Comments on Canticle in Revelation 19: Part of John Paul II's Series on Vespers
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2003 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle of Revelation 19:1-7.
1. Continuing with the series of Psalms and canticles that constitute the ecclesial prayer of vespers, we are reflecting on a hymn, taken from Chapter 19 of the Book of Revelation, and composed of a sequence of alleluias and acclamations.
Behind these joyful invocations there is the dramatic lament intoned by the king, the merchants and seamen in the preceding chapter, in face of the collapse of imperial Babylon, the city of evil and oppression, symbol of the persecution unleashed against the Church.
2. In antithesis to this cry that rises from the earth, a joyful choir of a liturgical nature resounds in heaven that, in addition to the alleluia, also repeats the amen. In the text of Revelation, the various acclamations similar to antiphons, which the liturgy of vespers now unites in a single canticle, in fact are put on the lips of several personalities. We see first of all a "great multitude," made up of the assembly of angels and saints (see verses 1-3). Then the voice is heard of "twenty-four elders" and "four living creatures," symbolic figures which seem to be the priests of this heavenly liturgy of praise and thanksgiving (see verse 4). Finally, the hymn of a single voice is raised (see verse 5), which, in turn, involves in the singing the "great multitude" with which it began (see verses 6-7).
3. In future stages of our itinerary of prayer, we will have occasion to illustrate the individual antiphons of this grandiose and festive hymn of praise by diverse voices. Now we will content ourselves with two observations. The first refers to the opening acclamation which states: "Salvation, glory and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments" (verses 1-2).
At the heart of this joyful invocation is the representation of God's decisive intervention in history: The Lord is not indifferent, as an impassible and isolated emperor, before human vicissitudes. As the Psalmist says, "The Lord's throne is in heaven. God's eyes keep careful watch; they test all peoples" (Psalm 10:4).
4. What is more, his look is source of action, because he intervenes and demolishes the arrogant and oppressive empires, he pulls down the proud who defy him, he judges all those who commit evil. The Psalmist also describes with picturesque images (see Psalm 10:7) this irruption of God in history, as the author of the Book of Revelation had evoked in the preceding chapter (see Revelation 18:1-24) the terrible divine intervention in Babylon, uprooted from her center and flung into the sea. Our hymn makes reference to this intervention in a passage that is not taken up in the celebration of vespers (see Revelation 19:2-3).
Above all, therefore, our prayer should invoke and praise the divine action, the Lord's effective justice, his glory obtained with the triumph over evil. God makes himself present in history, placing himself on the side of the righteous and victims, precisely as stated in the brief and essential acclamation of the Book of Revelation and as repeated frequently in the singing of the Psalms (see Psalm 145:6-9).
5. We should highlight another topic of our canticle. It is developed from the final acclamation and is one of the dominant motives of the Book of Revelation itself: "For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7). Christ and the Church, the Lamb and the bride, are in a profound communion of love.
We will try to have this mystical espousal shine through the poetic testimony of a great Father of the Syrian Church, St. Ephrem, who lived in the fourth century. Using symbolically the sign of the wedding of Cana (see John 2:1-11), he invites the city itself, personified, to praise Christ for the great gift received:
"Together with my guests I will thank him because he has judged me worthy to invite him: / He who is the heavenly Spouse, who descended and has invited all; / and I, too, was invited to enter his pure wedding feast. / Before the people I will acknowledge him as Spouse, there is none other like him. / His wedding chamber has been ready for centuries, and is furnished with riches and lacks nothing: / not like the feast of Cana, whose want he satisfied" ("Inni sulla verginitŕ," [Hymns on Virginity], 33,3: "L'arpa dello Spirito" [The Lyre of the Spirit], Rome, 1999, pp. 73-74).
6. In another hymn that he also dedicated to the wedding of Cana, St. Ephrem underlines how Christ, invited to others' weddings (specifically the spouses 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 the wedding feast of others, the spouses of Cana, / here, instead, it is your feast, pure and beautiful: It rejoices our days, / because your guests also, Lord, have need of your songs: Let your lyre fill everything! / The soul is your bride, the body is the nuptial chamber, / your guests are the senses and thoughts. / And if only one body is for you a wedding feast, / the whole Church is your nuptial banquet!" ("Inni sulla fede" [Hymns on the Faith], 14,4-5: op. cit., p. 27).
[At the end of the audience, the following summary was read in English. Then the Holy Father greeted English-speaking pilgrims as follows:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's canticle, taken from the Book of Revelation, expresses the joy of the angels and saints in their heavenly liturgy of thanksgiving. God is praised because he intervenes to defeat the power of evildoers and to defend all victims of injustice. The canticle also celebrates the marriage of Christ the Lamb and the Church his bride. Some Fathers of the Church, such as St. Ephrem, applied this nuptial imagery of Christ's union with his Church to our individual souls.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience, especially those from England, Ireland and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
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