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Apocalypse 4-5

Canticle - Hymn of the redeemed
4, 11; 5, 9-10,12

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
  to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
  and by your will they existed and were created.

Worthy are you, O Lord,
  to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain,
  and by your blood you ransomed men for God
  from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

You have made us a kingdom and priests to our God,
  and we shall reign on earth.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
  to receive power and wealth,
and wisdom and might,
  and honour and glory and blessing.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Canticle the Apocalypse 4-5
General Audience, Wednesday 31 March 2004 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers, Tuesday Week 1 - Hymn of the Saved

"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)."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Canticle the Apocalypse 4-5
General Audience, Wednesday 3 November 2004 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers, Tuesday, Week 2 - Hymn of the Saved

"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)."