Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi
In regards to our communal worship, there’s a saying, perhaps you’ve heard: “Lex orandi, lex credendi”. It means simply that prayer leads to belief. And so, if a person wanted to know what we believe, they should know by listening to the words and the ideas that are expressed in our prayer. For example, forty days after Easter, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, and in that celebration the prayers of the Mass we express in prayer our belief that Jesus has taken his place in heaven, that “God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy” (Ps 47:6)—lex orandi, lex credendi.
But while this solemnity, Christ the King, might sound like it expresses the same focus, it’s different. In fact, we might assume this feast goes back to the Middle Ages, but actually, it’s rather new. In 1925, just after the First World War, Pope Pius XI saw a shift in world power. Fallen, were the once powerful kingdoms and monarchies: the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, the Romanovs. New world powers were emerging: not so much powerful families, but instead ideologies: socialism, communism and Nazism.
Pope Pius saw danger in this and feared these new ‘isms’ could become a new type of monarchy, leading God’s sons and daughters astray.
He wanted to make it known, that while the world is ever-changing, its power structures, its waves of cultural influence, one thing will never change: Jesus, as Lord forever of an enduring Kingdom.
He wrote an encyclical entitled Quas Primas, to declare this belief, but he also realized that pontifical statements have only a limited ability to teach and to foster belief. So he chose to establish this feast day, to be celebrated as a definitive and final statement to conclude the liturgical year, to proclaim to ourselves and to the world “Ave Christus Rex!”. Pope Pius XI knew that this communal prayer would more effectively teach and foster belief that Jesus is an eternal king—indeed, lex orandi, lex credendi.
But as people of the Scriptures, we don’t have to look far to find the problems associated with kings.
In fact, if we begin at the Book of Judges, before the people Israel ever had a king, we see how badly they wanted one. They had hope that it would unify them and give them power to compete with their foreign neighbors. God continually said, “No, an earthly king will only lead you astray. I’m your king”, but the people asked again and again, until at last he gave them what they wanted.
Beginning with Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, and on and on, almost without exception, they proved God right: their human weakness got in the way and interrupted God’s relationship with His people. The eventual solution came when God Himself came to be our King. He was nothing like the kings of Israel. As he says to Pilate in today’s Gospel, “My kingdom does not belong to this world”. I can imagine him there: dirty, bloody, and bearing the crown of thorns that was mockingly placed on his head. He would have been the picture of weakness in Pilate’s eyes. Yes, that is our king, his power exercised in weakness and humility. That is what we pray today: lex orandi, lex credendi!
But there’s actually a third part to that saying: lex orandi, lex credendi….lex vivendi, meaning that we pray so that we might believe, so that we might live it. It only does so much good to proclaim in our worship that Christ is King, if that belief doesn’t become manifest in our living, in the world out there.
The kingdom he came to bring was to be marked by justice, peace and joy—something we all want, yet has never sufficiently existed in any nation or state, including our own.
Jesus came to establish that kingdom, but it’s still underway. As we say, “It’s here, but not yet”. We who look to him as king, are entrusted with continuing the building of this kingdom of justice, peace and joy.
But the building of this kingdom begins in our hearts. We can effectively build the kingdom out there, only when we have really begun the work of within—freeing our hearts of their disordered desires, giving them more and more to Jesus and to his will for our lives.
Pope Pius XI wanted us to understand that all things come and go—world powers, cultural movements, flavors of the day, our struggles with sin—through the phases of our lifetime, from one generation to the next.
Those are not his kingdom, nor do they endure. As our restless hearts keep searching, let us pray it, believe it, but also live it: the one unchanging thing on which we can hold onto is Jesus Christ our King. Ave Christus Rex!