Meditation on Canticle From Revelation 15:3-4

A Hymn of Adoration

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 23, 2004 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle in Chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation (verses 3 and 4).

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1. In addition to the Psalms, the liturgy of vespers offers a series of canticles taken from the New Testament. Some, like the one we just heard, are passages of Revelation, the book that seals the whole Bible, and that is often characterized by songs and choirs, by soloists and hymns of the assembly of the elect, by trumpets, harps and zithers.

Our canticle, which is very brief, is taken from Chapter 15 of this work. A grandiose scene is about to open: To the seven angels who have introduced as many divine plagues, are now added seven bowls also full of plagues, in Greek «pleghe,» a term that of itself indicates such a violent blow as to cause wounds and, sometimes, even death. In this case, it is an obvious reference to the plagues of Egypt (see Exodus 7:14-11:10).

The «scourge-plague» in Revelation is the symbol of a judgment on the evil, oppression and violence of the world. For this reason, it is also a sign of hope for the just. The seven plagues — as is known, in the Bible the number seven is the symbol of fullness — are described as «last» (see Revelation 15:1) as in them is fulfilled the divine intervention that puts an end to evil.

2. The hymn is intoned by the saved, the just of the earth, who are «standing» in the same attitude of the risen Lamb (see verse 2). As the Hebrews in Exodus, after crossing the sea, sang the hymn of Moses (see Exodus 15:1-18), so the elect raise to God their «song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb» (Revelation 15:3), after having conquered the Beast, enemy of God (see verse 2).

This hymn reflects the liturgy of the churches of St. John and comprises an anthology of quotations of the Old Testament, in particular of the Psalms. From the very beginning the Christian community considered the Bible not only as the soul of its faith and life, but also of its prayer and liturgy, as happens precisely in the vespers we are commenting on.

It is also significant that the song is accompanied by musical instruments: The just have zithers (ibid.) in their hands, evidence of a liturgy enveloped in the splendor of sacred music.

3. With their hymns, more than celebrating their constancy and sacrifice, the saved exalt the «great and wonderful works» of «the Lord God Almighty,» that is, his saving deeds in the governance of the world and in history. In fact, authentic prayer is not only a petition but also praise, thanksgiving, blessing, celebration and profession of faith in the Lord who saves.

Significant, also, in this canticle is the universal dimension, which is expressed in the terms of Psalm 85[86]: «All the nations you have made shall come to bow before you, Lord» (Psalm 85[86]:9). Our gaze is thus extended to the whole horizon and one perceives rivers of people who converge toward the Lord to recognize his «just judgments» (Revelation 15:4), namely, his interventions in history to defeat the evil and praise the good. The search for justice in all cultures, the need for truth and love perceived in all spirituality, contain a tendency toward the Lord, which is only satisfied when he is found.

It is beautiful to think of this universal air of religiosity and hope, assumed and interpreted by the words of the prophets: «For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the Lord of hosts» (Malachi 1:11).

4. We conclude uniting our voices to the universal voice. We do so through the words of a song of St. Gregory of Nazianzen, 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 everything, the heaven of the celestial beings, the earth of the earthly beings. Seas, rivers and springs he has filled with aquatic beings, vivifying all with his own Spirit, so that the whole of creation would praise the wise Creator: life and permanence in life have their cause only in Him. May the rational creature sing his praises above all as powerful King and good Father. In spirit, with my soul, tongue and thought make me also glorify you in purity, O Father» (Poems, 1, Collection of Patristic Texts 115, Rome, 1994, pp. 66-67).

[Translation by ZENIT]

(At the end of the audience, one of the Holy Father’s collaborators read the following summary in English:)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s catechesis centers on Chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation and, in particular, on its canticle in verses 3 and 4. It is a hymn of adoration and praise of the Lord God Almighty whose deeds are «mighty and wonderful,» whose ways are «just and true.»

The hymn is sung by those who are saved, the just of this earth who stand before the risen Lamb of God. Very much like the Hebrews who sang the hymn of Moses after having crossed the seas, do the elect raise up to God their «hymn of Moses and the Lamb,» having conquered the Beast, the enemy of God.

The canticle has a universal dimension to it: «all nations will come and worship» before the Lord. Let us conclude our meditation by joining our voice to that universal hymn, using the words of that great Father of the Church, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, «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 everything.»

(The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:)

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including religious leaders and visitors from Indonesia and other groups from England, Denmark and the United States of America. Tomorrow is the solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Let us ask his intercession, that we may be faithful witnesses to Christ, as was he. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

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