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Vicar's Musings for Christ the King

20 November, 2016

The Latin collect for today, the Feast of Christ the King, has a rich history going back to the eighth-century Gregorian Sacramentary:

Excita, quaesumus, Domine, tuorum fidelium voluntates: ut divini operis fructum propensius exsequentes, pietatis tuae remedia maiora percipiant: Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

The English translation, published in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, is one of the best known of Thomas Cranmer's collects:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A popular Anglican nick-name for this final feast day of the liturgical calendar, "Stir Up Sunday," derives from Cranmer's poetic translation rather than the tradition that I remember best from my childhood: stiring the mixture for Mum's Christmas cake.

The Feast of Christ the King, as opposed to the collect, is a comparatively modern invention. It was first celebrated on Halloween in 1926, having been instituted the previous year through Quas Primas, an encyclical of Pope Pius XI. The Pope originally intended the feast to fall on the Sunday prior to All Saints' Day, which in 1926 happened to be October 31st. It was not until 1969, when Pope Paul VI revised the feast, that it took its current date and name: "the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe" or "Christ the King" for short.

Pope Pius XI's institution of the Feast was a response to the growing influence of secularisation and atheism in the early twentieth-century; particularly as manifest in the rise of communism and facism. It was a time with some similarities to our current age, where the populous was increasingly attracted to powerful leaders and forceful ideology. Christians were being persuaded to compartmentalize their religion and moral frameworks, giving their highest allegiance to political leaders. In Quas Primas 33 we read:

If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men [and women], purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men [and women], it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone.

It is a message for our time, as much as it was nearly a century ago. Our ruler, and the supreme authority in our lives, draws us gently and powerfully into love not hate, faith not atheism, hope not cynical pessimism and negativity.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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