Each year Holy Church presents to us the history of salvation, from Creation to the Lord’s Coming (His First and also His Final Coming). At this time of year, as we move in the Northern Hemisphere into the darkness of autumn and winter, as we head toward the end of the liturgical year, we more and more in the Church’s liturgy consider the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. This feast reminds us that the Lord Jesus is indeed coming and that He will not come as “friend” or “brother” or “gentle shepherd” with hugs and a fluffy lamb on His shoulders. He will come as King and our Judge. The Dies Irae prayed at Requiem Masses identifies Christ as “King of Fearful Majesty” and “Just Judge”. He is of course a King and Judge of mercy to those who submit themselves to His rule.
What will His coming be like? Not with hugs and fluffy lambs. Will it be all trumpets and angels with harps and banners? Consider the description of His Coming in 2 Peter 3: 10-12 (Douay-Rheims):
“But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up. Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness? Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat?”
Christ Jesus will judge us all, dear friends, and submit all things to the Father (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). Having excluded some from His presence, our King, Christ Jesus, will reign in majestic glory with the many who accepted His gifts and thereby merited eternal bliss.
In the post-Conciliar, Novus Ordo calendar, the Solemnity of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, just before Advent begins. In the traditional Roman calendar it falls on the last Sunday of October. The feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, as Pius Parsch says in The Church’s Year of Grace, to “renew in the minds and hearts of the faithful the ancient concept of Christ as divine King who, enthroned at the right hand of the Father, will return at the end of time in might and majesty.” It also falls during October, a month of celebration for Communists, who impose radical atheistic materialism. The different editions of the Missale Romanum give different emphases to this feast, though both look to the end times and the definitive coming of Christ’s Kingdom.
Since all of the prayers are of relatively modern origin, those for the older, traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo both written in the 20th century, we can dispense this week with abstruse references to 9th century sacramentaries. I am sure you will miss them.
The change made to the Collect for Christ the King in the Novus Ordo is a good example of the change in theological perspective from the older form of the Roman Rite to the newer.
I want to put the three main orations of the older, traditional Missale Romanum along with those of the so-called Novus Ordo. We will forsake the Latin this time as well as vocabulary from the never to be neglected Lewis & Short Dictionary. Since the1973 lame-duck ICEL versions don’t convey what the Latin really says, I will dig into the WDTPRS archive for our own slavishly literal renderings of the prayers. For the translations of the older prayers, we can use the version in the beautifully bound hand missal from Baronius Press, The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual (2007).
What is the point of this exercise? Let’s see what theological changes were made to the feast by the reformers. How we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe: change the prayer and you change the belief.
OLDER COLLECT (1962MR)
Almighty and everlasting God,
who in Thy beloved Son,
the King of the whole world,
hast willed to restore all things,
mercifully grant that all the families of nations
now kept apart by the wound of sin,
may be brought under the sweet yoke of His rule.
In this Collect Christ is King “of the whole world” (Latin: universorum Rex) and the goal is that all nations be brought under His “yoke”, His rule. The “yoke” from the Latin word iugum, is a symbol of subjugation. The ancient Romans made conquered armies pass under a yoke as a sign of their status.
NEWER COLLECT (2002MR)
Almighty eternal God,
who desired to renew all things
in Your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
that the whole of creation, having been freed from servitude,
may zealously serve Your majesty and praise You greatly without end.
The first part of the prayer is the same as the older version, as you can see even from the different translations. In the second part, however, instead of a reference to “nations”, we hear of “the whole of creation”. Instead of “nations” being subjected to the King, “creation” is freed from the bondage caused by the Fall and sin. In the older prayer there is an emphasis on this world, probably because of the rise of atheistic Communism. In a sense, the older prayer has strong political overtones. The newer prayer has in mind the Prince of this world, the Enemy who dominates material creation until the end times, when Christ will return. Both prayer have an eschatological vector to them, however. They both aim at the ultimate triumph of Christ.
OLDER SECRET (1962MR)
O Lord, we offer Thee the Victim of man’s redemption:
grant, we beseech Thee, that Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord,
Whom we are immolating in this sacrifice,
may Himself bestow on all nations the gifts of unity and peace.
Once again we see the emphases on “nations”, meaning not just the Gentiles, or non-Jews, but on the actual nations of the earth. Furthermore, the Latin has “nations” capitalized, “Gentes”.
NEWER SUPER OBLATA (2002MR)
O Lord, offering to You the victim sacrifice of the reconciliation of humanity,
we are praying submissively that Your Son Himself
will grant all peoples the gifts of unity and of peace.
Again, the first part of the prayer is same as the older. In the Latin there are minor changes, but it is effectively the same. The second part, however, shows the theological change desired by the snipping and pasting experts of Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium. In the older prayer there is an explicit appeal to “sacrifice” with also a strong verb “immolate”. This sacrificial language was removed from the newer prayer. But this prayer retains the reference “nations” (gentes).
OLDER POSTCOMMUNION (1962MR)
We have received the food of immortality and beg, Lord,
that we who are proud to fight under the banner of Christ our King,
may reign with Him for ever in His realm above.
There is clear military imagery and language. We have a sense from this prayer that we are soldiers of a Militant Church under a great Captain and King. We have been given food for the march to battle and glory.
NEW POST COMMUNION (2002MR)
Having been remodeled according to the nourishment of immortality,
we beseech You, O Lord,
that, we who glory in obeying the mandates of Christ the King of all things,
will be able to live with Him without end in the heavenly kingdom.
The first part of the prayer and the very last part are essentially the same as they were before the Conciliar reform. The middle part eliminates the military images. Instead of fighting through the victory and glory in heaven, we “live” (vivere) with Him in the heavenly kingdom.
All in all, it is hard to find fault with the newer prayers for the Solemnity of Christ the King, celebrated at the end of the liturgical year. The change of placement of the feast and the change of the theology of the prayers probably reflect the soft approach to Communism adopted by Rome in those years, called ostpolitik, a conscious de-emphasis of triumphant language and imagery. It is as if the writers of the newer prayers did not want to give the impression that Christ was to be accepted as Lord and King by political entities in this earthly existence.