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Canticle in St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians - Catecheses by John Paul II & Benedict XVI

"God our Saviour" - Ephesians 1: 3-10 - John Paul II

(Evening Prayer, Monday, Week 2) - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
General Audience - 13 October 2004 - © Copyright 2004 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

1. We have before us the solemn hymn of blessing that opens the Letter to the Ephesians, a page of great theological and spiritual depth, a marvellous expression of faith and perhaps also of the liturgy of the Church in apostolic times.

The canticle is presented four times during all the weeks into which the Liturgy of Vespers is divided. The faithful may thus contemplate and savour this grandiose image of Christ that is not only the heart of Christian spirituality and worship, but also the principle of unity and of a sense of the universe and of history in its entirety. The blessing rises from humanity to the Father, in the heavenly places, starting from the saving work of the Son.

2. It begins with God's eternal plan which Christ is called to accomplish. In this design, our having been chosen as "holy and blameless" shines out first and foremost not so much at the ritual level - as these adjectives used in the Old Testament for sacrificial worship might seem to suggest - but rather "in love". Therefore, it is a question of holiness and of moral, existential, inner purity.

However, the Father has a further goal in mind for us: through Christ he destines us to receive the gift of filial dignity, becoming sons in the Son and brothers and sisters of Jesus. This gift of grace is poured out through "the beloved Son", the Only-Begotten One par excellence.

3. It is in this way that the Father works a radical transformation in us: our complete liberation from evil, "redemption though [the] blood" of Christ, "the forgiveness of our trespasses" through "the riches of his grace". Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, a supreme act of love and solidarity, bathes us in superb light, "wisdom and insight". We are transfigured creatures: our sin taken away, we fully know the Lord. And since knowledge, in biblical terms, is an expression of love, it introduces us more deeply into the "mystery" of the divine will.

4. A "mystery", namely, a transcendent and perfect project that contains a wonderful saving plan: "to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth" (v10). The Greek text suggests that Christ has become the kefalaion, that is, the cardinal point, the central axis on which the whole of creation converges and acquires meaning. The same Greek word refers to another, dear to the Letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: kefalé, "head", which indicates the role carried out by Christ in the Body of the Church.

Here the gaze is broader and more universal, although it includes the more specific ecclesial dimension of Christ's work. He reconciled "to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Col 1: 20).

5. Let us end our reflection with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the redemption that Christ brought about in us. We do so with the words of a text that has been preserved on an ancient papyrus of the 4th century.

"We call on you, Lord God. You know all things, nothing escapes you, O Master of Truth. You have created the universe and you keep watch over every being. You guide on the path of truth those who walk in the darkness and the shadow of death. You desire to save all people and make them know the truth. All together, we offer you praise and hymns of thanksgiving".

The person praying continues: "You have redeemed us, with the precious and immaculate Blood of your Only Son, from all aberrations. You have released us from the devil and have obtained for us glory and freedom. We were dead and you have caused us, body and soul, to be reborn in the Spirit. We were unclean, and you have purified us. We pray therefore, Father of mercies and God of every consolation: strengthen us in our vocation, in adoration and in faithfulness".

The prayer ends with the invocation: "Fortify us, O benevolent Lord, with your strength. Illuminate our souls with your consolation... Grant us to look at, seek and contemplate the goods of heaven and not those of the earth. Thus, by the power of your grace, glory will be rendered to the Almighty and most holy power worthy of all praise, in Jesus Christ, the beloved Son, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen."

"He chose us" - Ephesians 1: 3-14 - Benedict XVI

(Evening Prayer, Monday, Week 3) - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
General Audience - 6 July 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

1. Today we have heard not a Psalm but a Hymn from the Letter to the Ephesians, a hymn that recurs in the Liturgy of Vespers in each one of the four weeks. This hymn is a prayer of blessing addressed to God the Father. It develops and describes the various stages of the plan of salvation, fulfilled through the work of Christ.

At the centre of the blessing the Greek word mysterion rings out, a term usually associated with verbs of revelation ("to reveal", "to know", "to manifest"). In fact, this is the great and secret project which the Father had kept to himself since time immemorial and which he decided to bring about and reveal in "the fullness of time" through Jesus Christ, his Son.

The stages of this plan correspond in the hymn with the saving actions of God through Christ in the Spirit. The Father, first of all - this is his first act - chooses us from eternity so that we may be holy and blameless in love, then he predestines us to be his sons, and in addition, he redeems us and forgives our sins, fully reveals to us the mystery of salvation in Christ and finally, he offers the eternal inheritance to us, already giving us a pledge of it now in the gift of the Holy Spirit, with a view to the final resurrection.

2. There are, therefore, many saving events that follow one another as the hymn unfolds. They involve the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity: starting with the Father, who is the Initiator and supreme Creator of the plan of salvation: the focus is then centred on the Son, who brings about the plan in history; then comes the Holy Spirit, who impresses his "seal" upon the whole work of salvation. Let us now reflect briefly on the first two stages: holiness and sonship (v4-6).

The first divine act, revealed and brought about in Christ, is the choosing of believers, the result of a free and gratuitous initiative of God. In the beginning, therefore, "before the foundation of the world" (v4), in the eternity of God, divine grace was ready to come into action. I am moved to meditate upon this truth: from eternity we have been in God's sight, and he decided to save us. The content of this calling is our "holiness", a great word. Holiness is participation in the purity of the divine Being. But we know that God is love.

