On Canticle From Chapters 4 and 5 of Book of Revelation

A Song to Christ the Lamb

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II prepared for today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle taken from Chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Revelation.

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1. The canticle just proposed to us brings to the liturgy of Vespers the simplicity and intensity of a chorus of praise. It is part of the solemn opening vision of Revelation, which presents a sort of heavenly liturgy to which we also, still pilgrims on earth, associate ourselves during our ecclesial celebrations.

The hymn, composed of some verses taken from Revelation and unified by the liturgical use, is based on two fundamental elements. The first, sketched briefly, is the celebration of the Lord’s work: «You created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created» (4:11). Creation, in fact, reveals the immense power of God. As the Book of Wisdom says, «from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator» (13:5). Similarly, the Apostle Paul observes: «Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made» (Romans 1:20). Because of this, it is a duty to raise a song of praise to the Creator to celebrate his glory.

2. In this context, it might be interesting to recall that the Emperor Domitian, under whose reign, perhaps, Revelation was composed, had himself called with the title «Dominus et deus noster» [our lord and god] and commanded that he not be addressed except with those appellatives (see Suetonius, «Domitian,» XIII).

Obviously, Christians refused to attribute to a human creature, though very powerful, such titles and addressed their adoring acclamations only to their true «Lord and God,» Creator of the universe (see Revelation 4:11), and to Him who is, with God, «the first and the last» (see 1:17), and is seated with God his Father on the heavenly throne (see 3:21): Christ dead and resurrected, symbolically represented here as a «Lamb standing,» despite his having «been slain» (5:6).

3. This is, precisely, the second element amply developed in the hymn that we are commenting: Christ, the immolated Lamb. The four living creatures and 24 elders acclaim him with a song that begins with the acclamation: «Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain» (5:9).

At the center of the praise, therefore, is Christ with his historic work of redemption. Precisely because of this he is able to decipher the meaning of history: It is for him «to open the seals» (ibid.) of the secret book that contains the plan willed by God.

4. But his is not only a work of interpretation; it is also an act of fulfillment and liberation. Because he was «slain,» he was able to «ransom» (ibid.) men who come from the most diverse origins.

The Greek verb used does not refer explicitly to the story of Exodus, in which there is no talk of «ransoming» the Israelites. However, the continuation of the phrase contains an evident allusion to the well-known promise made by God to Israel from Sinai: «You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation» (Exodus 19:6).

5. Now this promise has become a reality. The Lamb has constituted for God «a kingdom and priests … and they will reign on earth» (Revelation 5:10), and this kingdom is open to the whole of humanity called to form the community of the children of God, as St. Peter reminds: «You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light» (1 Peter 2:9).

The Second Vatican Council referred explicitly to these texts of the First Letter of Peter and of the Book of Revelation when, presenting the «common priesthood» that belongs to all the faithful, it illustrates the way with which they exercise it: «The faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity» («Lumen Gentium,» No. 10).

6. The hymn of the Book of Revelation that we meditate today concludes with a final acclamation cried out by «myriads of myriads» of angels (see Revelation 5:11). It refers to the «the Lamb slain,» to whom is attributed the same glory as to God the Father, as «Worthy is the Lamb … to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength» (5:12). It is the moment of pure contemplation, of joyful praise, of the song of love to Christ in his paschal mystery.

This luminous image of the heavenly glory is anticipated in the Liturgy of the Church. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds, the Liturgy is «action» of the whole Christ («Christus totus»). Those who celebrate it here, live already in some way, beyond the signs, in the heavenly liturgy, where the celebration is totally communion and feast. It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church make us participate, when we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments (see Nos. 1136 and 1139).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, a papal aide read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The canticle offered for our meditation today brings to the liturgy of Evening Prayer the simplicity and intensity of a chorus of praises. It concentrates in a particular way on Christ, the Lamb, who has been slain but now reigns glorious. In him God’s eternal project has been fulfilled. He has freed us from evil and made us into a kingdom of priests. We are a community of God’s children to which all people are called.

As we express our praise and love of Christ and contemplate his Paschal victory, we already, in a sense, share in the festive communion of the heavenly liturgy.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience. I greet particularly the groups from England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Malta and the United States of America. Wishing you a pleasant stay in Rome, I cordially invoke upon you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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