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Apocalypse 11-12

Canticle - The judgment of God
11, 17-18; 12, 10b-12a

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
  who are and who were,
that you have taken your great power
  and begun to reign.

The nations raged,
  but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
  for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
  both small and great.

Now the salvation and the power
  and the kingdom of our God
  and the authority of his Christ have come,
for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down,
  who accuses them day and night before our God.

And they have conquered him
  by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
  for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Rejoice, then, O heaven,
  and you that dwell therein.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on the Book of the Apocalypse 11-12
General Audience, Wednesday 26 May 2004 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers, Thursday, Week 1 - The Judgement of God
ch 11, 17-18; ch 12, 10b-12a

"1. The Canticle presented in the Liturgy of Vespers which we have just raised to the "Lord God Almighty", results from the selection of a few verses from chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation. The last of the seven trumpets that resonate in this book of endeavour and hope has now sounded. The 24 elders of the heavenly court who represent all the just of the Old and New Covenants (cf. Rv 4: 4; 11: 6) chant a hymn that was perhaps already in use at the liturgical assemblies of the early Church. They worship God, sovereign of the world and of history, now ready to establish his Kingdom of justice, love and truth.

In this prayer we can feel the heartbeat of the just who wait in hope for the coming of the Lord to brighten human existence, often enveloped in the darkness of sin, injustice, falsehood and violence.

2. The hymn sung by the 24 elders is modulated on the reference to two Psalms: the second Psalm which is a Messianic hymn (cf. 2: 1-5) and Psalm 99[98] which celebrates the royalty of God (cf. v. 1). The goal of exalting the just and definitive judgment that the Lord is about to make over the whole of human history is reached in this way.

His beneficial intervention has two aspects, just as the face of God has two features that define it. He is indeed a judge, but he is also a saviour; he condemns evil but rewards fidelity; he is justice but above all he is love.

The identity of the just, now saved in the Kingdom of God, is significant. They are divided into three categories of "servants" of the Lord: the prophets, the saints and those who fear his name (cf. Rv 11: 18). This is a sort of spiritual portrait of the People of God, according to the gifts they received in Baptism and which flourished in their life of faith and love; it is a "sketch" drawn out in both the small and the great (cf. 19: 5).

3. Our hymn, as has been said, was composed also with the use of other verses from chapter 12, which refer to a grandiose and glorious scene of the Apocalypse. In it, there is a battle between the woman who has given birth to the Messiah and the dragon of wickedness and violence. In this duel between good and evil, between the Church and Satan, a heavenly voice suddenly rings out announcing the defeat of the "accuser" (cf. 12: 10). This is the translation of the Hebrew name for "Satan", used to describe a figure whom the Book of Job says is a member of the celestial court of God, in which he fulfils the role of public minister (cf. Jb 1: 9-11; 2: 4-5; Zec 3: 1).

He "accuse[ed] our brethren day and night before our God", that is, he cast doubt on the sincerity of the faith of the just. The satanic dragon is silenced and the cause of its defeat is "the blood of the Lamb" (Rv 12: 11), the passion and the death of Christ our Redeemer.

The witness of Christian martyrdom is associated with his victory. There is intimate sharing in the redeeming work of the Lamb by the faithful who, with no second thoughts, "loved not their lives even unto death" (ibid.). This thought stems from Christ's words: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12: 25).

4. The heavenly soloist who has sung the canticle brings it to a conclusion by inviting the entire choir of angels to sing joyfully in unison for the salvation obtained (cf. Rv 12: 12). Let us associate ourselves with that voice in our own thanksgiving, festive and hopeful, even amid the trials that mark our way to glory.

