The doctrine of the Kingship of Christ has been relegated almost entirely to a claim about the private commitment of individual believers to live according to the Gospel, and surely, while this is where our Lord's kingship must always begin, it cannot be where it ends. As Pope Pius XI's encyclical Mortalium Animos warns against a relativistic conception of ecumenism, so does the same Pope's encyclical Quas Primas warn against a narrow subjective conception of the reign of Jesus Christ, who is, in fact, whether we acknowledge it or not, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Judge of the living and the dead, the One who can and should reign in the social, cultural, political and economic spheres. He has reigned thus before; and if He does not now reign, that is not to our credit, but to our shame.
All this has been on my mind as I ponder the magnificent Gregorian propers for the feast of the Epiphany -- chants that bring the exceptionlessly comprehensive Kingship of Christ very much to the fore, to be pondered, loved, and longed for. Of course, most Catholics no longer hear these or any songs that convey the traditional doctrine, but -- blessed be God! -- Catholics who attend the usus antiquior Mass today, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, will hear these propers spoken or sung. They are always used in the classical Roman Rite because the Church of Rome always believes and professes one and the same doctrine.
Let us bask in the radiance of the Epiphany of the Lord, deepening our understanding of the mysteries with the help of Dom Dominic Johner's masterful The Chants of the Vatican Gradual. Here is his commentary on the Introit and the Offertory of the day:
INTROIT (Mai. 3: 1)
Behold the Lord the Ruler is come: and kingdom is in his hand, and power and dominion. Give to the King thy judgment. and to the King’s Son thy justice.
Over this melody must be inscribed the words: majestic, sublime! Like a king’s mantle it spreads itself over the text. … One seems to see the ruler making his formal entrance, letting his diamonds sparkle. … Wagner calls attention to the fact that this entire melody is composed of undulations, each of which attains its melodic summit on the accented syllable of the principal word: Ecce advenit—domindtor Dominus—et regnum in manu ejus—et potestas—et imperium. How the centuries watched for the arrival of this King and how ardent were their longings! How often have not the prayers and chants of Advent cried: Veni Domine! What a height did not these yearnings attain in the great O-antiphons immediately preceding the feast of Christmas! Even on the Saturday of Ember Week in Advent this cry was wrung from the heart of the Church: “Come, O Lord, and show Thy face to us, Thou that sittest upon the Cherubim: and we shall be saved”; this Veni acts as a prelude to our Ecce.
Now the sighs have been heard and the longing has been stilled. Now we hear re-echo throughout the land: “Behold the Lord the Ruler is come.” But He does not come empty-handed. He bears kingdoms in His hands: the kingdom of truth and of grace and the guarantee for the kingdom of glory. He gives us a share in His power. He gives us the power to become children of God and therefore co-heirs of His kingdom. If today kings, princes in the realm of knowledge and research, find no rest until they come to Him, until they prostrate themselves before Him, humble their intelligence and will under His scepter, and with an earnest faith adore Him, the Child, then we see how this Babe reveals Himself as a royal Ruler, how He captures the hearts of men and fills them with happiness.
The psalm-verse emphasizes the judicial power of this King in the form of a wish. Still more does Psalm 71—the royal psalm—show how Christ is the advocate of the poor, how He bestows peace and bread and rich blessings on them, how He reigns over all nations and all times, how all the peoples approach to pay Him homage. … The Ruler comes, not to place burdens upon our shoulders, but to relieve us of them and to place them upon His own shoulders, as the Apostle says: “Who His own Self bore our sins in His body upon the tree.”
OFFERTORY (Ps. 71: 10, 11)
The kings of Tharsis and the isles shall offer gifts: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring presents: and all the kings of the earth shall adore him, all nations shall serve him.
In our mind’s eye we see an almost interminable procession of those bringing their presents. The Magi from the East have found and still find numerous emulators. These are souls who do not fall short of the “kings” in readiness and joy of sacrifice, in their royal disposition; souls who offer everything they have and are as a sacrifice to Christ, who are a living holocaust, who constitute a perpetual act of adoration. Their sacrifice unites itself with the Eucharistic Sacrifice like the drop of water which the priest mixes with the wine in the chalice at the Offertory. Then comes the Consecration. In Holy Communion Christ Himself becomes their sacrificial food, their wedding banquet. For in these gifts, as the Secret prays, “are offered now no longer gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but He whom those mystic offerings signified is immolated and received: Jesus Christ...”
This Offertory has two parts consisting of two phrases each, which represent a grammatical parallelism. The first part speaks of the sacrificial action which kings of particular countries perform, the second of that of all kings and of all nations. The first refers rather to the external act, while the second refers to its spirit, the act of adoration. … The kings come not to show their power, not to conquer countries and to subject peoples, but to submit to the yoke of Christ, to adore Him, and to serve Him.