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Apocalypse 19

Canticle - The marriage feast of the Lamb
v 1,2, 5-7

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
  his judgments are true and just.

Praise our God, all you his servants,
  you who fear him, small and great.

The Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns,
  let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory.

The marriage of the Lamb has come,
  and his bride has made herself ready.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on the Book of the Apocalypse 19
General Audience, Wednesday 10 December 2003 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

II Vespers, Sunday Week 1 - The wedding feast of the Lamb

"1. Continuing with the series of Psalms and Canticles that constitute the ecclesial prayer of Vespers, we come across a hymn-like passage from Chapter 19 of the Apocalypse that consists of a sequence of alleluias and acclamations.

Behind these joyful invocations is the dramatic lament intoned in the previous chapter by the kings, merchants and seafaring men at the fall of imperial Babylon, the city of evil and oppression, symbol of the persecution unleashed against the Church.

2. To counter this cry that rises from the earth, a joyful chorus of a liturgical nature rings out in the heavens, and in addition to the alleluia, repeats the amen. The various acclamations, similar to antiphons, that the Liturgy of Vespers now combines in a single hymn, are actually put on the lips of various figures in the Apocalypse text. We discover first of all a "great multitude", made up of the hosts of angels and saints (cf. vv. 1-3). Then, we can single out the voice of "the twenty-four elders" and "four living creatures", symbolic figures who seem to be the priests of this heavenly liturgy of praise and thanksgiving (cf. v. 4). Lastly, a single voice is raised (cf. v. 5), which in turn involves in the canticle the "great multitude" with which it began (cf. vv. 6-7).

3. In future stages of our journey we will have the opportunity to describe the individual antiphons of this grand and festive hymn of praise by several voices. Let us now make do with two observations. The first concerns the introductory acclamation which states: "Salvation, glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just" (vv. 1-2).

At the heart of this joyful invocation is the representation of God's decisive intervention in history: the Lord is not indifferent like an impassive emperor, remote from human events. As the Psalmist says, "The Lord's throne is in heaven; his eyes behold, his searching glance is on mankind" (Ps 10: 4).

4. Indeed, his gaze is a source of action, for he intervenes and demolishes overbearing and oppressive empires, brings down the proud who challenge him and judges those who perpetrate evil. Again, it is the Psalmist who describes in picturesque images how God bursts into history (cf. Ps 10, 7), referred to by the author of the Apocalypse in the previous chapter (cf. Apoc 18, 1-24), the terrible divine intervention regarding Babylon, uprooted from her centre and hurled into the sea. Our canticle mentions this act in a passage that is not part of the celebration of Vespers (cf. Apoc 19, 2-3).

Our prayer, therefore, must above all invoke and praise divine action, the Lord's effective justice, his glory, which he obtains by triumphing over evil. God makes himself present in history, taking the side of the righteous and victims, exactly as the brief and essential acclamation of the Apocalypse declares and the canticles of the Psalms so often repeat (cf. Ps 145, 6-9).

5. Let us emphasize another theme in our Canticle. It is developed in the final acclamation and is a dominant motif in the Apocalypse itself: "The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready" (Apoc 19, 7). Christ and the Church, the Lamb and the Bride, are in a profound communion of love.

Let us seek to make this spousal mystery shine out through the poetic witness of a great Father of the Syrian Church, St Ephrem, who lived in the fourth century. Using symbolically the sign of the Wedding at Cana (cf. Jn 2: 1-11), he introduces the town itself, personified, in order to praise Christ for the great gift received:

"Together with my guests I will thank him for he has deemed me worthy to invite him: He who is the heavenly Bridegroom, who descended and invited all; and I too was invited to come to his pure wedding feast. Before the peoples I will recognize him as the Bridegroom; there is none other like him. His wedding chamber has been ready for centuries, and it is richly decked out and lacks nothing: not like the wedding feast of Cana where he provided for all that was lacking" (Inni sulla Verginitá, 33, 3: L'Arpa dello Spirito, Rome, 1999, pp. 73-74).

