship when He said "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45, NRSV).
While the Church has done things in the name of God that are wrong, and Christians of all churches have as well, we can rest assured that the King of the Cosmos is just and merciful, and will be with us until the end of the age. The love, justice, and mercy of Christ liberate us from sin and death, and give us the grace to act with love, justice, and mercy ourselves. Thus the reality of Christ as king is neither antiquated nor oppressive, but timeless and liberating.
2. Is Christ the King Sunday the last day of Ordinary Time? No. Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. The weekdays that follow are also a part of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time ends on Saturday afternoon of that week, since the evening Masses of that Saturday signal the beginning of Advent.
This page written by David Bennett.