WDTPRS: Christ the King (1962MR)

Here is some of my article for The Wanderer for this Sunday, which in the older, traditional calendar, is the Feast of Christ the King, always celebrated on the last Sunday of October.

What Does the Prayer Really Say?   Last Sunday of October – Christ the King (1962 Missale Romanum)

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 older calendar Christ the King fell on the last Sunday of October.  The feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, as Pius Parsch says I 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 in October, a month of celebration for Communists, who embraced a radical atheistic materialism. 

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 is indeed coming and that He will come not so much as “friend” or “brother” or “gentle shepherd” with a fuzzy lamb on His shoulders, but rather 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?  Will it just 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.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
qui in dilecto Filio tuo, universorum Rege,
omnia instaurare voluisti:
concede propitius;
ut cunctae familiae gentium,
peccati vulnere disgregatae,
eius suavissimo subdantur imperio.

That final line is clearly a reference to Matthew 11:27-30:

“All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no one knoweth the Son but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him. Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: And you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” 

The image of the yoke is substituted by imperium.  The ancient Romans would force vanquished foes to pass under a yoke, iugum, as a sign of their subjugation, as if the people passing under it were being transformed into slaves or even beasts of burden.  Christ reverses the humiliation of the worldly yoke, making it into a sign of our freedom from the slavery of sin and the burden of this world.  In the prayer, however, the victorious might of Christ to free us is expressed not by the yoke, but by its opposite, that is imperium, which was the power granted by the Senate and People of Rome to men so that they could legally command armies.  Here, this “imperious” power of command, the power of life and death over the troops and the vanquished alike, is surprisingly paired with suavissimum, “most/exceedingly sweet”. 

We have looked closely at sempiterne in a previous column.  This is the vocative form of sempiternus, a, um.  In philosophy and theology (indistinguishable in ancient times through late antiquity) there has been constant effort to figure out time and God’s relationship to time. Thinkers developed terms such as “sempiternity” to identify a nuance about unendingness or everlastingness.  In this prayer sempiternus is simply the equivalent of aeternus, “eternal”.  Be aware that sempiterne can sometimes say something subtly different from aeterne though in our prayers I suspect that it is often used for the beautiful rhythm it brings to the opening line.

That kingly Latin lexicon, the Lewis & Short Dictionary, shows that disgrego is “to separate, divide”.  In its roots it means to split someone off from the grex, “the herd”.  Dis– is a prefix indicating some sort of separation or opposition.  Think of the English pairs “similar” and “dissimilar”, “facile” and “difficult”, “concord” and “discord”.

This prayer is clearly of more modern composition.  Your first clue to this is that it is wordy.  Ancient Roman Collects are distinguished by their crisp brevity.  It was clearly written by good students of Latin and of rhetoric, since the author uses what we call copia verborum, that is, a variety of words for the same idea instead of simply repeating the same word.  Note the use of three different words for “all”:  universus, omnis, cunctusUniversus, a, um is an adjective and universorum a neuter plural, “all things.”  Since we have another “all things” in omnia, neuter plural of omnis, I will make universorum into “the whole universe.” Cunctus, a, um, is “all in a body, all together, the whole, all, entire”.  It comes from “con-iunctus” indicating that the things involved are connected, “conjoined”.

Instauro is a wonderful word.  It means “to renew, repeat, celebrate anew; to repair, restore; to erect, make”.  It is synonymous with renovo.  Etymologically instauro is related to Greek stauros.  Turning to a different L&S, the immensely valuable Liddell & Scott Greek Dictionary, we find that stauros is “an upright pale or stake.”   Stauros is the word used in the Greek New Testament for the Cross of Jesus.  The word immediately makes us think not only of the motto on the coat-of-arms of Pope St. Pius X, “Instaurare omnia in Christo”, but also the origin of that motto, Ephesians 1:10:

“For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9-10 RSV). 

There have been changes in the Latin texts of this passage, by the way: the older Vulgate of St. Jerome, the so-called “Sixto-Clementine” says “instaurare omnia in Christo” while the New Vulgate says “recapitulare omnia in Christo”.  Recapitulare is related to Latin caput (“head”).  This was considered by the scholars behind the New Vulgate to be a more accurate translation of the Greek anakephalaioô, “to sum up the argument.”  This harks to the headship of Christ over the Body of the Church.  It expresses that He is the Final Statement, the Conclusion of All Things.  At any rate, in 1925 when the Collect was composed, and in the 1962 Missale Romanum when the older version of Vulgate was in use, we prayed instaurare, not recapitulare.

The older Vulgate, going mainly back to St. Jerome’s translation, is named after Popes Sixtus V (1585–90) and Clement VIII (1592–1605), who issued editions of the Latin Vulgate Bible so that the Church would have a unified text in the face of the confusion resulting from the theological revolt of the Protestants.  The Neo-Vulgate, completed in 1979 and issued by Pope Paul VI, was based on a critical edition of Jerome’s Vulgate initiated by St. Pius X in 1907.  A second edition of the Neo-Vulgate was issued in 1986 by Pope John Paul II.  Thus, the Nova Vulgata is the Catholic Church’s official Latin version of the Bible. 

Many “conservatives” have not readily accepted the New Vulgate.  They see it as a “retranslation” rather than a “revision”.  They probably balk at some changes to familiar verses, such as the one I pointed out, above.  However, the New Vulgate is important our consideration of the preparation of a new translation of the Missale Romanum with its lectionary, or book of readings for Mass. Liturgiam authenticam states that the New Vulgate is reference source for biblical translations used in our liturgies.

You might remember that the chief opponent of the Holy See’s guidelines for translation, His Excellency Donald W. Trautman the Erie bishop in Pennsylvania, former head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Liturgy, once claimed that Liturgiam authenticam was a bad document because (as he claimed) the New Vulgate was a flawed translation and that translators of the liturgy should instead refer to texts in the original languages. When His Excellency raised this during a meeting of the USCCB, I believe it was Bishop Arthur Serratelli, now in Paterson, NJ, who made it clear that Liturgiam authenticam really says that the New Vulgate must be used when determining which verses of Scripture are to be translated for the liturgy, since chapter and verse markings differ among ancient manuscripts.   Some reference point is needed.

Almighty eternal God,
who in Your beloved Son, the King of the whole universe,
desired to reestablish all things:
propitiously grant;
that all the families of the nations,
separated by the wound of sin,
may be brought under His most sweet sovereignty.

The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual (Baronius Press – 2007):
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 everything Jesus said or did in His earthly life He was actively drawing all things and peoples to Himself.  In the time to come, when His Majesty the King returns in glory, His act of drawing-to-Himself (cf. John 12:32) will culminate in the exaltation of all creation in a perfect unending paean of praise. 

By virtue of baptism and our integration into Christ’s Mystical Body we all share something of His three-fold office of priest, prophet, and also king.  We have the duty to proclaim His Kingship by all that we say and do.  We are to offer all our good works back to Him for the sake of His glory and the expectation of His Coming.  He must be the King of all that we are and all that we do.  Through total submission to His rule, we mysteriously become kings ourselves even in our lowliness.  We are restored, in a sense, not just to what we lost on the fall of the First Adam.  The Second Adam restores to us even more than we originally rejected.

This glorious restoration (instaurare) is possible only through the Lord’s Cross (Greek stauros).  The Cross is found subtly in the midst of this Collect, where it is revealed as the pivot point of all creation.

WDTPRS aims to help you explore and love more deeply the true content of the prayers of Holy Mass. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. George Festa says:

    Dear Fr Z.
    Please forgive my ignorance, but I would appreciate it if you or some of your readers could explain why my missal goes from the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost to last Sunday after Pentecost. I did do my homework on this and the rubrics are a bit confusing, there are supposed to be a minimum of 2 Sundays after Epiphany before the lenten season, this year there was only one owing to Easter coming very early. After counting the Sundays after Christ the King on the traditional liturgical calendar the math doesn’t seem to work.
    Thank You,
    George Festa

  2. Jordanes says:

    George asked: Please forgive my ignorance, but I would appreciate it if you or some of your readers could explain why my missal goes from the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost to last Sunday after Pentecost.

    There should be up to four additional Masses that can be inserted between the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost and the Last Sunday after Pentecost. My missal shows their propers between the 23rd Sunday and the Last Sunday. If your missal doesn’t show them, probably it was a printing error, but if you look around you might find the pages that show the additional Masses.

  3. George: I should be able to post on that at length later in the week.

  4. Edward P. Walton says:

    The Feast of Christ The King was a good antidote for Reformation Sunday. They both fell on the last Sunday in October.

    The Radio Air Waves used to burn with the most hateful preaching attacking the Catholic Church. Ex-priests used to be invited to preach at certain Protestant churchs. They would advertise the event.

    As a kid,it was always a special time for me as our parish 40 hours always fell on the last Sunday in October.

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