Bookmark and Share

Apocalypse 15

Canticle - Hymn of adoration
Your ways are just and true, King of all the ages
v 3-4

Great and wonderful are your deeds,
  O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
  O King of the ages!

Who shall not fear and glorify your name, O Lord?
  For you alone are holy.
All nations shall come and worship you,
  for your judgements have been revealed.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on the Apocalypse 15, 3-4
General Audience, Wednesday 23 June 2004 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers, Friday Week 1 - 'Just and true are your ways!'

1. The Liturgy of Vespers, in addition to the Psalms, includes a series of Canticles taken from the New Testament. Some of these, such as the one we have just heard, are interwoven with passages from the Apocalypse, the book that seals the entire Bible. They are often distinguished by songs and choruses, by solo voices and by the hymns of the assembly of the chosen, by trumpet blasts and the sound of harps and zithers.

Our Canticle, which is very brief, comes from chapter 15 of that work. A new, grandiose scene is about to open: the seven trumpets that have introduced the same number of divine plagues give way to seven bowls that are also full of scourges, in Greek pleghé, a term that in itself means a blow so violent as to cause injuries and sometimes even death. This is an obvious reference to the narrative of the plagues of Egypt (cf Ex 7, 14-11,10).

In the Apocalypse the "scourge-plague" is symbol of a judgment on the evil,  oppression and violence of the world. Thus it is also sign of hope for the just. The seven plagues - it is well known that in the Bible the number "seven" is a symbol of fullness - are described as "the last" (cf Apoc 15, 1), because in them the divine intervention that arrests evil reaches its completion.

2. The hymn is sung by those who are saved, the just of this earth who are "standing" before the risen Lamb (cf. v. 2). Just as the Hebrews sang the Song of Moses (cf. Ex 15: 1-18) in the Exodus after the crossing of the Red Sea, so the Chosen People raise their own "song of Moses and... of the Lamb" (Rv 15: 3) after conquering the beast, the enemy of God (cf. v. 2).

This hymn echoes the liturgy of the Johannine Churches; it consists of an anthology of citations from the Old Testament and from the Psalms in particular. The earliest Christian Community considered the Bible not only as the very soul of its faith and life, but also of its prayer and liturgy, as indeed is the case in these Vespers on which we are commenting.

It is also significant that the Canticle is accompanied by musical instruments: the just hold harps in their hands (ibid.), proof that the liturgy was framed by the splendour of sacred music.

3. With their hymn, rather than celebrating their constancy and their sacrifice, the saved exalt the "great and wonderful... deeds" of the "Lord God Almighty", that is, his saving acts in governing the world and in history. Indeed, true prayer, as well as being a petition, is also praise, thanksgiving, blessing, celebration and a profession of faith in the Lord who saves.

In this Canticle, moreover, the universal dimension which is expressed in the words of Psalm 86[85] is significant: "All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord" (v. 9). Our gaze thus broadens to take in the whole horizon and we see streams of people who converge toward the Lord in order to recognize his just "judgments" (Rv 15: 4), that is, his interventions in history to defeat evil and praise good. The expectation of justice that exists in all cultures, the need for truth and love that all forms of spirituality perceive, reach out towards the Lord and the tension is only eased when he is reached.

It is beautiful to think of this universal influence of piety and hope, taken up and interpreted by the words of the Prophets: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (Mal 1: 11).

4. Let us conclude by joining that universal voice. Let us do so through the words of a poem by St Gregory of Nazianzus, a great Father of the Church of the fourth century. "Glory to the Father and to the Son, King of the universe, glory to the Most Holy Spirit, to whom be all praise. One God is the Trinity: He has created and filled all things, the heavens with celestial beings, the earth with those who are earthly. He has filled seas, rivers and springs with aquatic creatures, giving life to them all with his own Spirit so that the whole of creation might sing praise to the wise Creator: living and staying alive depends on him alone. May it be above all rational nature to sing praise to him forever, powerful King and good Father. In my spirit, with my heart, my lips and my thoughts, grant that I too, with purity, may glorify you for ever, O Father" (Poesie, I, Collana di Testi Patristici 115, Rome, 1994, pp. 66-67).

