The Royal Gesture Sublime Above All Others

18C Oil/Canvas MASS OF ST GREGORY THE GREATMy sermons this week will all, in one way or another, address Dom Benedict and serve him as a kind of preached retreat in preparation for his ordination to the holy priesthood on November 1st.

For This Was I Born

We cannot doubt of the kingship of Christ. “Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice” (John 18:37).

We cannot doubt of the kingship of Christ because it was revealed by the Angel sent from God to His Virgin Mother even before she conceived Him of the Holy Ghost: “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31–33).

Christ the King

It is of Christ the King that royal David prophesies wonderful things: “I am appointed king by him over Sion his holy mountain, preaching his commandment. The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psalm 2:6–8).

It is of Christ the King that royal David sings: “I will set his hand in the sea; and his right hand in the rivers. He shall cry out to me: Thou art my father: my God, and the support of my salvation.  And I will make him my firstborn, high above the kings of the earth. I will keep my mercy for him for ever: and my covenant faithful to him. And I will make his seed to endure for evermore: and his throne as the days of heaven” (Psalm 88:26–29).

Clothed with Beauty

It is with a glorification of the kingship of Christ that the Church opens her praises on the morning of her highest festivals: “The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself. For he hath established the world which shall not be moved. Thy throne is prepared from of old: thou art from everlasting” (Psalm 92:1–2).

It is the kingship of Christ that brings jubilation to the heart of the psalmist: “Praise and beauty are before him: holiness and majesty in his sanctuary. Bring ye to the Lord, O ye kindreds of the Gentiles, bring ye to the Lord glory and honour: Bring to the Lord glory unto his name. Bring up sacrifices, and come into his courts: Adore ye the Lord in his holy court. Let all the earth be moved at his presence” (Psalm 96:6–9).

Again, it is the kingship of Christ that causes creation itself to rejoice: “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, let the sea be moved, and the fulness thereof: The fields and all things that are in them shall be joyful. Then shall all the trees of the woods rejoice Before the face of the Lord, because he cometh: because he cometh to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:11–13).

Sit Thou at My Right Hand

Again, it is with a glorification of the kingship of Christ that the Church opens her evening sacrifice of praise on every Sunday and her highest festivals: “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool. The Lord will send forth the sceptre of thy power out of Sion: rule thou in the midst of thy enemies. With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength: in the brightness of the saints: from the womb before the day star I begot thee” (Psalm 109:1–3).

To Sing of the Kingdom

The kingship of Christ inspires joy. The kingship of Christ calls forth confidence. The kingship of Christ makes obedience easy and our bounden service light. It is in the Preface of today’s Mass that the Church gives the highest expression to all of this. She imposes on her priest a tone at once jubilant and majestic. She provides him with words that are lyrical and lofty:

Thou, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, didst anoint, with the oil of gladness, Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the eternal Priest and King of the universe; that by offering Himself a spotless Victim and peace-offering on the altar of the Cross, He might accomplish the mysteries of man’s redemption, and that having subjected all creatures to His dominion, He might present to Thine infinite Majesty an everlasting and universal Kingdom; a kingdom of truth and life; and kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

Crowned in Magnificence

The kingship of Christ is established in heaven and on earth. Jesus is King by decree of the Eternal Father. He is King by the anointing of the Holy Ghost. He is King by reason of His enthronement upon the Cross, arrayed in His own Blood. He is King, crowned with thorns in cruel mockery by men; He is king, crowned in magnificence by His Father. “In thy strength, O Lord, the king shall joy; and in thy salvation he shall rejoice exceedingly. Thou hast given him his heart’ s desire: and hast not withholden from him the will of his lips. For thou hast prevented him with blessings of sweetness: thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones” (Psalm 20:2–4).

In Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth

Those who do not acknowledge the kingship of Christ in this world will be obliged to acknowledge it in the next. “All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord: And all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight. For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he shall have dominion over the nations” (Psalm 21: 28–29). Those who refuse to bend the knee before Him in this life will throw themselves prostrate before Him in the next, for the Apostle says: “God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

Jesus, King of Love

How are we to live under the kingship of Christ? To some, the kingship of Christ brings trembling and fear, for it is written, “Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron, and shalt break them in pieces like a potter’ s vessel” (Psalm 2:9), but we are not of those who shrink back in fear. We are of those who go forward full of confidence, for we have come to know Him as the King of Love, full of merciful goodness for the little, the poor, and the weak. We have come to know Him as the King of Love, full of solicitude for those whom the mighty of this world deem insignificant, unworthy of their interest, and expendable. We have come to know Him as the King of Love who points to His Heart, asking us to believe in His love, and who holds out the olive branch that signifies His readiness to heal the broken–hearted, and to pacify the troubled. We have come to know Him as the King of Love who invites us to His table and gives us there to partake of His own pure Flesh and to drink of the sweet chalice of His Blood.

Friends of the King

It is one thing to live in subjection to a king, honouring the crown, obeying his ordinances, and defending his just causes. It is quite another thing to live in the king’s household, to approach Him freely, to share his table, and to enjoy His conversation. From among the members of His household — the Church — Christ chooses still others to become the most intimate friends of His heart, the ones from whom He withholds nothing, the ones with whom He shares his secrets. Thus did the King say to His Apostles, His first priests, in the tragedy and glory of the Upper Room on the night before His Passion: “You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you. I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you” (John 15:14–15).

Soon to Be a Priest Forever

I must address Dom Benedict today for, in less than a week’s time, he will already have been ordained a priest. Dearest son, you have lived for some years already as a monk in the household of the King. You heard, and took to heart, what our father Saint Benedict says in the Prologue of the Holy Rule: “To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king”. Now the day is fast approaching when the same Lord Christ, our true King, will make you more than a beloved member of His royal household. He will make you His trusted friend, His other self, His representative in the weightiest matters: those of life and of death, of sin and of redemption, of pardon and of grace.

Close to the King

By making you His priest, Christ the King gives you to “sit with Him in His throne: as He also, having overcome, is rests with His Father in His throne” (cf. Apocalypse 3:21). The King of Love wants you close to Himself: close to Him at the altar, close to Him in the immolation of the Cross, close to Him in His self–emptying, and in His own merciful closeness to souls.

The King of Love will authorize you to represent Him in a way that other men cannot, precisely so that other men, in seeing you, and in hearing you, and in the touch of your anointed hands, will be able to say, in truth, “The King has shown Himself to me; the King has spoken to me; the King has touched me”.

The Self–Emptying of the King

It is no little thing to be recognized, always and everywhere, as the friend of the King, no little thing to have, always and everywhere, to point to His Heart, to bless in His Name, and to dispense the healing that He alone can give. Humbling, and daunting, and magnificent as these things are, the King of Love has chosen you for something greater still. He has chosen to have need of your mouth and of your very breath to say again and again, “This is My Body” and “This is the Chalice of My Blood”. This is the royal gesture sublime above all others: the self–emptying of the King, the laying aside of throne, and crown, and sceptre, the veiling of the brightness of the Divinity under the appearances of bread and wine.

This royal gesture sublime above all others is the very one that you, dear Dom Benedict, have been chosen to do. The King of Love has loved you with a surpassing love, and so has chosen you. Friend of the King, we are praying for you, who, in a few days’ time, will begin to pray for us, standing before the altar and, mystically, but really, laid upon it, for at no time is the friend of the King more closely joined to Him than in the Hour of His Sacrifice. For this were you born, and for this, you too, came into the world.