Sunday, 20 November 2011

Feast of Christ the King (OF edition): on really separating the sheep from the goats!

Today is either the last Sunday after Pentecost (if you are following the Extraordinary Form calendar), or the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe (if you are following the Ordinary Form calendar).

And the reasons behind the selection of the two sets of texts are perhaps worth reflecting on, since they illustrate some of the inherent problems of the modern calendar, and just why the improved Missal, while a good start, is not enough 'reform of the reform'!

In the traditional calendar, the last Sunday of the year is devoted to dire warnings about the end times: the Gospel is Matthew 24:13-25, which speaks of the coming of the 'Abomination' prophesied in the book of Daniel.  One of the key messages is that even believers will go through tough times at the end, being at risk of being led astray by false Christs and more.

The OF Feast of Christ the King, by contrast has at its centre the final judgment, with Christ separating the sheep from the goats (St Matthew 25:31-46).  At first glance, they might seem to have a similar focus.  But in fact, I think the take out message is quite different.  In the context of a rather upbeat focus on Christ's kingship, the listener can perhaps readily decide that they are one of the sheep not the goats - after all, they can surely point to at least some of the good works to their credit listed in the Gospel. 

Worse, the Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17) actually skips over the couple of verses talking about bringing the elect out of the peoples amongst whom they have been scattered (interesting to note that the protestant denominations who follow the more or less unified lectionary actually use the text in full, and add a few more verses on this subject besides!).

And the EF emphasis on not being led astray by false prophets or, to use words from elsewhere, wolves in sheep's clothing, disappears altogether.

Indeed, though the OF feast of Christ the King uses many of the same propers as the EF (though of course these are rarely actually used), this year at least it actually substitutes a quite different Gospel.  The feast as it was established in the twentieth century uses St John 18:33-37, Christ before Pilate.  It reminds us amongst other things, of the suffering and sacrifice that is a necessary prelude to the realization of the kingdom.

Instead, the 1970 revamp of the feast leaves us with a positivelyy triumphalist reinterpretation of the feast.  The Gradual for the feast, for example, actually emphasizes all the kings and nations worshipping God (Psalm 71).  The usually substituted responsorial psalm however is the Lord is my shepherd, with its happy conclusion on all the blessings God confers on us.  Instead of stressing the work still to be done in evangelizing both ourselves and others, the subtext is, we can all rest secure.

Some more reform of the reform please!

Christ in Judgement, c1300 Florence
Jean and Alexander Heart Divinity Library
Vanderbilt University

1 comment:

GOR said...

Fr. Finigan noted on his blog that he uses the last Sundays of the year to preach about the Four Last Things, which is good to hear - for his parishioners anyway… Sunday’s feast, with its readings, was an excellent lead-in to doing that. At our parish I waited expectantly (not really…) for this.

On the third Sunday of the month we have ‘Sharing Sunday’ when we are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for distribution to the needy. It is a good practice and the parish responds well to it each month. As expected, Father pointed to this in relation to the readings and noted that we were like the sheep Our Lord spoke of – feeding the hungry, etc.

No mention of the goats, Hell, damnation – or even Purgatory. Like the canonization of the departed in so many funerals today, the Four Last Things were reduced to Two: Death and Heaven. We’re all going to die and we’re all sheep going to heaven.

Bah! Or rather: Baah, Baah…