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI on the Book of the Apocalypse, 15
General Audience - 11 May 2005 - also in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers (Evening Prayer), Friday Week 2 - Hymn of adoration and of praise

1. Brief and solemn, incisive and grandiose in tone: this is the Canticle we have now heard and thus made our own, raising it to the "Lord God the Almighty" (Rv 15: 3) as a hymn of praise. It is one of the many prayerful texts with which the Book of Revelation is studded, the last book of Sacred Scripture, a book of judgment, salvation and above all, of hope.

History, in fact, is not in the hands of the powers of darkness, chance or human decisions alone. When evil energy that we see is unleashed, when Satan vehemently bursts in, when a multitude of scourges and ills surface, the Lord, the supreme arbiter of historical events, arises. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth of which, in the image of the new Jerusalem, the last part of the Book of Revelation sings.

It is the just of history, the victors over the Satanic Beast, who intone this Canticle on which we now intend to meditate. It is they who, through their apparent defeat in martyrdom, are in fact the true builders of the new world, with God, the supreme Architect.

2. They begin by exalting the "great and wonderful" "deeds" and "ways" of the Lord that are "just and true". The language used in this Canticle is characteristic of the Exodus of Israel from the slavery in Egypt. The first Canticle of Moses, which he proclaimed after the Red Sea crossing, celebrates the Lord who is "terrible in renown, worker of wonders" (Ex 15: 11). His second Canticle, cited in Deuteronomy towards the end of the great legislator's life, reaffirms "how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways" (Dt 32: 4).

There is consequently a desire to reaffirm that God is not indifferent to human events but penetrates them, creating his own "ways" or, in other words, his effective plans and "deeds".

3. According to our hymn, his divine intervention has a very precise purpose: to be a sign that invites all the peoples of the earth to conversion. The hymn thus invites all of us, ever anew, to conversion. The nations must learn to "read" God's message in history. The adventure of humanity is not confused and meaningless, nor is it doomed never to be appealed against or to be abused by the overbearing and the perverse.

It is possible to discern the divine action that is concealed in history. The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, also invites believers to examine the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, in order to find in them a manifestation of God's action. This attitude of faith leads men and women to recognize the power of God who works in history and thus to open themselves to feeling awe for the name of the Lord. In biblical language, in fact, this "fear" is not fright, it does not denote fear, for fear of God is something quite different. It is recognition of the mystery of divine transcendence. Thus, it is at the root of faith and is interwoven with love. Sacred Scripture says in Deuteronomy: "What does the Lord, your God, ask of you but to fear the Lord, your God, and... to love... the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul." As St Hilary of Poitiers, a 4th-century Bishop, said: "All our fear is in love."

Along these lines, in our brief hymn taken from Revelation, fear and the glorification of God are combined. The hymn says: "Who shall not fear and glorify your name, O Lord?" (15: 4). Thanks to fear of the Lord we are not afraid of the evil that rages in history and we vigorously resume our journey through life. It is precisely thanks to fear of God that we are not afraid of the world and of all these problems, that we are not afraid of people, for God is more powerful. Pope John XXIII once said, "Those who believe do not tremble because, fearing God who is good, they are not afraid of the world or of the future". And this is what the Prophet Isaiah says: "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened: "Be strong, fear not!'" (Is 35: 3-4).

4. The hymn concludes by foretelling that a universal procession of peoples will come and worship the Lord of history, revealed through his "just and true judgments". They will prostrate themselves in adoration. And the one Lord and Saviour seems to repeat to them the words he spoke on the last evening of his earthly life when he said to his Apostles: "Take courage! I have overcome the world!" (Jn 16: 33).

Let us conclude our brief reflection on the "song of the Lamb", sung by the just of Revelation, with an ancient hymn of the Lucernarium, that is, a prayer at Vespers that was formerly known to St Basil the Great of Cesarea. This hymn says: "Come sunset, when we see the evening twilight fall, let us praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of God. You deserve to be praised at every moment by holy voices, Son of God, you who give life. For this the world glorifies you."