Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands. This ancient anthem is most appropriate for this feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. It reveals to us how it is that Christ is our true king and helps us to understand how this applies to we who are His loyal subjects. For all earthly kings have conquered, reigned, and commanded, but only Christ has done these things in a perfect and salvific way. Let us see how, then, He has brought about these actions.
Christ the King has conquered all the enemies of humanity: sin, death, Satan, ignorance, and error. But He does not accomplish this victory with an army; He does not conquer with myriads of angels or men behind Him storming the battlefield. No, indeed, Christ has won this conquest upon the Cross. Our entrance antiphon points us to this when it declares: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor (Apoc. 5:12). Christ the sacrificial Victim, Christ become the Passover Lamb, is the same Christ who is King. Betrayed by His people, scourged for our iniquities, marched towards the dreaded hill, and nailed to the Cross, Christ shows the way of God in conquest is not through power but through humility and obedience. Saint Paul rejoices in this conquest as he writes to the Colossians: Christ making peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20) so as to bring about the long-sought-after redemption of man from Satan’s tyranny.
Truly, Christ works in opposition to Satan. Whereas Satan worked through subterfuge and deceit, Christ who is the Truth shines for all to see Him. Whereas Satan attacks and attacks again and again, Christ the Lamb is wounded again and again so that we might be healed. And whereas Satan seeks to make himself the highest and the greatest, Christ, who has been King from the very beginning, humbles Himself and becomes a slave. This is how Christ conquers the dreaded enemies: with humility, with obedience to the Heavenly Father’s will, with love.
Having conquered the enemies, Christ now reigns triumphant from His throne. But again, His throne is not the normal earthly seat festooned with jewels and trinkets. The throne of Christ while this sinful world exists is the Cross. His crown is formed of thorns piercing His sacred Head. He appears naked before the world: no royal purple enclosing Him except the purple of His precious Blood, no gold shining from before His Heart except the gold of a holy and perfect life, no courtiers to attend to His need except His sorrowing Mother who can do nothing to abate the pain.
The reign of Christ is not one of a lord above his people, but of God suffering with His people. C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia, has the King of Archenland describe how a king must reign.
For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land. (The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 15 “Rabadash the Ridiculous”)
Indeed, Christ reigns far more humbly than even Lewis himself imagined. He certainly reigns in the glorious moments of life, the celebratory, the wonderful. Yet He also reigns in the most sorrowful, most desperate, most miserable moments. He reigns over the wealthy and the poor, the strong and the weak, the wicked and the good. He reigns over all that has happened, all that is happening, and all that will happen.
Christ reigns over all because He has conquered all. Everything belongs to Him, and nothing can be brought forward which we could truly declare to be free from the reign of Christ. How can this be so, when Christ declares that My kingdom is not of this world? This is because God, in all things, cooperates with man and does not rule by tyranny. Just as He has left the Church as the instrument of salvation in the world and placed authority within men to rule and guide her, so too does Christ give power to man to govern and order his world so as to conform it to God, who is Himself ordered unto perfection. God, St. Paul tells us, hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Col 1:13). This divine kingdom, this divine reign of Christ, is not in competition to the worldly powers, as perhaps Pontius Pilate thought, but is meant to be the true image of how man is to reign, in preparation for the consummation of the world.
Having conquered as a king, now currently reigning over us as king, Christ then commands us as our King. The Latin word imperium signifies the ability to wield authority or having the ability to command another. Is there anyone who has earned this right to authority over Christ? Certainly not, after his triumphant conquest upon the throne of the Cross. Christ has demonstrated to us through His Passion and Crucifixion that the heavenly Father has given Him the imperium over the entire world and over the totality of humanity. When Christ speaks, He speaks on behalf of the Father. When Christ commands, He commands on behalf of the Father.
But the imperium of Christ should not be seen as a subjection or a slavery to God. Rather, it should be seen as an elevation, an entrance into the true freedom desired by the Trinity. Christ does not command like some earthly emperor, but commands as a father commands a son, as a brother commands another brother. He encourages and beckons mankind upwards towards divine intimacy, towards divine union. Every word that He gives in the Gospels is meant to point us towards the reason why Christ came: to bring about the redemption of humanity and to unite us with God. Pope Benedict XVI offered a good reflection on this idea when he said in his pre-papal days: “The Feast of Christ the King is not, therefore, the feast of those who are under a yoke but of those who are grateful to find themselves in the hands of him who writes straight on crooked lines.” (Co-Workers of the Truth, November 30)
Yet, how few there are who listen! How fewer are they who hear and obey! How many instead, join the mockings of the chief priests and Pharisees when they exclaim: Let Christ the king of Israel come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe (Mk 15:32). This modern mockery of the concurrent reign of Christ is what prompted Pope Pius XI to establish this feast in 1925. As the kingdoms fell and modern man believed himself to be the best judge of his own needs, Pius instituted this feast in the hope that “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony” (Quas primas, 1925).
This well-founded hope is still true today. Our nation lies under the crippling effects of moral decay and political infighting, with little hope in either of our political parties or even in the electorate. The western world is paralyzed by moral incompetency, formal atheism, and little resolve to fight the dangers that stand both on the edges (through militant Islam) and within the borders. The Church, too, is not immune to this danger, as the past half-century has shown. Priests and bishops and even cardinals have abandoned the kingdom of God and sought after the praise of men. Yet Christ still commands, Christ still wields the imperium over the Church now just as He has done throughout the centuries and will continue to do so up to and including the last day.
How then are we to honor Christ as the King of all? The Church, in her clemency, grants an plenary indulgence today to those who publicly recite the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Even if we cannot recite this publicly, we can make this act privately, beginning the rejuvenation of the world through our participation in the reign of Christ. We can renew our efforts to follow the commands and the example of Christ the King, reminding ourselves when we gaze upon the Cross that God is in control: not ourselves, not our political leaders, not even our bishops and pope, but Christ the King is at the heart of all operations, and the more we cooperate with His will for us, the more shall we be rewarded in His kingdom.
We must also proclaim Christ’s kingship to the world, even perhaps back to the Church in which so many have forgotten His reign. Our lives must echo those of the saints who gave themselves to Christ, not only the martyrs but all the saints. It is wonderful that this feast of Christ the King occurs before the month of November, which begins with the feast of All Saints and ends with the coming of Advent. November is a time for reflection upon the last things, and this feast helps place those reflections in context. If we do not have Christ as our King, then what shall happen to us on the last day?
Finally, we must remember another crown which God has awarded. There can be no king without a queen. So too does this happen in the heavenly court: Christ the King reigns with the Queen of heaven and earth beside Him. Let us turn to the Virgin Mary our Queen, that she may reveal to us how to venerate and serve her King. As we conclude the month of the Rosary, let us offer those beads to her so that she may form of them a magnificent crown with which to crown the King by our works and our prayers. Pray to her that we may become more loyal subjects of the King in this life, so as to merit the reward of the King in eternal life. May Christ conquer, may Christ reign, may Christ command upon us all that we need to venerate Him as King and to share in His Kingship in the glory of heaven.