On the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This relatively recent addition to the Church calendar, established in the 20th century, holds a profound purpose—to acknowledge the dominion of our king, Jesus Christ, over all of creation and every aspect of our lives.
We understand the kingship of Christ to mean that Jesus has authority over all creation. This authority is based on his identity as the Son of God and in his work of redemption. He is a king who serves, sacrifices, and redeems—a ruler who establishes a kingdom not by military might but by love, justice, and the ultimate sacrifice of himself on the cross. His resurrection is the vindication of his kingship and his ascension as his enthronement.
A Present Reality and Future Home
The belief in Christ as King finds its roots in the Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, whose reign exists as both a present reality and a future hope. In the here and now, his reign manifests in the lives of believers who seek to live under his lordship. But the Feast of Christ the King also carries a sense of eschatological anticipation, signaling the ultimate culmination of time when the reign of Christ is fully realized. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians,
God has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. – Philippians 2:9-11
The church calendar perfectly positions the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the liturgical year before Advent begins. We end the year triumphantly proclaiming Christ as King and start the new liturgical year earnestly waiting and praying for the ultimate triumph of Christ at the end of time.
The Origins of Christ the King
The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to the Western liturgical calendar. Its roots trace back to the 20th century when Europe was grappling with the aftermath of World War I. The war had ravaged Europe, leaving destruction in its wake. The loss of life was more significant than in any previous war in history. It is estimated that 20 million people died, and 20 million more were wounded. Governments teetered on the edge of economic collapse, and unemployment soared. In some places, people were on the brink of starvation.
The war ushered in significant political and social changes. Secularism was on the rise, and traditional institutions, including both monarchies and the Church, were facing challenges from emerging political ideologies like communism and fascism.
The old world, with its established social and political orders, was disintegrating. Pessimism and a sense of helplessness infected the people, exacerbated by the bitterness between nations. In this fertile ground for tyranny, figures like Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin began to rise. In their distress, the people gravitated to anyone who could offer them hope.
In this climate of despair, Pope Pius XI saw people turning away from Christ, seeking hope, guidance, and sustenance from emerging dictators. Amid this shift, there was a growing inclination to relegate morality and the Church’s teachings to the annals of history, deeming them irrelevant in the modern age. In this modern worldview, Christ might be accepted as a historical figure but had no place in modern life.
Establishing the Feast
Recognizing that people were turning their backs on Christ in favor of secularism, materialism, and the false promises of tyrants, Pope Pius XI knew he had to act. In 1925, he issued his encyclical letter “Quas Primas” and established the Feast of Christ the King. His motivation was clear: to reaffirm the kingship of Christ, emphasizing that Jesus holds ultimate authority over all aspects of human life, including the political and economic realm. Pius intended the feast to counteract the secularization and atheism of the time, boldly proclaiming that Christ’s kingdom transcends worldly powers. Through it, he called on the faithful to consecrate themselves to the lordship of Jesus, reminding them that Christ must reign in our minds, wills, and hearts and that they must love God above all things and cleave to him alone.
Christ the King of Today
Our world today is not so very different from the world of Pope Pius XI. Peace remains elusive, political, social, and economic orders continue to falter, and most nations reject the kingship of Christ in their lives. The Feast of Christ the King remains as relevant today as it was in 1925.
As we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, let us embrace the reign of Jesus in every part of our lives, and let us hold fast to the promise that he will come again in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
And so we make our prayer,
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Well before the establishment of Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent was known as “Stir Up Sunday.” “Stir Up Sunday” is an informal term that gets its name from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 (and subsequent editions).
“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Stirring Up Plum Pudding?
Because of the beginning words of the collect, it was traditional in England to stir up Christmas plum puddings on Stir Up Sunday. Christmas plum puddings were made in advance so that they could mature before being served on Christmas (supposedly, they do not spoil because of their high alcohol content).
Plum pudding is a misnomer since no plums are used. The “plum” in plum pudding was a generic term for any dried fruit, most commonly raisins and currants. Traditionally, the pudding consisted of thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and his disciples and was always stirred from East to West in honor of the three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus from the East. The pudding represents all of the good things of heaven that Christ brought to mankind.
Every family member stirred the pudding and made a Christmas wish. They added a coin to the ingredients and cooked in the pudding. According to tradition, the coin would bring wealth to whoever found it on their plate on Christmas Day. After making the pudding, they would put it away until the feast of Christmas. Then, they would pour warmed brandy or rum over the pudding at the Christmas feast and set it ablaze. Finally, they brought the flaming pudding to the dinner table and served it as soon as the flame burned out.
Ways to Celebrate Christ the King Sunday
Read Revelation 17:14 and I Timothy 6:11-16. Discuss the difference between worldly kings and Jesus as King. What would it mean to make Jesus King in our lives?
Make paper crowns or go to Burger King and get some of their crowns to wear.
Make a pork crown roast or chicken a la king.
Have a feast fit for a king. Dress in your fanciest clothes, set the table with your best dishes and linens, and serve “kingly” dishes like Chicken A La King or Crown Roast.
Listen to the hymn “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” or “Crown Him With Many Crowns.”
Make little paper crowns and put them on your statues or icons of Jesus.
Make a plum pudding.
Make a Christ the King Pound Cake. What could be better for Christ the King Sunday than a golden pound cake shaped like a crown?