This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and I once again I stop and ask myself about the meaning of this important feast, which I personally love very much. As I stop and reflect, I have gathered a few thoughts which I would like to share with you.
Meaning of the Feast. The USCCB website on the Feast of Christ the King gives us the historical and spiritual perspective on the institution of this Feast Day which we celebrate each year on the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar.
This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, the website explains, as a response to growing atheism as well as militant secularist regimes that threatened society during the early twentieth century in Mexico, Russia and parts of Europe. He wrote an Encyclical in which he recognized that attempting to “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law” out of public life would result in continuing discord among people and nations. This solemn Feast Day reminds us that governments are passing and ephemeral, but Christ, who is King of the Universe, will reign as King forever.
The Church invites us to acknowledge Christ’s kingship with our whole lives. Pius XI tells us that Christ must reign in our minds as we acknowledge the true doctrines of Christ and his Church. He must reign in our wills and in our hearts as we embrace God’s precepts and strive to love him above all else. He must also reign in our bodies which serve as “instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls”. What we do in our lives matters to Christ. What we do can either bring about his reign in our hearts, or we can dethrone him in our own home, work and personal schedule.
As is well stated on the USCCB website, sometimes “when our faith is repeatedly marginalized in public life, we can fall into the habit of compartmentalizing our lives. We love Jesus in our private lives, but we shrink from acknowledging the kingship of Christ in social life. When we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, we declare to the world and remind ourselves that Jesus is the Lord of the Church and of the entire universe.” This may seem hard to believe, when we contemplate certain legislative acts. Nonetheless, as Christians, we hold on to the belief that Christ is Lord of Life and History! He has already conquered.
Praying the Feast. “How might I enter more deeply into this Feast?” you might ask yourself. The greatest prayer, par excellence, is of course the Mass. The greatest way that we can celebrate Christ’s Kingship is to come together as a community in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist.
But how can we more deeply contemplate the meaning of this feast in our personal prayer? I would like to offer you a few possible ways of entering the heart of this feast and entering into the heart of Jesus our King.
Icon of Pantocrator – Praying with images
The USCCB website explains how Christ’s kingship is rooted in the Church’s teaching on the Incarnation. While being truly God, Jesus is also fully human. One of the three persons of the Trinity has come down and taken human form and has inexorably united himself to our humanity to reign forever as our King. By reason of the hypostatic union, Pope Pius XI explains, “Christ has power over all creatures”.
The Icon of the Pantocrator of Sinai, one of the oldest Byzantine icons, encapsulates this reality of the hypostatic union (union of the human and the divine natures in the person of Christ). Pantocrator literally means, “ruler of all”. Christ is ruler of all creation by virtue of his union with created matter while not losing his divinity. Take a look at this icon. Icons, as we learn in our Catholic heritage, are “written”, not painted. They are meant to be “read”, not just looked at. We need to educate our mind, our eyes, and our hearts to appreciate the messages they contain.
What message do we “read” here in this image? Many scholars and theologians believe that this icon was “written” to represent the dual nature of Christ. If you draw a line down the middle of the image, you will see significant differences in the left side of the panel compared to the right. If we put a mirror in the middle of the panel and visualize just the left side of the panel as a symmetrical unity, we get what we see in the image on the left below. If we visualize the other half of the face as a symmetrical mirror image of itself, we get what we see on the right below.
Here we have, Jesus, Pantocrator (ruler of all), represented in two natures, but one person. His raised hand that blesses, represents his divine nature. His hand clutching the gospels, represents his human nature. Some also interpret these separate yet unified images of Christ to represent his justice (the book of Gospels that judges us) united with his mercy (his hand that blesses). Jesus, King of the Universe, is both human and divine; he is both just and merciful.
Jesus judges our lives. It is not “un-Christian” to be reminded of this. He sees our lives; he judges our actions… He recognizes whether our daily actions put him at the center of our lives or whether they “dethrone” him. And yet, what a merciful judge he is when we return to him and seek forgiveness. When kids, soccer, hockey, work, friends, social life, or our own personal defects and sins push Jesus aside and place something or someone else on the throne of our hearts… All we need to do is turn back to him and seek his blessing and beg him to take up his place once again in our hearts – and make the needed concrete changes so that he can do so (how can we expect him to reign in society, if he doesn’t first reign in our lives?). His hand is raised and ready to bless us. All he needs is our invitation. The Icon of the Pantocrator so eloquently expresses this reality.
Other ways to “pray” the Feast.
For those who like to pray with song – a nod to St. Augustine who said, He who sings prays twice– here are two versions of the Latin chant often sung at the beginning of the Mass of Christ the King (this “Introit” is a processional psalm-antiphon sung in many churches and can be found here: https://youtu.be/B8z0WikKSPY or here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IVZIMSnPfo). You might decide to pray by listening to the prayerful chant as you reflect on the meaning of the words in English. Jesus, the Lamb, who took on a body to sacrifice his life for us, is at the same time the seat of power, divinity, and wisdom! What a powerful reality. Here is the full text in English:
The Lamb who has been slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor; let glory and dominion be his for ever and ever. Endow the King with your judgment, O God, and the King’s son with your righteousness.
With tradition and Scripture – The Liturgy of the Hours
Another way to “pray” this feast is to pray with the Church that never ceases to pray. The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, “is the daily prayer of the Church, marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer” (USCCB). Certain religious communities and all priests are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. They represent and enact the Church that never ceases praying for humanity.
What a beautiful reality to think that somewhere in the world, the hours of our day are being sanctified by someone in the Church who is praying! This prayer, made up of specific psalms, antiphons and canticles, forms the heart and psyche of the one who prays it, because it is an “objective prayer”, not subject to our feelings or emotions. One who prays the liturgy of the hours knows that he or she is uniting their prayer to the Church who is praying the same prayers. If you feel called to join the Church in prayer today, you may access the liturgy of the hours on your phone by downloading the iBreviary, or you may access part of the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast Day by clicking on the following link http://www.ibreviary.com/m/breviario.php?s=ufficio_delle_letture.
Take time this weekend to reflect on Christ the King. Is he King of your life? Does he reign in your heart? There is no time like now, with Advent around the corner, to reflect on ways to make Jesus more fully the center of your life! God bless you all on this special feast day.
Coordinator of Faith Formation
*Note. If you have a love or even just a curiosity for icons, please take a walk down the church hallway toward the library to contemplate our new “Wall of Icons”, a beautiful display that we have acquired thanks to a generous anonymous donor.