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Book of Revelation / Book of the Apocalypse

Vespers (Evening Prayer), Tuesday Week 1

Catechesis by Blessed John Paul II
- in English, French, German, , Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Hymn of Salvation - Canticle in chapters 4: 11 & 5: 9-12

1. The Canticle we have just heard and are now meditating upon is part of the Liturgy of Vespers whose Psalms we are commenting on in our weekly catecheses. As often happens in liturgical praxis, prayerful compositions are born from the artificial piecing together of biblical fragments that belong to larger passages.

In our case, we have taken up certain verses of chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Revelation, in which is described a great and glorious heavenly scene. At the centre is a throne on which is seated God himself, whose name is not spoken out of reverence (cf. Rv 4: 2). Later, on that throne was to be seated a Lamb, the symbol of the risen Christ: indeed, "a Lamb... as though it had been slain", but "standing" up, alive and glorious (5: 6).

These two divine figures are surrounded by the chorus of the heavenly court, represented by four "living creatures" (4: 6) who perhaps call to mind the angels of the divine presence in the cardinal points of the universe, and by "twenty-four elders" (4: 4), in Greek presbyteroi, that is, the leaders of the Christian community whose number recalls both the 12 tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles; in other words, this is a synthesis of the Old and New Covenants.

2. This assembly of the People of God sings a hymn to the Lord, exalting the "glory and honour and power" expressed in his act of creating the universe (cf. 4: 11). At this point, a particularly important symbol is introduced: biblíon in Greek, that is, a "scroll" [or book], but which is completely inaccessible: indeed, it has seven seals that prevent it from being read (cf. 5: 1).

Thus, we are dealing with a secret prophecy. That scroll contains the whole series of divine decrees that must be accomplished in human history to make perfect justice prevail. If the scroll remains sealed, these decrees can be neither known nor implemented, and wickedness will continue to spread and oppress believers. Hence, the need for an authoritative intervention: it would be made precisely by the slain and risen Lamb. He was able "to take the scroll and to open its seals" (cf. 5: 9).

Christ is the great interpreter and lord of history, the revealer of the hidden plan of divine action which unfolds within it.

3. The hymn continues by showing us the foundation of Christ's power over history. It is nothing other than his Paschal Mystery (cf. 5: 9-10): Christ was "slain" and with his blood "ransomed" all humanity from the power of evil. The word "ransom" refers to Exodus, to the freeing of Israel from Egyptian slavery. In the ancient law, the duty to ransom a person was incumbent on the closest relative. In the case of his People, this was God himself, who called Israel his "first-born son" (Ex 4: 22).

Christ then carried out this duty for all humanity. The redemption he brought about does not only serve to redeem us from our evil past, to heal our wounds and to relieve our wretchedness. Christ gives us a new inner being: he makes us priests and kings who share in his own dignity.

Alluding to the words that God proclaimed on Sinai (cf. Ex 19: 6; Rv 1: 6), the hymn reasserts that the redeemed People of God is made up of kings and priests who must guide and sanctify all creation. This consecration is founded in the Passover of Christ and fulfilled in Baptism (cf. I Pt 2: 9). From it comes an appeal to the Church to become aware of her dignity and her mission.

4. The Christian tradition has constantly applied the image of the paschal Lamb to Christ. Let us listen to the words of a second-century Bishop, Melito of Sardis, a city in Asia Minor, who said in his Homily on Easter: "Christ came down to earth from Heaven out of love for suffering humanity. He put on our humanity in the womb of the Virgin and was born like a man.... It is he who as a lamb was taken away and as a lamb was slaughtered, thereby redeeming us from the slavery of the world.... It is he who brought us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life, from oppression to eternal kingship; and he made us a new priesthood and a chosen people forever.... It is he, the silent Lamb, the slain Lamb, the Son of Mary, the Lamb without stain. He was seized by the flock, led to his death, slain towards evening and buried at night" (nn. 66-71: SC 123, pp. 96-100).

In the end, Christ himself, the slaughtered Lamb, calls to all peoples: "So come, you of all races of men who are ensnared by your sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. Indeed, I am your forgiveness, the Passover of your salvation; I am the Lamb slain for you, I am your redemption, your way, your resurrection, your light, your salvation and your king. It is I who lead you to the heights of Heaven, I who will show you the Father who exists from eternity, I who will raise you to life with my right hand" (n. 103,: ibid., p. 122).

JPII - General Audience, Wednesday 31 March 2004

Vespers (Evening Prayer), Thursday Week 1

Catechesis by Blessed John Paul II
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

The Judgement of God - Canticle in Revelation (11: 17-18 & 12: 10, 12)

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).

