The Church did not celebrate Christmas, at least not liturgically, until the 4th century. The same is true of the great feast of Pentecost. No Marian feast was celebrated by the Church until the 5th century. The martyrs, who willingly laid down their lives for the faith, were not honored with formal celebrations until the 7th century. And the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we celebrated this weekend, was only instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI as a response to totalitarianism in Europe.
It is with some irony that we celebrate the One who refused the title of king throughout his life with a feast called “Christ the King.” The irony deepens as we have just spent the entire year hearing stories of Jesus touching lepers, giving hope to prostitutes, hanging out with tax collectors, washing feet, and being crucified between two thieves and being laid to rest in a donated grave…hardly activities proper to a king.
Presiding over three funerals this past week draws me back to some of the prayers used at funerals and why we need to celebrate Christ as our king. Recall the words toward the end of the funeral mass: “One day we shall joyfully greet him/her again when the love of Christ, which conquers all things, destroys even death itself.” Something will be victorious, namely the love of Christ over and against sin. Or similarly, again at a funeral we hear, “Although this congregation will disperse in sorry, the mercy of God will gather us together again in joy of his kingdom.” Something will be victorious—mercy and joy over and against vengeance and sadness. And finally, some of the last words you hear at a funeral Mass, “Help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brother/sister forever.” Something will be victorious, namely our togetherness, our oneness over and against isolation and separation.
Apart from funerals, many couples as part of their wedding liturgy choose Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:1-8). You know, the reading with all that love stuff: “love is patient, love is kind, love is not boastful or envious…” It concludes with “love will never end.” Something will be victorious—love over and against hatred, violence, and even death.
This something is actually someone, Christ the King. He is the one who comes down from heaven as Emmanuel (God-with-us). He is the one who returns to heaven with the words, “I am with you until the end of time.” This is the only king worth hailing.