Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Revelation was regarded as a dicey book in the early centuries of the Church. People then, as now, didn’t quite know what to make of it. Many shared the sentiments of a much later Christian named Martin Luther, who said, “A revelation ought to reveal.” Amidst all the battles, beasts, horns, monsters, whores of Babylon, white-robed martyrs and images of Jesus with a sword coming out of his mouth, ancients (like moderns) sometimes had a tough time figuring out what the visionary was getting at. But at the end of the day, the Church wound up including Revelation in its canon of Scripture. Why?
One big reason was that Revelation reflected the life and worship of the Church. That is, it is a book that is patterned on the Divine Liturgy. It begins with John declaring “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” In other words, “I was at Mass. It was Sunday.” It moves on from there to seven letters to seven Churches and the repeated exhortation to examine themselves and repent. In other words, the Penitential rite. After this, there is the opening of scrolls—scrolls which are sealed until a lamb “looking as if it has been slain” opens them. This is John’s way of saying what Paul says when he tells us that the meaning of the Old Testament writings is “veiled” until Christ takes away the veil. And when that veil is taken away, what do we find? We find what Jesus (the lamb who had just been slain) told the disciples on the Emmaus Road:
“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
In short, only the Lamb of God can reveal the true meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were all about Him. And so Revelation has a sort of “Liturgy of the Word”. In the course of that liturgy, we are shown a vision of the true extent of the worshipping community that gathers to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. It encompasses not only the little clutch of human beings gathering in the catacombs or the secret house Church that is hiding out from the hostile Romans, Greeks and Jews who surround it, but, well, all the company of Heaven:
And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:11-12)
It is notable that, since the beginning, the main thing the Church, both in Heaven and on earth, has to say is not “Help!” or “God smite my enemies!” or “Why?” but “Thanks!”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,
The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim—especially during a meal—God’s works of creation, redemption, and sanctification.
Eucharist means thanksgiving. It is the essential act, not only of creatures to their Maker but of the Son to the Father. It was God the Son, not a mere creature, who offered the Father thanks as he celebrated the Last Supper. It was a total thanks: a thanks from the core of his being because his entire being is Thanks to the Father. When we enter into the mystery of Holy Communion we are taken up by him and made part of his heavenly choir of thanks to the Father. We are also made part of his offering to the Father: he gives thanks for us and he makes us enter into the mystery of his Passion and Resurrection. And this leads us to Heaven where the entire Heavenly host shall spend eternity in thanks. Today, practice for Heaven: give thanks with Christ in the Eucharist.