The Solemnity Of Our Lord Jesus Christ The King
The Solemnity of Christ the King permanently replaces the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time in all three liturgical years, A, B, C. Originally this celebration of Jesus’ kingship was set on the last Sunday of October. When Bl. Pope Paul VI, 1963-78, reformed the liturgical calendar, this celebration was moved to the last Sunday of the Year of Grace. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in response to widespread secularism and atheism. No doubt he had in mind the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1918 – the major movement of godless secularism at that time.
On this Solemnity, we celebrate the rule of Jesus over individuals, families, society in general, over governments, and over the universe. We proclaim Jesus as king who gained his kingship over all through the shedding of his blood on the cross and through his resurrection.
The Preface of today’s Mass summarizes the meaning of this festival. The Preface begins as always with an expression of thanksgiving to God as “Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.” Why do we sing our gratitude? Because “by offering himself on the altar of the Cross…, he (Jesus Christ) might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption, and making all created things subject to his rule, he might present to your majesty an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” One can say that such a kingdom or rule has not been accomplished. It has indeed been accomplished but remains to be worked out in all creation, beginning with each one of us. This kingdom exists as a life-giving stream of God’s grace, but we have to tap into it. That we consistently strive to do this is our daily petition in the Our Father, calling on us to do our part in bringing this kingdom into earthly realization, as we pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done (now) on earth as it (already) is (done) in heaven.”
The gospel selection for Christ the King is Matthew 25:31-46. It is the parable or symbolic representation of the Last Judgment. It also completes Matthew’s version of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew begins, “Jesus said to his disciples…” The meaning: Matthew addresses his Christian Community in a catechetical lesson framed as a warning and as a consolation, depending on how his people are living or not living their Christian faith. Jesus is present as “Son of Man,” a title derived from Daniel 7:13. In that passage we read, “Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man (a human being). He came to the Ancient of Days (God)…, and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages shall serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” This description of the kingdom given to Daniel’s figurative “human being” makes the title “Son of Man” most appropriate for Jesus as Christ the King.
With the assistance of the angels of the Son of Man, “all the nations will be assembled before him.” This is universal judgment, for the Son of Man is ruler not just of Christians, but of all humankind whether they know it or not. A separation takes place “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Sheep were regarded as the more valuable animals, so they go to the right, goats to the left (with due apologies to all lefties). “Shepherd” is the second title of Jesus in this parable. He gets down to business quickly. First, those (of all nations) who are on his right are greeted with the ultimate beatitude, “Come you blessed of my Father.” How does the Father bless them? As his family, his own adopted children – “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”
Why does the Father bless them? They engaged in what catechisms call the corporal works of mercy, good works that affect the human body. Food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, nurturing the sick, visiting the imprisoned.” (It should not take long to realize that good parents are prime examples of providing these needs for their children, even to children still in the womb.) The remarkable revelation contained in this catechetical lesson is in the “I”. “When I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was a stranger, when I was naked, when I was ill, when I was in prison.” Matthew the scribe displays his keen mind, when he depicts those on the right, (here called “the righteous”), addressing Jesus with a third title, “Lord, when did we see you in these unfortunate circumstances?” Matthew introduces a fourth title of Jesus, “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers (and sisters), you did for me.” Thus the author catechizes his congregation in what came to be called the Mystical Body of Christ.
Time for the goats! The Son of Man, Shepherd, Lord, King begins with an awesome curse, “Depart from me you accursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” No kingdom to inherit this time, only the negation of a kingdom. Damned for what reasons? Again those corporal works of mercy. They neglected to do for the needy and therefore neglected to do them to their Judge. “When I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill, imprisoned, you did not care for me.” The goats too, just like the sheep earlier, seem puzzled by the I and the Me. This time the answer is negative, “Amen, I say to you, as long as you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” The meeting breaks up. Judgment is complete. No appeals! Sheep to eternal life. Goats to eternal punishment. Recall that all humankind was judged, not just Christians. Even the sheep were surprised at the connection between the needy and their Judge. Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei, “Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others, is already drawing near to God.” There are anonymous Christians in all nations.