I learned something interesting about the church year in church this morning!
The final Sunday of the church year prior to the first Sunday in Advent marks the end of the season after Pentecost. Many churches celebrate it simply as the Last Sunday of the Church Year (for obvious reasons), or occasionally as the Sunday of the Fulfillment. I remember when I was a child, this Sunday was referred to as “Christ the King Sunday,” but that seems to have fallen out of favor in the LC-MS, and most churches reverted back to just marking the Last Sunday of the Church Year. Our church, however, did celebrate Christ the King Sunday this morning, and I learned where the occasion came from! In the aftermath of World War I, in 1925, the Catholic Church celebrated a Jubilee Year, and Pope Pius XI established the celebration in the encyclical Quas Primas in response to, among other things, growing nationalism and secularism around the world:
…”We lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these…”
As the name suggests, this church day emphasizes Christ as King of not a single country, or even denomination, but of all. Why set aside a specific day for this celebration?
“For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever. The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life….History, in fact, tells us that in the course of ages these festivals have been instituted one after another according as the needs or the advantage of the people of Christ seemed to demand: as when they needed strength to face a common danger, when they were attacked by insidious heresies, when they needed to be urged to the pious consideration of some mystery of faith or of some divine blessing.” Quas Primas
Originally the observance was set for the end of October, but was moved to the Last Sunday of the Church Year in 1970. Although it no longer occurs prior to All Saints’ Day as originally intended, it does still fall at the end of the liturgical calendar:
“It seems to Us that We cannot in a more fitting manner close this Holy Year, nor better signify Our gratitude and that of the whole of the Catholic world to Christ the immortal King of ages, for the blessings showered upon Us, upon the Church, and upon the Catholic world during this holy period.” Quas Primas
I knew that this was a fairly recent addition to many church calendars (which may be part of the reason many of our churches have stopped observing it…it’s too “modern” for them), but I didn’t know the origins of it until today, and hearing about it in the context of the growing nationalism in many countries around the world today made it even more impactful!