Fit for a King?
The English have a saying: "In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Expressed in the contemporary language of visual impairment, the message is somewhat diluted and potentially less effective. The phrase is deployed to indicate that evaluations of another's ability (or indeed one's own)are invariably, both subjective and relative. By contrast, for those following the novus ordo calendar, today marks the solemnity of the One who surpasses all superlatives: Christ the King.
Some will be aware that this solemnity marks the conclusion of the Church's liturgical year. In a very real sense, it is the Solemnity to which all other occasions in the calendar direct us. In times of conventional observance, the occasion is suitably marked and widely recognised. What is perhaps less well known is the provenance of the Solemnity itself. Still fewer may be aware that the Solemnity was instituted as recently as 1925. Seven years after the Great War and four years ahead of the "Great Depression" and the Wall Street crash. Save for the exceptionally enthusiastic historian, the year may be considered otherwise inconsequential. Yet, it was the year in which Mussolini dissolved the Italian parliament, and Hitler resurrected a then little known political party in Munich. We might well ask therefore: why 1925 and why Christ the King?
The answer is to be found in the person of Pope Pius XI. A cursory review of his biography might suggest his natural inclination was towards scholarship. Yet, during his papacy, he was known to have both a clarity of vision and directness of communication. His papal motto provides some clues as to the source of both: "Pax Christi, in regno Christi." In many ways he might be fairly and objectively considered ahead of his time. Particularly in his condemnation of racism and his emphasis upon the unity of human society. In his encyclical "Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio" he portrayed the state of contemporary society:
"7. One thing is certain today. Since the close of the Great War, individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth, have not yet found true peace ...They do not enjoy, therefore, that action and fruitful tranquility which is the aspiration and need of mankind. This is a sad truth which forces itself upon us form every side..."
Yet, he was not lacking in a solution. In Quas Primas, he observed:
"7. It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of "King," because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign "in the hearts of men," both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his "charity which exceedeth all knowledge." And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father "power and glory and a kingdom," since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created..."
Pius XI was swift to dispel the notion that this was a matter for spiritual engagement alone. His encyclical makes clear that this kingship is of direct practical importance. He stated:
"24. If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities...."
In our own times, we experience an altogether different form of pestilence. Whilst the symptoms may vary, the prognosis is no less threatening or acute. Deprived of participation in the public celebration of the sacraments, we might do well to draw upon the Counsel of Pius XI in identifying both its cause and its remedy. But how? Once more Pius XI provides the answer:
"It will suffice to remark that although in all the feasts of our Lord the material object of worship is Christ, nevertheless their formal object is something quite distinct from his royal title and dignity. We have commanded its observance on a Sunday in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too, free from their daily tasks, may in a spirit of holy joy give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ..."