The month of November serves up so many liturgical delights. It begins with the beautiful feasts of All Saints and All Souls, which remind us of the whole communion of the faithful, bound across time and place. Indeed, the entire month of November is set aside by the church as a time to honor the dead and pray for their salvation. The end of the month ushers in the season of Advent, marking the new liturgical year and pointing us expectantly toward Christmas.
In the middle, we have the last weeks of Ordinary Time, themselves a unique treasure. You may notice more apocalyptic-sounding scriptures during these mid-November weeks, offering the opportunity to meditate on the promises of Christ’s second coming and the eternal Kingdom.
A final November gem that I would like to highlight is the feast of Christ the King.
This is a relatively recent addition to the Church’s calendar, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 through his encyclical “Quas Primas.” Since 1970, it has been celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time (this year on November 22), making it something like our Catholic version of New Year’s Eve.
As a new pope, Pius XI witnessed the aftermath of World War I and the fall of several dynastic ruling groups in Europe — the Hohenzollerns, Romanovs, Habsburgs, and Osmans. Involved in diplomacy since early in his career, Pius XI was keenly aware of the rise of both secularism and nationalism during the interwar period, which he believed to be interrelated and deeply concerning. Further, he wrote about economic and social issues percolating at the time, warning against both socialism and unrestrained capitalism as enemies to human dignity. Do these themes sound familiar today?
The feast of Christ the King is the liturgical fruit of the Church’s response to political and social issues of the day. And every election cycle, I am so grateful that it is placed by the Church in November, near to Election Day. As Pius XI observed almost 100 years ago, earthly leaders are never the answer, no matter the question. It is important to select leaders wisely, especially if we are blessed to have a voice in that process. Nevertheless, no king, president or senator can be worshiped as a panacea, and none can rightfully usurp our human freedom and dignity. Only Christ has dominion over us.
The official title of the feast is “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” It’s a bold statement. But unlike much of the political rhetoric of the past few months, it is not hyperbole. Christ rules every corner of this earth and everything out there in the cosmos, known or unknown. It’s all his dominion, now and forever. The reign of Christ has no end. There are neither term limits nor reelection campaigns.
In “Quas Primas” Pius XI writes, “To Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth … He must reign in our minds … He must reign in our wills … He must reign in our hearts.” During this bruising political season, may we all be reminded of this truth and know Christ as our King.