The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe

By Monique Sammut | November 26, 2017
The Liturgical Year Ends

The Solemnity of Christ the King is the final Sunday of the liturgical calendar – the last Sunday of Ordinary Time.  The season of Advent begins the following Sunday.  In the Catholic Church it is a Solemnity and a Holy Day of Obligation and priests wear white.

The purpose of this feast is to draw our minds and hearts closer to acknowledging the authority and sovereignty of Christ in a society that often forgets or denies His power and kingship.  The reign of Christ does not refer to an earthly power but a divine one.  There are many references to Christ as King in the Bible.  In Revelation (19:16) Jesus is referred to as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

In John 18:33, 36-37 the divine authority of Christ is made clear:

[Pilate] said to [Jesus], “Are you the King of the Jews?”  … Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” … 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.”

Modern Origins

The Solemnity of Christ the King is a newer feast in the Catholic Church because it was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI following World War I.  Communism, atheism, and secularism were on the rise and the Pope wished to emphasize the authority and sovereignty of Christ.  The solemnity was not officially celebrated until October 31, 1926.  The original date of the feast was supposed to be Halloween, right before the feast of All Saints’.  It seemed fitting to celebrate the triumphant King right before All Saints’ day.  In 1969, Pope Paul VI gave the feast an official title calling it The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe and moving it to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which often falls in November.

The purpose of this solemnity is best expressed in the words of Pope Pius XI:

“When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace, and harmony.”

A Feast for All

Many people celebrate this Solemnity – Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians.  In the Protestant Church of Sweden, the day is known as “the Sunday of Doom” or “the Return of Christ” because a large emphasis is placed on the second coming of Christ.

Commemorating the Solemnity of Christ the King

There is a plethora of artwork commemorating Christ as King.  He is often depicted with a crown of thorns and/or a crown of victory.  He is often seated on a throne, holding a scepter and orb, dressed as a king in majestic clothing.  Many times he is depicted holding a cross and/or the world.

The tallest statue of Jesus in the world is the Christ the King statue in Poland which is even larger than the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Alleluia, Sing to Jesus!”

There are countless songs commemorating Christ as King!  Here are just a few: Alleluia, Sing to Jesus; At the Name of Jesus; Come Christians Join to Sing; Crown Him with Many Crowns; Praise my Soul the King of Heaven; To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King; and Rejoice the Lord is King.

The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah is a beautiful work that includes the phrase from Revelation – “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  And He shall reign for ever and ever.”  Rob Evans, the Doughnut Man, sings a simpler version of this song that is much easier for children to learn.  Children may also enjoy the repetitive but beautiful song, “Our God Reigns.”

Traditions for the Solemnity of Christ the King

There are many ways to celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  Some parishes have beautiful Eucharistic Processions followed by Exposition and Benediction.  Some families have a special dinner to celebrate the Solemnity and make a cake in the shape of a crown (using a Bundt pan).  The Novena to Christ the King can be prayed 9 days before the feast day in preparation for the Solemnity and the Litany to Christ the King can be prayed at any time but especially on the Solemnity itself.

Long Life Christ the King!

November 23 is the Feast of Blessed Miguel Pro, a martyr during the Mexican Revolution.  He died with his arms extended in the shape of a cross and his last words were, “Viva Christo Rey!” which means “Long Live Christ the King!”  This was the motto of the Cristeros, the Catholics in Mexico who braved persecution to recognize the authority of Christ.  Since the Solemnity of Christ the King does not occur on the same day every year the two do not always coincide perfectly but often occur very close together.

He Shall Reign Forever

On the Solemnity of Christ the King, it is important to remember, that Christ is King not only of the universe but also of our hearts and homes.  He is a just King, but He is also loving and merciful and will be with us until the end of time.  Jesus is the king that came to save us from our sins.  During Advent we await the coming of the infant King – the son of God born in Bethlehem to free us from our sins.  He is a king of love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness who comes to lead us to the truth and to eternal life.  Jesus is a King who teaches us to serve with humility and gentleness – “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).

Christ the King of the Universe – have mercy on us and on the whole world!  Viva Christo Rey!