Reflection on Canticle in Ephesians 1:3-10
On Redemption Through the Blood of Christ
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave Wednesday at the general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle in the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-10).
* * *
1. We are before the solemn hymn of blessing that opens the Letter to the Ephesians, a page of great theological and spiritual depth, wonderful expression of the faith and perhaps of the liturgy of the Church in apostolic times.
The hymn is proposed four times, during all the weeks in which the Liturgy of Vespers is divided, so that the faithful may contemplate and appreciate this grandiose image of Christ, heart of spirituality and Christian worship, as well as principle of unity and of the meaning of the universe and of the whole of history. The blessing rises from humanity to the Father, who is in the heavens (see verse 3), moved by the salvific work of the Son.
2. It begins with the eternal divine plan, which Christ is called to accomplish. In this plan shines out, first of all, the fact that we are elected to be "holy and blameless" not so much at the ritual level -- as these adjectives, used in the Old Testament for the sacrificial worship, would seem to suggest -- but rather "in love" (see verse 4). Therefore, it is a question of holiness and of moral, existential, inner purity.
For us, however, the Father has a further end in mind: Through Christ he destines us to receive the gift of that filial dignity, becoming sons in the Son and brothers of Jesus (see Romans 8:15,23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5). This gift of grace is poured out through "the Beloved Son," the Only-Begotten par excellence (see verses 5-6).
3. In this way the Father works a radical transformation in us: a full liberation from evil, "redemption through the blood" of Christ, "the forgiveness of our trespasses" through "the riches of his grace" (see verse 7). Christ's immolation on the cross, supreme act of love and solidarity, sheds over us a superabundant ray of light, of "wisdom and insight" (see verse 8). We are transfigured creatures: Our sin canceled, we know the Lord in fullness. And given that in biblical language knowledge is an expression of love, the latter introduces us more profoundly in the "mystery" of the divine will (see verse 9).
4. A "mystery," namely, a transcendent and perfect plan, which has as its object a wonderful salvific plan: "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (verse 10). The Greek text suggests that Christ became the "kefalaion," namely the cardinal point, the central axis toward which the whole of created being converges and acquires meaning. The same Greek vocabulary makes reference to another term particularly cherished in the Letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians: "kefale," or head, which indicates the function fulfilled by Christ in the body of the Church.
Now the view becomes larger and cosmic, comprising as well the more specific ecclesial dimension of the work of Christ. He has reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).
5. Let us conclude our reflection with a prayer of praise and gratitude for the redemption wrought by Christ in us. We do so with the words of a text conserved in an ancient papyrus of the fourth century.
"We invoke you, Lord God. You know everything, nothing escapes you, Teacher of truth. You have created the universe and watch over all beings. You guide on the path of truth those who were in the darkness and shadow of death. You desire to save all men and make them know the truth. All together we offer you praise and hymns of thanksgiving."
The prayer continues: "You have redeemed us, with the precious and immaculate blood of your only Son, from every corruption and slavery. You have liberated us from the devil and have granted us glory and freedom. We were dead and you made us be reborn, soul and body, in the Spirit. We were defiled and you have purified us. We pray, therefore, Father of mercies and God of all consolations: Confirm us in our vocation, in adoration and in faithfulness."
The prayer ends with the invocation: "Strengthen us, O Benevolent Lord, with your strength. Illuminate our soul with your consolation. ... Grant us to see, seek and contemplate the goods of heaven and not those of earth. Thus, with the strength of your grace, glory will be rendered to the omnipotent, most holy, almighty power worthy of all praise, in Christ Jesus, the Beloved Son, with the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen" (A. Hamman, "Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani," [Early Christian Prayers], Milan, 1955, pp. 92-94).
[At the end of the audience, a papal aide read the following summary in English:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The canticle which opens the Letter to the Ephesians is sung each week in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a magnificent expression of the faith and spirituality of the Church in the apostolic age.
The canticle is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise to the Father for the blessings bestowed on us through his beloved Son. By the blood of Christ, we have been reconciled to the Father, made holy in his sight, and granted the grace of becoming his adoptive sons and daughters.
Through the mystery of the cross, we have been given the wisdom to understand God's eternal plan to unite, in Christ, all things in heaven and on earth. The glorified Lord thus appears not only as the head of the Mystical Body which is the Church, but as the source and center of the world reconciled and renewed.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
I greet the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and I offer the assurance of my prayers for their general chapter. I also welcome the diocesan pilgrimage groups from Indonesia and Scotland, and the American military chaplains. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Denmark and the United States, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
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Pope John Paul II - Bishop of Rome, 661 869-1000
Pope, Ephesians, Canticle, Hymn
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