The recent presidential election here in the United States happily coincided with the start of a new television programme entitled The Crown, which traces the life of Queen Elizabeth II at the time of her marriage, the death of her father, King George VI, and her subsequent accession, as well as the early years of her reign. Themes of duty, honour, and fidelity, are very present and the character of Sir Winston Churchill, then serving his second term as Prime Minister, is at pains to instill in the young sovereign these laudable traits; characteristics that ensure the Crown remains greater than the crowned.
It is not without reason that the Church, on this final Sunday of the liturgical year, celebrates the kingship of Christ. This kingship is exactly that: not bestowed on Christ as an honour or the prize of popular vote, but rightfully his by the very fact that he is, as we affirm in the words of the Nicene Creed, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” Christ is the second Person of the Most Blessed and Undivided Trinity, and one with the Godhead, from whom all good things come. He is “consubstantial with the Father” and coeternal; “born of the Father before all ages.” Thus as God he is rightly honoured as the “eternal monarch, king most high;” the “eternal Priest and King of all creation” (cf. Deus tuorum militum; Preface of Christ the King).
Surely this is a fundamental truth of the Christian religion. The divinity of Christ, and thus his kingship, is not in question. So why does the Church insist on celebrating a particular liturgical commemoration in honour of something that is so obviously a part, already, of our consciousness? Perhaps the events of the past few weeks are a helpful guide.
Through baptism we have become united to Christ. We speak of the Church as the mystici corporis Christi—the mystical body of Christ into which we have been, literally, incorporated. By our union with Christ through baptism we have come to share in his very person, and so also in his threefold office. This office is essential to who Christ is: the fulfilment of prophecy, of priesthood, and of kingship. We participate in this office, and in the characteristics of this office, through our participation in his life. It is for this reason that in the ceremonies of baptism the catechumen is anointed with Sacred Chrism; that same oil used for the anointing of prophets, priests, and kings in holy scripture.
By this union with Christ in the mystical body of his Church, then, we are also subjects of his kingdom. Our earthly task is to maintain and preserve that union by avoiding temptation and sin so that we might come to enjoy for all eternity the kingdom of which he is sovereign. It is for this reason, as we will recall in a few days with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, that his blessed Mother, who was preserved from original sin, passed seamlessly into the realm of heaven; because her union with Christ, her son and Lord, was unbroken and unbreakable.
Yet we are also conscious that we are citizens of an earthly society. We are called to participate in the life of the world by our work and, as we have seen so strikingly in recent months, by our engagement with political action. In many respects this citizenship often seems to take priority in our lives. We might reflect on this by asking, How many hours of political commentary and news do I watch, compared to the time I set aside for prayer? Yet to prioritize our earthly citizenship over the heavenly is foolish. This earthly citizenship is merely temporary whereas our union with the kingdom of Christ that is the kingdom of heaven, is eternal. As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it, we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” and our true home is heaven (Heb. 11: 13).
For this reason the Church gives us this feast of the kingship of Christ in part to bring us back this right understanding of our priorities: to ensure the Crown remains greater than the crowned. We are born into slavery and sin but we are reborn by baptism to liberty and glory in union with Christ. It is that baptismal life that must take the lead if we are to be faithful to Christ and remain faithful, too, to our true native country: the kingdom of heaven.
The twelfth century Peter Abelard puts this sentiment beautifully in his hymn O Quanta Qualia: “Now, in the meanwhile, with hearts raised on high, We for that country must yearn and must sigh; Seeking Jerusalem, dear native land, Through our long exile on Babylon’s strand.” Let us make this desire for the kingdom of heaven our prayer as we come once more to the Eucharistic altar; truly the place where heaven and earth are one. Let us worship here this day that one day we might see fully the court and throne of Christ the King, where “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and where we will join forever in the praises of the saints in honour of Christ the King (Rom. 8: 38-39).