Let us do so by listening to the words that the martyr St Polycarp addressed to the "Lord God Almighty" when he was already bound and waiting to be burned at the stake: "Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ... blessed are you for having deemed me worthy on this day and in this hour to take my place among the ranks of the martyrs, in Christ's chalice, for the resurrection to eternal life of soul and body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be welcomed among them today in your presence as a succulent and pleasing sacrifice, just as you, our true God and far from falsehood, disposed and manifested and accomplished beforehand. Above all things, therefore, I praise you, I bless you, and I glorify you in your eternal and heavenly High Priest and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom may you be glorified, with him and with the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen" (Atti e passioni dei martiri, Milan, 1987, p. 23)."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on the Book of the Apocalypse, 11,12
General Audience, Wednesday 12 January 2005 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. The hymn that has just resounded ideally comes down from heaven. In fact, the Book of Revelation that presents it links the first part to the "twenty four elders who sit on their thrones before God" (11: 16), and in the second strophe to "a loud voice in heaven" (12: 10).

We are thus involved in a grandiose portrayal of the divine court where God and the Lamb, that is, Christ, surrounded by the "Council of the Crown", judge human history in good and in evil but also reveal history's ultimate end of salvation and glory. The role of the Canticles that spangle the Book of Revelation is to illustrate the topic of the divine lordship that controls the often bewildering flow of human events.

2. In this regard, the first passage of our Canticle is significant. It is set on the lips of the 24 elders who seem to symbolize God's Chosen People in their two historical phases, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles of the Church.

Now, the almighty and eternal Lord God "has taken [his] great power and begun to reign" (11: 17). His entry into history does not only aim to curb the violent reactions of rebels, but above all to exalt and reward the just. These are defined with a series of words used to describe the spiritual features of Christians. They are "servants" who comply faithfully with the divine law; they are "prophets", endowed with the revealed word that interprets and judges history; they are "saints", consecrated to God, who revere his name, that is, they are ready to adore him and to do his will. Among them there are "small and great", an expression dear to the author of the Book of Revelation which he uses to designate the People of God in its unity and variety.

3. Thus, let us move on to the second part of our Canticle. After the dramatic scene of the woman with child "clothed with the sun" and the terrible red dragon, a mysterious voice intones a hymn of thanksgiving and joy.

The joy derives from the fact that Satan, the ancient enemy whose role at the heavenly court was that of the "accuser of our brethren" (12: 10), as we see in the Book of Job, was "thrown down" from heaven. Henceforth, therefore, he no longer possesses such great power. He knows "that his time is short" (Rv 12: 12), for history is nearing the radical turning point of liberation from evil and he consequently reacts with "great wrath".

On the other side towers the risen Christ, whose blood is the principle of salvation. He has received from the Father a royal authority over the entire universe; in him are fulfilled "the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God" (12: 10).

Associated with Christ's victory are the Christian martyrs who chose the way of the Cross, neither succumbing to evil nor giving in to its virulence but keeping themselves for the Father, united with the death of Christ through a witness of self-giving and courage that has brought them to "[love] not their lives even unto death" (12: 11). We seem to hear an echo of Christ's words: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12: 25).

4. The words of the Book of Revelation about those who have conquered Satan and evil "by the blood of the Lamb", ring out in a splendid prayer attributed to Simeon, the Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Persia. Before dying on 17 April 341, a martyr with many other companions during the persecution of King Shapur II, he addressed the following petition to Christ:

"Lord, give me this crown: you know how I have loved you with all my heart and all my life. I will be happy to see you and you will give me rest... I want to persevere heroically in my vocation, fulfilling with fortitude the task assigned to me and setting an example to all your people in the East... I will receive the life that knows no suffering, apprehension or anguish, that knows neither persecutor nor persecuted, oppressor nor oppressed, tyrant nor victim. There I will no longer see the intimidation of kings, the terror of prefects or anyone who cites me at the tribunal and frightens me more and more, or who entices and terrifies me. O path of all pilgrims, my sore feet will be healed in you; in you the weariness of my limbs will find rest, Christ, the chrism of our anointing. In you, the cup of our salvation, will the sorrow of my heart dissolve; in you, our comfort and joy, the tears in my eyes will be wiped away."