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Musical Musings: Solemnities
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A Royal Feast

by Gary D. Penkala

The oldest feast of the Christian Church is Easter, which was celebrated very early as a weekly remembrance of Christ's resurrection on Sunday, the "New Sabbath." Through the centuries many other liturgical celebrations have been added; even the terminology has undergone considerable change (e.g. first class double to solemnity, simple to optional memorial). One solemnity quite recently instituted is that of Christ the King, which is now celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. When it was introduced by Blessed Pius XI on December 11, 1925, it occurred on the last Sunday in October. It was during that Holy Year 1925 that Pope Pius wrote:

We should close this Year by introducing a special feast of our Lord Jesus Christ the King into the Church's liturgy... Therefore, by Our Apostolic Authority, We institute (this feast) to be celebrated everywhere each year on the last Sunday of October, namely that which comes before the feast of All Saints. And we decree that on this day each year the dedication of the human race to the Sacred Heart is to be renewed. [Encyclical Quas primas, December 11, 1925]

Since the advent of the new Lectionary for Sunday Mass I (1999), the English name of the celebration has been altered slightly to: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. This more closely translates the Latin: Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Universorum Regis, although "...King of the Universe" would be most literal.

Our individual parish celebrations of this solemnity should support the themes of majesty, supremacy, dominion, peace, and justice contained in the liturgy. By all means there should be a solemn entrance procession with incense, cross, and candles. Processional music should be stately and solemn; on this occasion instrumental music might be most effective. Consider a trumpet and organ selection, or "Allegro" from Symphony #6 by Charles-Marie Widor, or "Rigaudon" by André Campra. A good congregational hymn or choir anthem (particularly "Festival Canticle" by Richard Hillert) may also be used.

In selecting music the readings for the feast should be examined carefully. For a broader view of themes look at the readings for all three cycles. These may be found at:

Year A
Year B
Year C

Also review the psalms, antiphons and readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for this solemnity.

There are many Scripture references for Christ the King, all exploring royal attributes of the Messiah, the "Anointed One." Music reflecting these themes includes "King of All Heaven" by J.S. Bach, "Christus vincit" (Gregorian chant); and the hymns "Christ Is the King," "At the Name of Jesus," "Rejoice the Lord Is King," and "The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns."

The Liturgy (both the Eucharist and the Hours) offers a wide selection of psalms, mostly drawn from the royal Messianic psalms: Psalms 2, 8, 23, 29, 45, 47, 72, 89, 93, 110, 113, 117, 122, 145. Various settings of these psalms would make ideal processionals for Entrance or Communion.

Look at the various Liturgical Planning Pages that CanticaNOVA Publications offers for more ideas on suitable music for this royal feast.

Year A
Year B
Year C

Music can explore the many aspects of the royalty of Christ who came "to establish a kingdom of truth for our intellect; a kingdom of justice and holiness for our will; a kingdom of love and peace for our heart. If we follow him, he will lead us into his eternal kingdom."

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