Rorate Caeli

Is the Feast of Christ the King irrelevant today?

Once again we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday in October in the calendar of the Traditional Roman Mass.  This addition of this feast to the Catholic Kalendar is quite recent.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI after the physical and moral devastation of World War I, the war from which Europe never recovered.  The feast was promulgated by Pius XI on December 11, 1925.  It was preceded by his encyclical Ubi arcano Dei consilio in 1922 in which he attributed the tragic state of Europe to “the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to  submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations…In Matthew 28:18 Jesus himself says, ‘all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’  In Revelation 19:16 Christ is recognized as ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.'  Pius XI goes on to exhort the Catholic faithful to put the Kingship of Christ into practice by making Him the center of their lives. 


When we hear these words of the encyclical today, we must admit that there is a real reality gap that yawns between 1925 and 2020.  The gap does not deny the truth of the Pope’s words.  But he could not have dreamed of the deep secularization of the Western world that occurred especially after World War II.  The world in which we live is not only militantly secular: it is becoming openly anti-Christian.  And it is not merely those who are in positions of political and intellectual power who are in opposition to the Christian faith. The opposition also comes from leaders of the Catholic Church that have bought into that liberalism against which St. John Henry Newman fought against his whole life. He said in his Biglietto Speech upon being made a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII these words that ring out to us today in their clarity and admonition:


And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.

It is not an exaggeration at all to speak of the de-Christianization of the West.  In a time when polls determine the basis of what is true, the statistics show quite clearly that the number of practicing Christians has declined dramatically in the past seventy years.  And the beginning of that decline in the United States happened in the period of the 1960s and 1970s.  That decline continues today.  In many dioceses of the United States fewer that 20% of Catholics go to Mass on a regular basis.   Often this is blamed on the clergy sexual scandals of the past decades.  That certainly has been a factor.  But the most important factor is that many Catholics no longer believe in the truth of the Catholic Faith.  The very notion of Christ the King has no resonance with most of our Catholics, even those who still believe in some way.  


The fault for this parlous situation in the Church lies mainly with the failure of the clergy, especially the Bishops, to provide an intellectual and faithful catechesis during times of upheaval and conflict.  In fact it is the clergy who for the past fifty years have led their sheep to a place that is not a land flowing with milk and honey nor the pasture of the Good Shepherd, but rather a place where sentimentality and foolishness and embrace of secularism deny the sublime reality of the Catholic Faith.  And above all, the debasement of the liturgical life of the Church with the imperious imposition of the non-Traditional Novus Ordo Mass on the whole Church has led us to the sad state in which we find ourselves as Catholics. 


In some ways it is a good thing that the pandemic will keep most Catholics at home when the feast of Christ the King is celebrated in the Novus Ordo calendar on November 22, with readings about the apocalyptic bang that too many think of as science fiction.. For they will be spared because of Covid-19 restrictions to have  to admit to themselves that the notion of Christ the King of the Universe makes little sense to them in the world in which they live.  


It is a sorry fact that the feast of Christ the King has inspired some of the worst liturgical art in the history of the Church. There is only one image that images the truth of the Kingship of Christ --  and that is the Crucifix, and one that shows his suffering, his blood and his wounds.


Ave Crux! Spes Unica.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla