WDTPRS: Christ the King (2002MR): the elements will be dissolved with fire, the earth will be burned up

We have come back to the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  In the post-Conciliar calendar of the Roman Church this is the Solemnity of Christ the King.  In the older calendar, this is celebrated (with a rather different meaning!) at the end of October.

Each year Holy Church presents to us the history of salvation, from Creation to the Lord’s Coming (the First and also the Final).

Today’s Solemnity is an anticipation of the season of Advent, which  focuses on the different ways in which the Lord comes to us, especially in the Second Coming.

At this time of year (November) we are also considering the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.   We are praying for the Poor Souls in Purgatory in a special way this month.

The Solemnity of Christ the King brings to our attention the fact that the Lord is coming precisely as King and Judge not merely as friend or brother or favorite role-model.

In the great Dies Irae prayed at Requiem Masses for so long (and still today), Christ is identified as “King of Fearful Majesty” and “Just Judge”.

Consider today’s feast in light of what we read in 2 Peter 3: 10-12:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!”

Not exactly hugs and fluffy lambs for everyone.

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.

COLLECT – (2002MR):

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui in dilecto Filio tuo, universorum Rege, omnia instaurare voluisti, concede propitius, ut tota creatura, a servitute liberata, tuae maiestati deserviat ac te sine fine collaudet.

While this Collect is of new composition for the Novus Ordo, it is similar to what was in the 1962 Missale Romanum for this feast with variations in the second part: Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui dilecto Filio tuo universorum Rege, omnia instaurare voluisti: concede propitius; ut cunctae familiae gentium, peccati vulnere disgregatae, eius suavissimo subdantur imperio… “so that all the families of peoples, torn apart by the wound of sin, may be subject to His most gentle rule.”  That’s a different message by far.  Today’s Collect demonstrates the theological shift in many of the Latin prayers in the Novus Ordo.  But that is the stuff of other posts.

Universus is an adjective and universorum a neuter plural, “all things.”  Since we have another “all things” in omnia I will make universorum into “the whole universe.”  Our Latin ears perk up when we hear compound verbs (verbs with an attached preposition like sub or de or cvm).

In our own copies of A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. – (aka Lewis & Short or L&S) we find that de-servio expands the meaning of servio to mean “serve zealously, be devoted to, subject to.”  Col-laudo, more emphatic than simple laudo, means “to praise or commend very much, extol highly.”

You veterans of WDTPRS know how maiestas is synonymous with gloria which in early Latin writers such as Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose and in early liturgical texts, the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod.   This “glory” and “majesty” is God’s own transforming power, a sharing of His life, that transforms us into what He is in an everlasting “deification”.

Instauro is a wonderful word which deserves more attention: “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.  Also the word immediately makes us think not only of the motto on the coat-of-arms of Pope St. Pius X, 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, by the way, some changes in the Latin texts of this passage.  The older Vulgate says “instaurare omnia in Christo” while the New Vulgate says “recapitulare omnia in Christo”.

Recapitulare is related to Latin caput (“head”) and was deemed by the scholars behind the New Vulgate as a better translation of the Greek anakephalaioô, “to sum up the argument.”  This harks to the headship of Christ over the Body of the Church and expresses that He is the Final Statement, the Conclusion of All Things.  At any rate, in 1925 and in the 1960’s when the older version of Vulgate was in use, the Collect had instaurare and not recapitulare.

Why all this about recapitulare?

The phrase, “renew/reinstate all things in Christ” points to the Kingship of Jesus.  In everything that 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 gloria and maiestas this act of drawing-to-Himself (cf. John 12:32) will culminate in the exaltation of all creation in a perfect unending paean of praise.  In the meantime, by virtue of baptism and our integration into Christus Venturus (Christ About-To-Come), we all share in 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.  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 (creatura).


Almighty eternal God, who desired to renew all things in Your beloved Son, the King of the universe, graciously grant that the whole of creation, having been freed from servitude, may zealously serve Your majesty and praise You greatly without end.

The first objective of our participation in the Church’s sacred rites is to praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and give God glory.  This is what we owe by the virtue of religion.

Liturgical and Biblical Latin is rich with words and phrases which exalt and express praise of God.  In fact, the concepts of “glory” and “majesty” are nearly interchangeable in this light.  We, on the one hand, render up honor and glory to God in a way external to God.  On the other hand, glory and majesty are also divine attributes which we in no way give Him, which He has – or rather is – in Himself by His nature.

When we come into His presence, even in the contact we have with Him through the Church’s sacred mysteries, His divine attribute of splendor or glory or majesty, whatever you will, has the power to transform us.  His majestic glory changes us.  This MYSTERY changes us.  So, it is right to translate these lofty sounding attributions for God when we raise our voices in the Church’s official cult.


Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. May all in heaven and earth acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you.


Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe, grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery, may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. disc.s.thom says:

    Whew! I thought for a moment you were trying to re-brand this feast! But, hopefully, Christ the King is, indeed, kind!

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Superb commentary, as usual. Book, please. I have the same picture on my blog today. I think that Americans have trouble with the idea of King, which is too bad. But, we need to understand, as a nation, and as individuals, kings as judges and just rulers.

    Let us hope, pray and work to be good servants of the King so that He recognizes us when He comes again.

  3. pberginjr says:

    I had all of this on my mind today as I wrapped up the Catechism project via flocknote (read the CCC in the Year of Faith via e-mail; it was almost derailed by copyright issues (the USCCB blocking reproduction of the faith again) but Ignatius Press stepped in and allowed the YouCat to be used (I stuck with the CCC), but I digress). The parts I was reading were on the last two petitions of the Our Father which are rather eschatological (something I hadn’t considered before). As I was reading I thought about the relationship between those parts and the time of year we are in (Christ the King/Advent), and now this post reinforces it all.

    Once more thanks for the thorough insight and discussion!

  4. Lin says:

    We have a reproduction of The Last Judgment in our family room that we hand carried home from our first trip to Rome. It is a daily reminder of things to come.

    Our sermon tonight was on kings or lack of?!? When he said our country has never had a king all I could think about was King Obama. No good take away from the sermon tonight. But I did thank God for my faith, my family, and His love!

  5. frjim4321 says:

    Nice! I really liked the comment that this feast of Christ the King draws us into Advent, that is a wonerful insight. Too bad I already have my homily done. I’m used to seeing this as “the end of the LY,” and I’ve been missing the almost gravitational pull from this feast unit the season of Advent.

    My compliments!

  6. Maltese says:

    It cracks me up how my protestant relatives are obsessed with the “end of the world”, the rapture, Tribulation series books, etc. Well, the ‘end of the world’ comes to all of us, even if we aren’t transported into heaven Startrek style! My grandmother even had her bags packed for the ‘rapture’…lol!

    I believe in memento mori. We all die; our bones will eventually dissolve into a fine powder that is carried around in shifting winds. However, if a people start going nuts because of a natural calamity, then I–just for the principle of the thing–will have a rosary in one pocket, but also an AR slung over my shoulders.

  7. In the great Dies Irae prayed at Requiem Masses for so long (and still today), Christ is identified as “King of Fearful Majesty” and “Just Judge”.

    I wonder how many Catholics (and even priests and bishops) know that the Dies Irae is even now listed in the (official Latin) Liturgy of the Hours as the principal hymn for each of the weekdays of the coming final week in Ordinary time. The first third for the Office of Readings hymn each day, the middle third as the Lauds hymn each day, and the final third as the Vespers hymn each day (each with the same concluding verse appended). Certainly, no one who’s only prayed the LOH in the lamentably still not revised ICEL English “translation” (which simply ignores and omits the official LOH hymns) would suspect this.

  8. BigRed says:

    As a recent convert (2003) I consider the Feast of Christ the King to be my anniversary in the Faith. It was on that day that I first assisted at Mass in the Extraordinary Form with the intention to eventually be received into the Faith. Not only was it a Solemn Mass but there was Benediction afterwards. My wife, the Cradle Catholic, whispered to me, “They certainly brought the big guns to bear”.

    I set my hand to the plow and never looked back.

  9. trentecoastal39 says:

    Has Vatican II abolished the Social Kingship of Christ and Why?

  10. slainewe says:

    “[Father] said our country has never had a king.”

    No king save Christ the King.

  11. Priam1184 says:

    @Henry Edwards: I had no idea. Thank you.

  12. Heather F says:

    BigRed! We share a spiritual anniversary of sorts! *Highfive*

    For me it was in the Ordinary Form. But the first mass I ever attended was Christ the King. Same readings as yesterday in the OF, as it was the close of Year C twelve years ago, and I was evangelized that day. I went in a lapsed mainline protestant liberal agnostic, and went out… not quite the same. Came into full communion a year later.

  13. John Nolan says:

    Interestingly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the cross, citing the Greek “stauros” and maintaining that Christ was nailed to an upright pole. I tried to point out to one of them that there is both written and archaeological evidence concerning the Roman punishment of crucifixion, but she wouldn’t have it.

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z, Thank you! I second Supertradmum’s first sentence! I had been wondering about ‘instauration’ and had not managed to find much.

    Fine to see the new ICEL translate both ‘servitute’ and ‘deserviat’ and accent the connection and difference.

    Henry Edwards,
    I have been trying (s0 far, without success) to find out more about Dies Irae as (originally?) an Advent hymn: could you (and/or anyone else) say more about this?

    John Nolan, what do they make of the Alexamenos graffito, which also seems a ‘back-handed’ testimony to the worship of Christus Deus Noster? (I did not think to ask any of them, until after the last time I was discussing with one.)

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