ChurchYear.Net logo

Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King Sunday History, Information, Prayers, Resources, Traditions, & More

Christ the King Sunday Definition and Summary

Christ the King Sunday celebrates the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of the cosmos. 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. In 2013, the feast falls on November 24th. Prayers: Christ the King Prayers

Basic Facts

Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation
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
Scriptural References: Psalm 23; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Introduction

Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 for the universal church in his encyclical Quas Primas. He connected the denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism. At the time of Quas Primas, and 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 dictatorships in Europe, and saw Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders. 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 most needed. In fact, it is still needed today, as these problems have not vanished, but instead have worsened.

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, 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
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 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:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, NAB).

and

Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"... Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world,to testify to the truth (John 18:33b, 36-37).

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).

History

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with 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

Christ the King Sunday Prayers and Collects
Ordinary Time Prayers and Collects

Christ the King Art, Photos, and Images

Last Judgment icon
Last Judgment (Michelangelo)

thumbnail
Christ the King Dome (D. Bennett)

thumbnail
The Crucified King (Black & White) (D. Bennett)

More Liturgical Artwork

Traditions, Symbols, & 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 "Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, NAB).

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. See Christ the Crucified King: Reflections on Christ the King Sunday by Jonathan Bennett for more on these themes.

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.

Christ the King Sunday and Church Year Books

Holy Bible: New Jerusalem Bible
Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Cross and Livingstone, eds.)
New St. Joseph People's Prayer Book
The Study of Liturgy (Jones, ed.)
Spirit of the Liturgy (Ratzinger)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
More Christian & Church Year Books

General Links

All About Ordinary Time
Christ the Crucified King Jonathan Bennett
Encyclical Quas Primas Pope Pius XI
Christian and Church Year Books

About and Contact

To learn more about us, click here. If you have any suggestions or information you would like to add to our Church Year. Net pages, please contact us.

This page written by . Last updated 11-18-2013.



Report Offensive Ad
Privacy Policy

twitter

ChurchYear.Net Blog

Church Year. Net Basic

Ancient & Future Catholics

Liturgical Dictionary

Site Map

Contact Us