6. In another hymn that also sings of the Wedding at Cana, St Ephrem stresses that Christ, invited to the weddings of others (here, precisely, that of the newly married couple of Cana), wanted to celebrate the feast of his wedding: the wedding with his bride, which is every faithful soul. "Jesus, you were invited to someone else's wedding feast, the spouses of Cana; here, instead, is your own pure and beautiful feast: it gladdens our days because your guests also, O Lord, have need of your songs: let your harp fill everything! The soul is your bride, the body your nuptial chamber, your guests are the senses and thoughts. And if only one body is a wedding feast for you, the whole Church is your nuptial banquet!" (Inni sulla Fede, 14, 4-5: op. cit., p. 27)."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Apocalypse 19
General Audience, Wednesday 15 September 2004 - also in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

II Vespers, Sunday Week 2 - The wedding feast of the Lamb
v 1-7

"1. The Book of Revelation is studded with Canticles that are raised to God, Lord of the universe and of history. We have just heard one of them, which we constantly encounter in every one of the four weeks embraced by the Liturgy of Vespers.

"Alleluia", a word of Hebrew origin which means "praise the Lord", punctuates this hymn. Curiously, in the New Testament it recurs only in this passage of the Book of Revelation, in which it is repeated five times. The Liturgy takes just a few verses of the text of chapter 19. Framed by the narrative, they are intoned in heaven by a "great multitude"; it is like a powerful chorus raised by all the elect who celebrate their Lord with joy and festivity (cf. Rv 19: 1).

2. So it is that the Church on earth harmonizes her song of praise with the song of the just who already contemplate God's glory. Thus, a channel of communication between history and eternity is created: its starting point is the earthly liturgy of the ecclesial community, and its goal is the liturgy in Heaven where our brothers and sisters who preceded us on the path of faith have already arrived.

This communion of praise substantially celebrates three themes: first of all, the great attributes of God, his "salvation, glory and power" (v. 1; cf. v. 7), that is, his saving transcendence and omnipotence. Prayer is the contemplation of divine glory, of the ineffable mystery, of the ocean of light and love that is God.

Secondly, the Canticle exalts the "reign" of the Lord, that is, the divine plan of humanity's redemption. Taking up a theme dear to the so-called Psalms of the Kingdom of God (cf. Ps 47[46]; 96[95]-99[98]) our Canticle proclaims here: "the Lord our God the Almighty reigns!" (Rv 19: 6), intervening in history with supreme authority. History, of course, is entrusted to human freedom which generates good and evil but is ultimately sealed by the decisions of divine Providence. The Book of Revelation precisely celebrates the goal towards which God's effective action leads history, even through the storms, distress and havoc wrought by evil, by man and by Satan.

Another passage from the Book of Revelation says: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were. For you have assumed your great power and have established your reign" (11: 17).

3. Lastly, the third topic of the hymn is characteristic of the Book of Revelation and its symbology: "(for) the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready" (19: 7). As we will have occasion to examine more deeply in future meditations on this Canticle, the definitive goal to which the last book of the Bible leads us is the nuptial encounter between the Lamb who is Christ and the purified and transfigured bride who is redeemed humanity.

The phrase "the marriage of the Lamb has come" refers to the supreme moment, as our "nuptial" text suggests, of intimacy between creature and Creator, in the joy and peace of salvation.

4. Let us conclude with the words from one of the discourses of St Augustine, who illustrates and eulogizes the spiritual significance of singing the "Alleluia". "We sing this word in unison, converging on it in a communion of sentiments and encouraging one another to praise God. However, only one who has done nothing to displease him can praise God with a peaceful conscience. Moreover, with regard to the present, when we are pilgrims on this earth, we sing Alleluia as a consolation, to be strengthened along the way; the Alleluia we are saying now is like the traveller's song; yet, as we take this difficult path, we are striving to reach that homeland where repose awaits us, where, once all that we are involved in today has passed away, all that will be left is the Alleluia" (n. 255, 1: Discorsi, IV/2, Rome, 1984, p. 597)."