I once heard a Tridentinist priest give a lecture complaining about how the 1969 revisions to the liturgical calendar had moved the Solemnity of Christ the King from the last Sunday before All Saints’ to the last Sunday of the entire liturgical year, just before the beginning of Advent. He lamented the fact that such an important feast had been relegated to the end of the year, as if the divine kingship it celebrates was of as much importance as a footnote.
This struck me at the time as a good example of Catholic traditionalism picking a fight for its own sake, and further reflection on the issue has convinced me just how wrong he was. His argument about the ultimate significance of this solemnity was absolutely correct; but it is that very significance that makes it so appropriate to observe it on the ultimate Sunday of the ecclesiastical year.
Here we stand, just before Advent and the return of the eternal promise (both fulfilled and expected) of the Incarnation, celebrating the eschatological wonder of the Kingdom of Heaven, among us now as the Church and awaiting us in the New Jerusalem. This is apocalyptic stuff, and it is celebrated at the end of every year because all those doomsaying monks, prophets, and old men of every generation were right, in a way: we are constantly living at the end of time. We have a responsibility to usher in the promise of the end times, to fight against the corrupting trends that reject the dominion of God-on-Earth. In modern times, the Vendeans in France and the Cristeros in Mexico seized upon this idea in their struggles for the Faith in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. But our call in the West of the twenty-first century is not a literal call to arms, but a call to recognise, as Christ says in the Gospel of Saint Luke, that ‘the kingdom of God is within you.’ This does not mean quiescence, doing the best we can as individuals, but rather a recognition that the kingship of Christ depends upon our own morals choices lived out in community. We must accept the difficult challenge of balancing the need for justice made real in our governments, our markets, and, most importantly, our homes and neighbourhoods with the reality of a fallen world where perfect justice will never be completely achieved until the sheep are separated from the goats. Christ’s kingship does not and cannot rest on human power, but God does choose to use human beings to accomplish His divine designs. We must live in the world, empowered by the spirit of baptism, as bailiffs (to use a medieval analogy) of Christ the King, while remembering that sinful men, ourselves included, will fail in our pursuit of the good. But this must not discourage us from the chase, as we, with our neighbours, Christian or non-Christian alike, work together in our quest for our heavenly homeland.