Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925.
The world was in bad shape after World War I ended. To come was more — World War II, Communism swallowing several countries, and today’s extreme secularism ruling societies. Pius XI saw — and foresaw — the problems, but most importantly he knew and gave the solution to all these horrendous ills in his 1925 encyclical Quas Primus (On the Feast of Christ the King).
Pius XI instituted the feast as atheistic Communism and socialism were running rampant throughout the world especially in Russia, Mexico, and growing in Spain. In the United States, people were immersed in the Jazz Age and looking to the golden calf of Wall Street. They were not looking at Christ the King.
Sounding up-to-the-minute, Pius XI noted when individuals and states rebel against Christ’s authority, the results are “discord…bitter enmities between nations…insatiable greed… immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage…unity and stability of the family undermined…society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.”
The prescient pontiff wanted the annual feast to have people see the remedy is to recognize and revere Christ’s authority and kingship, clear from Scripture, where we hear in Matthew 25 that Jesus “will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him” at the final judgment — a reality, he said, people must realize.
He said good people can’t be slow, timid or reluctant. “But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter, estranged from Him and would valiantly defend His rights.”
But right from the start, Pius XI reminded these “manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”
The answer? “Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord.”
Highlights of Kingship
Let’s consider a few highlights. Christ is King in many respects. From “King of hearts,” to King of everything. Scripture tells us that over and over again. Pius XI cited examples galore from the Old Testament and then is “even more clearly taught and confirmed in the New. The Archangel, announcing to the Virgin that she should bear a Son, says that ‘the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’”
Many examples include Christ speaking of “his own kingly authority” and in Revelation where Jesus “hath on his garment and on his thigh written 'King of kings and Lord of lords!”
Pius XI also reminded: “Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men.” He quotes from Leo XIII who also wrote, “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”
When people ignore Christ’s Kingship and refuse it, society gets into dire difficulties. So do families and individuals.
Pius XI referred to his earlier encyclical where he had already noted, “With God and Jesus Christ excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”
Restoring Right Order
Next, the Holy Father detailed what good would come of accepting Christ’s Kingship. “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.”
In addition, “If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquility, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent.”
There’s little need at this point to start enumerating the blatantly oppressive laws that are against Christ’s Kingship — such as the anti-life laws that are against all human dignity.
And real peace, the peace of Christ, will come if all nations receive and acknowledge Christ as King. We will see “that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth.”
Pius XI again quoted from Leo XIII: “then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”
If these blessings are going to be “abundant and lasting in Christian society,” something is necessary— “the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood.”
Pope Does His Part
To that end Pius XI explains why he was instituting the Feast of Christ the King. “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.”
He mentioned the “plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities” referring to the rejection of the “empire of Christ over all nations…The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied.” He speaks of some “nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God.” The result? “The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences.”
Individuals aren’t let off the hook because without Christ as King they’re led into “blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.”
Look closely at that last part. Aren’t we seeing this presently in societies with the destruction of the family?
But Pius XI refused to be pessimistic. He answered these attacks with the Feast of Christ the King.
He firmly hoped “the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior,” he explained. “It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result.”
He urged people on although the enemy has gotten bolder in their attacks.
“But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.”
That is the Church Militant — of which we are all a part of while here on earth.
Pius XI explained the annual, universal celebration of “the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.”
He also asked that on this feast mankind would be dedicated annually.
Blessings to Pour Forth
The pontiff listed blessings which would pour out to benefit individuals and societies resulting from publicly venerating the Kingship of Christ.
“Among them, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that in fulfilling the task committed to her by God of teaching, ruling, and guiding to eternal bliss those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, she cannot be subject to any external power.”
Think about today’s attacks on the freedom of religion in our country not to mention those many places where religion, especially Christian, is suppressed and attacked.
The feast will remind nations “that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.”
He certainly was foreseeing what the world was turning to and what the world needed to acknowledge to solve these problems.
It was Christ the King. “He must reign in our minds…He must reign in our wills…He must reign in our hearts…He must reign in our bodies and in our members.”