JPII - General Audience, Wednesday 26 May 2004

Catechesis by Blessed John Paul II
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
Vespers (Evening Prayer), Tuesday Week 2

Hymn of the Saved - Apocalypse chapter 4

1. The Canticle we have just heard marks the Liturgy of Vespers with the simplicity and intensity of a chorus of praise. It belongs to the solemn vision situated at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, placing at the forefront a heavenly Liturgy to which we too, pilgrims on the earth, join during our ecclesial celebrations.

The hymn, composed of certain verses taken from the Book of Revelation and pieced together for liturgical use, is based on two fundamental elements. Outlined briefly, the first is the celebration of the Lord's work: "You created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rv 4: 11). Indeed, creation reveals God's immense power. In the Book of Wisdom, it is written that "from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen" (Wis 13: 5). Likewise, the Apostle Paul notes that "since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity, have become visible" (Rom 1: 20). It then becomes a duty to raise the song of praise to the Creator in celebration of his glory.

2. It may be interesting to recall in this context that the Emperor Domitian, who probably ruled when the Book of Revelation was written, demanded that he himself be hailed as "Dominus et deus noster" [Lord and our God].

Obviously, Christians refused to attribute such titles to a human creature, however powerful, preferring to direct their acclamation of adoration to "our only true Lord and God", the Creator of the universe, to the One who is, together with God, "the first and the last", seated on the heavenly throne with God his Father: Christ died and risen, symbolically represented here as a "Lamb who is worthy" although he has been "slain".

3. Such is the second element, broadly developed, of the canticle that we are commenting on: Christ, the slain Lamb. The four living creatures together with the 24 elders praise him with a song beginning with the acclamation: "Worthy are you, O Lord, to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain" (5: 9).

It is Christ, then, with his historical work of redemption, who is at the heart of the praise. Precisely for this reason, he is able to interpret the meaning of history, for it is he who "opens the seals" of the secret scroll which contains the project willed by God.

4. His is not only a work of interpretation, but is likewise an act of fulfilment and liberation. As he has been "slain", he is able to "ransom" men and women coming from the most varied origins.

The Greek word used does not explicitly refer us to the history of the Exodus, where "ransoming" the Israelites is never spoken of; however, the continuation of the phrase makes a clear reference to the well-known promise made by God to the Israelites of Sinai: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19: 6).

5. This promise has now become a reality: the Lamb has truly established for God "a kingdom and priests... who shall reign on earth." The door of this kingdom is open to all humanity, called to form the community of the children of God, as St Peter reminds us: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God"s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (I Pt 2: 9).

The Second Vatican Council explicitly refers to these texts of the First Letter of Peter and of the Book of Revelation when, referring to the "common priesthood" that belongs to all the faithful, it points out the components to enable them to carry it out. "The faithful indeed, by virtue of their royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist. They exercise that priesthood, too, by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, abnegation and active charity (Lumen Gentium, n. 10).

6. The canticle of the Book of Revelation that we are meditating upon today draws to a close with a final acclamation raised by "thousands and thousands" of angel. It refers to the "slain Lamb", to whom is granted the same glory given to God the Father, because he is "worthy... to receive power and wealth, and wisdom and might" (Rv. 5: 12). This is the moment of pure contemplation, joyful praise, song of love to Christ in his Paschal Mystery.

This shining image of heavenly glory is anticipated in the liturgy of the Church. Indeed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, the liturgy is an "action" of the whole Christ ("Christus totus"). Those who even now celebrate it on earth without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is totally communion and feast. "It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments" (n. 1139).

JPII - General Audience, Wednesday 3 November 2004 - © Copyright 2004 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Catechesis by Blessed John Paul II
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Canticle from the Book of the Apocalypse - The Judgment of God (Ap 11,17; 12,10.12)

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."

JPII - General Audience - 12 January 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Catechesis by Blessed John Paul II
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
Vespers (Evening Prayer) Friday Week 1

Canticle cf Ap 15: 2-4 - Hymn of adoration and of praise

1. In addition to the Psalms, the Liturgy of Vespers 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 Revelation, 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, is found in chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation. The curtain is about to be raised on a new and grandiose scene: 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 word 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).

The "scourge-plague" in Revelation is a symbol of judgment on the evil oppression and violence of the world. Thus, it is also a 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. Rv 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).

JPII - General Audience, Wednesday 23 June 2004

Catechesis by Benedict XVI
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
Vespers (Evening Prayer) Friday Week 2

Hymn of adoration and of praise - Canticle cf Ap 15: 3-4

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."

General Audience - 11 May 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Catechesis by Blessed John Paul II
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
2nd Vespers (Evening Prayer) Sunday Week 2

The wedding feast of the Lamb - Canticle cf 19: 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 end 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).

JPII - General Audience, Wednesday 15 September 2004