Participating in divine purity, therefore, means participating in the "charity" of God, conforming ourselves to God who is "charity". "God is love" (I Jn 4: 8, 16): this is the comforting truth that also makes us understand that "holiness" is not a reality remote from our own lives, but we enter into the mystery of "holiness" to the extent that we can become people who love together with God. Thus, the agape becomes our daily reality. We are therefore transferred to the sacred and vital horizon of God himself.

3. We proceed along these lines towards the next stage that has also been contemplated in the divine plan since eternity: our "predestination" as children of God, who are not only human creatures, but truly belong to God as his children.

Paul has exalted elsewhere the sublime condition of sonship that implies and results from brotherhood with Christ, the Son par excellence, the "first-born of many brothers" (Rom 8: 29), as well as intimacy with the heavenly Father who can henceforth be invoked as Abba, whom we can address as "beloved Father" in the sense of a real familiarity with God, in a spontaneous and loving relationship.

We are therefore in the presence of an immense gift, made possible by the "purpose of [the divine] will" and by "grace", a luminous expression of the love that saves.

4. Let us now listen to the great Bishop of Milan, St Ambrose, who in one of his letters comments on the words the Apostle Paul addressed to the Ephesians, reflecting on the rich content of our own Christological Hymn. He first emphasizes the superabundant grace with which God has made us his adoptive children in Jesus Christ. "Consequently, there is no need to doubt that the members are united to their Head, above all because we were predestined from the very start to be adopted as children of God through Jesus Christ."

The holy Bishop of Milan continued his reflection, observing: "Who is rich other than God alone, Creator of all things?". And he concludes: "But he is far richer in mercy for he has redeemed us all and - as the author of nature - has transformed us, who in accordance with the nature of flesh were children of anger and subject to punishment, so that we might be children of peace and love."

"He chose us in him" - Ephesians 1: 3-10

(Evening Prayer, Monday, Week 4) - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
General Audience - 23 November 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

1. Every week the Liturgy of Vespers proposes to the praying Church the solemn hymn that opens the Letter to the Ephesians, the text that has just been proclaimed. It belongs to the category of berakot, that is, the "blessings" that already appear in the Old Testament and will be spread further in the Judaic Tradition.

Thus, it consists in a constant stream of praise that rises to God, who is celebrated in the Christian faith as "Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ".

For this reason the figure of Christ, in whom the work of God the Father is revealed and brought about, is central in our hymn of praise. Indeed, the three principal verbs in this long but compact Canticle always lead us to the Son.

2. God "chose us in him" (Eph 1: 4): he is our vocation to holiness, to adoptive sonship, hence, brotherhood with Christ. This gift, which radically transforms our state as creatures, is offered to us "through Jesus Christ" (v5) in an act that is part of the great divine plan of salvation, in that loving "according to the purpose of his will" (v5) of the Father, whom the Apostle contemplates with emotion.

The second verb after the election ("he chose us") designates the gift of grace: "his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (v6).

In Greek we have the same root twice, charis and echaritosen, to emphasize the gratuitousness of the divine initiative that preceded any human response. The grace that the Father gives us in his Only-begotten Son is therefore the manifestation of his love that enfolds and transforms us.

3. And here we come to the third fundamental verb in the Pauline Canticle: its subject is always the divine grace that was "freely bestowed" upon us. We therefore have before us a verb of fullness, we could say - keeping to its original tone - of super-abundance and unlimited and unreserved giving.

We thus penetrate the infinite and glorious depths of God's mystery, opened and revealed through grace to whoever is called by grace and by love, since it is impossible to arrive at this revelation endowed with human intelligence and ability alone.

""Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him'. Yet God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit. The Spirit scrutinizes all matters, even the deep things of God" (I Cor 2: 9-10).

4. The "mystery of the divine will" has a centre which is destined to coordinate the whole of the being and the whole of history, leading them to the fullness desired by God: "to unite all things in him" (Eph 1: 10). In this "design", in Greek (oikonomia), that is, in this harmonious plan of being and of existing, Christ rises, Head of the Body of the Church but also the axis that unites "all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth".

Dispersion and restrictions are overcome and that "fullness" is formed which is the true goal of the plan that the divine will pre-established from its origins.

Thus, we stand before a grandiose fresco of the history of creation and salvation; let us now meditate upon it and deepen our knowledge of it through the words of St Irenaeus, a great 2nd century Doctor of the Church, in which, in some masterful passages of his Treatise Adversus Haereses, is developed an articulate reflection precisely on the recapitulation brought about by Christ.

5. The Christian faith, he affirms, recognizes that "there is only one God the Father and only one Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who has come through the whole economy and has recapitulated all things in himself. Among all things is also the human being, formed in the likeness of God. Therefore, he has also brought the human being to fulfilment in himself; the One who is invisible becomes visible, the One who is beyond understanding becomes understandable, and the One who is the Word becomes man."

This is why "the Word of God became man" truly and not only in appearance, for in the latter case "his work would not have been true". Instead, "he was what he appeared to be: God who recapitulates in himself his original creature, who is man, to kill sin, destroy death and give life to man. And for this reason his works are true.

He made himself Head of the Church to draw all people to himself at the right moment. In the spirit of St Irenaeus' words let us pray: Yes, Lord, attract us to you, attract the world to you and give us peace, your peace.