A reflection on the Feast of Christ the King...
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. It is feast-day that leaves me with some ambivalence these days.
When I was growing up, and for most of my life, this day had enormous significance for me. How this came about is because in the city where I was brought up the Feast of Christ the King was celebrated for many years with an enormous procession at my old alma mater, Aquinas College. I don't know how many thousands used to come but our school ovals were turned into parking lots for charter buses from the parishes around Perth and further afield in the countryside and many more came by car. Whereas other cities, such as Melbourne where I later spent a considerable portion of my life placed more emphasis on St Patrick's Day, in Perth our day to "demonstrate" our faith was the Feast of Christ the King.
In my childhood memory this was a day like no other in the annual calendar. It was the Church's way of saying to us that we belonged to some "universal brotherhood and sisterhood". The recitation of the Rosary followed by Benediction was the focus of the procession. All the sodalities and lay apostolates were there marching behind their flags and banners. People set up food and drink stalls and from my juvenile perspective in th days before television and live international telecasts this was the closest I think I came to understanding that my membership of the Catholic Church was not a baptism into some cult or sect but into this massive movement that stretched to all corners of the globe and embraced peoples of all races and locales.
Along with the massive decline in cultural relevance of Catholicism over the later half of the twentieth century, somewhere or other along the line during the twenty-five years I was absent from my home city of Perth, the Feast of Christ the King celebration disappeared. The triumphal archdiocesan celebration was no longer held and this celebration of the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year slipped back into being celebrated as "just another Sunday" at the parish and local level.
For a long while I was saddened by this. In the lead-up to the Great Jubilee Year 2000 I had an opportunity to do something about it as I was serving on the Archbishop's Committee for the Great Jubilee and became one of the most passionate of the members of that committee for resurrecting the Feast of Christ the King procession and making it the major event for our Jubilee Year celebrations in Western Australia. The Archbishop, like myself, also had fond memories of this celebration as it had been presented many decades before at Aquinas College and so much focus went into this endeavour as our way of celebrating the 2000th birthday of Jesus Christ, and Christianity, in our State.
It was during the recording of the following radio commercial to promote that event that the first seeds of doubt were planted in my mind about this feast...
One of my colleagues at the recording session pointed out that the Feast of Christ the King was a "triumphalist" celebration of comparatively recent origin (instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925) and that it was difficult to reconcile Christ as King in this triumphalist sense with the Jesus of the Gospels. Jesus certainly proclaimed a kingdom. But it was not a kingdom of the nature being promoted by this imaging of Christ.
Here's some of the print advertising we produced for this celebration...
Last night, with about ten thousand other people I attended a concert given by Carole King at the Tempus Two winery in the Hunter Valley. There were probably more people at this event than at those Feast of Christ the King celebrations of my childhood. The people at the event last night paid anywhere between $100 and $200 — plus a lot more for the cost of transport and food and wine — for the privilege of being there. The majority of the audience was of my generation — the one that became so sceptical of Roman Catholic triumphalism. In a sense last night's concert was also a "liturgical celebration" for the baby-boomer generation. When Carole King entered into the singing of "I am a natural woman" it was like an anthem. The "congregation" entered into the singing as well. It was an "electric moment". You knew that this woman had "captured" in the words of that song the mood of an entire generation. Is that not what liturgy is supposed to be — rubric, music and poetry that somehow captures and expresses the ultimately inexpressible mysterious yearnings of our hearts and souls?
I wonder if we are able to see in microcosm here some understanding of how the institutional Church has become so far removed from the people it is meant to be serving?
There are about half a million Catholics in Western Australia. About 56,000 of them attend Mass on any given Sunday. One would have thought that it would be relatively easy to have motivated at least the 56,000 to give up one Sunday afternoon in their lifetimes to celebrate the 2000th Anniversary of Christianity wouldn't you? In the end we got about 20,000 to turn up and the editor of the local Catholic newspaper at the time seemed to derive enormous pleasure in discounting that back to about 12,000 as though he were doing Christ, and the Church, some enormous favour.
There are powerful lessons here if only our ecclesial leaders were able to read the signs.
©2006 Tom Scott