Pope John Paul II addressed more than 8,500 pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter's Square during his general audience Nov. 3. His teaching was on the “Hymn of the Redeemed,” a canticle from the Liturgy of the Hours that is made up of verses from chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation.
John Paul II characterized the canticle as “a sort of heavenly liturgy that we, who are still pilgrims on earth, join in during our ecclesiastical celebrations.” He pointed out two fundamental elements found in the hymn: creation and redemption.
The first element of the hymn, he said, is the celebration of the Lord's works. “Indeed, creation is a revelation of God's immense power,” he noted. “This is why it is fitting to raise a song of praise to our creator in order to celebrate his glory.”
The second element that is characteristic of the hymn is its focus on Christ, the Lamb who was slain for our sins and who now reigns glorious. “The Lamb has made ‘a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth,’ and this kingdom is open to all mankind, which is called to form the community of God's sons and daughters,” the Pope pointed out. In Christ, God's eternal plan has been fulfilled.
The hymn, the Holy Father said, “is a moment of pure contemplation and of joyful praise, and a song of love to Christ in his paschal mystery.” Pope John Paul II concluded his teaching by quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Liturgy is an ‘action’ of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast.” A choral rendition of the canticle preceded the Holy Father's remarks.
The canticle that we just heard brings to the Liturgy of the Hour'’ evening prayer the simplicity and the intensity of a chorus of praise. It is in line with the solemn vision at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, which presents a sort of heavenly liturgy that we, who are still pilgrims on earth, join in during our ecclesiastical celebrations.
God of Creation
This hymn, which is composed of a few verses from the Book of Revelation that have been joined together for use in the liturgy, is based on two fundamental elements. The first, which is outlined very briefly, is the celebration of the Lord's work: “For you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created” (see Revelation 4:11). Indeed, creation is a revelation of God's immense power. As the Book of Wisdom tells us, “from the greatness and beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen” (Wisdom 13:5). Likewise, the apostle Paul makes the following observation: “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). This is why it is fitting to raise a song of praise to our Creator in order to celebrate his glory.
Within this context, it might be of interest to recall that the Emperor Domitian, under whose reign the Book of Revelation was probably composed, used the title of “our lord and god” and demanded that people address him only with these words (see Suetonius, Domiziano, XIII).
For obvious reasons, Christians refused to pay tribute with these words to any human creature, no matter how powerful he might be. They only addressed the true “Lord and God,” who is the creator of the universe (see Revelation 4:11), with their worshipful praise, along with Christ, who is with God “the first and the last” (see Revelation 1:17) and who is seated with God, his Father, on the heavenly throne (see Revelation 3:21): Christ, who has died and who is risen from the dead, is symbolically represented here as a “Lamb” who is “standing” even though he has been “slain” (see Revelation 5:6).
The Lamb Who Is Slain
This actually brings us to the second element that is developed at length in the hymn on which we are commenting: Christ, the Lamb who had been slain. The four living creatures and 24 elders acclaim him with a song that begins with the cry: “Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain” (see Revelation 5:9).
Thus, Christ and his historic work of redemption are at the center of this praise. It is precisely for this reason that he is able to make sense out of history: He is the one who will “break open the seals” (ibid) of the secret scroll that contains God's plan.
But his work is not merely a work of interpretation; it is also an act of fulfillment and deliverance. Since he was “slain,” he was able to “ransom” (ibid) men from the most diverse origins.
The Greek verb that is used does not refer explicitly to the story from Exodus, where no mention is ever made of “ransoming” the Israelites. Nonetheless, as the sentence continues, a clear allusion is made to God's well-known promise to Israel on Mt. Sinai: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
God's Holy People
This promise has now become a reality. In fact, the Lamb has made “a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth” (Revelation 5:10), and this kingdom is open to all mankind, which is called to form the community of God's sons and daughters, as St. Peter reminds us: “But 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 explicitly referred to these texts from the First Letter of Peter and of the Book of Revelation when, in its presentation of the “common priesthood” that belongs to all the faithful, illustrated the ways in 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).
This hymn from the Book of Revelation, on which we are meditating today, concludes with one final acclamation that “myriads of myriads” of angels cry out in a loud voice (see Revelation 5:11). It refers to the “the Lamb that was slain,” to whom the same glory was given as to God the Father, since he is “worthy to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength” (see Revelation 5:12). It is a moment of pure contemplation and of joyful praise, and a song of love to Christ in his paschal mystery.
The Church anticipates this shining image of heavenly glory in its liturgy. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “Liturgy is an ‘action’ of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast. … It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments” (see Nos. 1136 and 1139).